Halloween originated many, many years ago in Ireland, however, it only became popular once it reached the United States. In recent years the tradition has spread back to Europe, including Germany; this was sparked due to the increasing depictions of Halloween in Hollywood movies and on television and the presence of many American soldiers after World War II. Since the 1990s it has become such a popular holiday that it brings in over 200 million Euros in revenue each year, making it one of the most commercialised holidays in the country.
Whilst trick or treating may be one of the most popular activities on Halloween in North America, it is the least popular Halloween-activity in Germany. You’ll most likely only see children roaming the streets for lollies in the large metropolitan areas and the occasional country town. Instead of saying ‘trick or treat’, children say ‘Süβes, sonst gibt’s Saures’, which essentially means the same thing – give us something sweet, or we’ll give you something sour (i.e. we’ll prank you!). The lack of popularity of trick or treating may be attributed to one of two things – firstly, children participate in St. Martinstag just 11 days after Halloween, where they roam the streets with lanterns, sing songs, and receive baked goods. Secondly, many older generations are not aware of – or do not participate in the trend of Halloween and do not appreciate children knocking on their doors and are particularly unhappy when children (try to) trick them.
Halloween costumes are becoming increasingly popular in German costume shops. However, one interesting difference between German costumes and those generally found in North America (and Australia!) is that Germans attempt to dress up a lot scarier, even the kids. One reason for this might be that there are ample opportunities to dress up in Germany shortly after Halloween – for Karneval. Thus, dressing up is not the novelty of the holiday, but rather, it is the scary costumes.
Whilst trick or treating may not be as popular as in other countries, Germans love their Halloween parties. Throughout the week leading up to Halloween and on the day itself every city will host many Halloween-themed parties and particularly students will host large Halloween parties or Halloween-themed Roomathons (several students decorate their apartments and provide food and drinks and the party moves from apartment to apartment throughout the night).
The oldest Halloween event in Germany takes place in Darmstadt’s Burg Frankenstein. The castle is over 1,000 years old and visitors are able to wander through the ruins whilst actors and actresses dressed as ghosts, ghouls, ghosts and even Frankenstein’s monster himself wander around, the lights flicker and an eerie soundtrack makes the castle’s ruins feel like a truly haunted house. The highlights of the event are the many interactive shows – ranging from children’s shows on the family day to terrifying shows on other days!
Fun fact: The 31st of October is also the date of another German holiday: Reformationstag. The Reformationstag is a celebration of the reformation of the church, particularly for Lutherans, and is a public holiday in the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.