Festivals, funfairs and the traditional German volksfest

Celebrations in Germany are as abundant as they are varied – from the carnival on the Rhine to wine festivals, from smaller events in the towns and countryside to the two biggest volksfest celebrations held anywhere in the world. Many have a long tradition and show how history can be brought vividly to life.

'Experience, shop, enjoy' is the theme of the Potsdam Erlebnisnacht , an event that attracts tens of thousands of people to the baroque heart of the Brandenburg capital on the last Saturday in July. The party atmosphere continues well into the night with concerts, acrobats and music in the streets, and all shops are allowed to remain open until midnight. One amazing experience is 'ice football' at the ice rink in the height of summer.

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Every year on the third weekend in June, Erfurt brings the Middle Ages back to life in the form of the Merchants' Bridge Festival. Craftsmen demonstrate the skills of the past, jesters supply fun and games, minstrels sing and sword fighters do battle. The backdrop for this old town festival, the largest in Thuringia , is not unsurprisingly the Merchants' Bridge , one of Erfurt's must-see landmarks. At the same time as the festival, there is also a thoroughly contemporary fair on the cathedral square.

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The stars of Bremerhaven Festival Week are ships from all corners of the globe – from motor boats to historical sailing vessels. Ship captains are on hand to take you aloft – and you'll hear a few entertaining sailor's yarns. Back on dry land, you can enjoy the biggest festivities on the North Sea coast with over 100 stalls around the Harbour Worlds complex. Bremerhaven's excellent international credentials will be on show at the Europadorf, where the city's twin towns will be presenting.

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Twice a year the Tollwood Festival in Munich offers culture for all. Each of the events, from plays and performances to concerts, is either free or costs very little. The approx. 1.5 million visitors can also enjoy the 'market of ideas' in summer and explore one of Munich's most delightful Christmas markets in winter. The Tollwood Festival is proud to be a 'green' forum and a platform for environmental themes.

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Fanfares, processions, historical re-enactments: Lutherstadt Wittenberg is never short of ideas when it celebrates the wedding of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora every year in the town where they exchanged vows. For three whole days, the sound of Renaissance music and historical performances echo around the old quarter, and more than 2,000 'wedding guests' in authentic costume accompany the happy couple in a grand procession through the old town. When evening descends, it's party time for all – and the music comes full circle to the modern day.

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This annual summer festival in Wismar – whose beautifully preserved old quarter has UNESCO World Heritage status – recalls the town's 155-year history under Swedish rule. Everyone is welcome, including Swedes! A historical army camp is set up on the market square, and on Sunday you can find out all about the history on the Sweden trail before enjoying the rides and the fairground fun at the Old Harbour.

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The Rhineland carnival has its dancing fools, but the Alemannic carnival kicks off on an almost spooky note, the most dramatic example being the Narrensprung in Rottweil, Baden-Württemberg . On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, some 4,000 fools wearing carved masks parade into the town via the Black Gate. The procession then takes several hours to make its way through the historical town centre, involving everyone in the celebrations.

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