Over the last few years, there has been an increase all over the world in different ‘Oktoberfest’ like festivals popping up in major cities. I recently headed to the world’s second-largest beer festival in Stuttgart, the Cannstatter Wasen to understand the heritage of this iconic beer-drinking, table dancing tradition and to experience it for myself.
Flying into Stuttgart Airport ready for the Cannstatter Wasen (or Volkfest as some call it) I stayed overnight at the Jaz Hotel in the city centre just a 10-minute taxi from the Wasen.
The three-week-long festival takes place in late September to early October. Ending the second Sunday of October. The festival attracts around 4 million people annually. The origins of the Cannstatter Wasen dates back to 1818.
After a horrendous harvest following the coldest Winter in 15/16, the crops were dead and the people of Stuttgart struggled to find food to eat. Then in 1817, The King, Wilhelm’s brother-in-law Czar Nikolaus of Russia helped bring in deliveries of grain to stop the people in the Stuttgart valley from starving.
When the first harvest wagon was eventually brought in, King Wilhelm and his Russian wife Katharina had an idea to sponsor a harvest festival. It was to take place annually on the King’s birthday on September, 28th in the area of the Cannstatt.
Cannstatter Wasen history
The first festival in 1818 only lasted one day. However, it attracted more than 30,000 visitors. The village of Cannstatt had a population of 3,000 at the time meaning that there was substantial interest from outside Cannstatt. The Royal Couple donated cash prizes and honorary awards for outstanding agricultural accomplishment.
The festival was designed to encourage the farmers and even today you’ll see town militia, Shepard-dancing-groups, festival wagons representing different crafts, groups dressed in traditional clothing and groups of musicians at the Volkfest (or Cannstatter Wasen).
From the first festival in 1818, the Cannstatter Wasen has grown and now features numerous amusement rides, 73 stands ranging from shooting galleries to raffles, 95 food stands, and Chandler’s market with 60 market stalls and a boxing show. The Volkfest also is home to 7 large beer tents. We headed to the Festzelt Göckelesmaier tent which seats 2,500, however, there are some tents seating up to 5,000. It really is a huge event in Stuttgart’s annual calendar.
Before heading to the Cannstatter Wasen I read that the majority of people wore traditional Dirndls or Lederhosen. We were kindly gifted traditional dress for our trip by Breuninger, the department store who dedicate an entire section in their store to traditional dress ready for the Wasen and other significant events throughout the year.
If you’ve never been to the Volkfest before, there are a few things you need to know before you head to the festival to make the most of your time there.
Your traditional dress
If you can, make the most of the event and wear traditional dress. This is not fancy dress and more of a nod to German culture and the heritage of the festival. Women wear Drindls (pronounced dun-dull) which are long-skirted dresses pulled in tight at the waist with a corset-style bodice with an apron and a Dirndl Blouse underneath. Men wear Lederhosen, which are leather shorts teamed with a checked shirt.
If you’re a female there are certain things you should be aware of when getting ready for Cannstatter Wasen. Do check that you have an appropriate Drindl and not a ‘fancy dress’ outfit, as this is seen as cultural appropriation. Similarly make sure that you’re not wearing too short a skirt (it should go to your knees) or showing too much of your Dirndl blouse (trust me on this one, don’t do it not even accidentally!).
Sending mixed signals
For tying your Drindl bow you also need to understand where it should be placed. Tie it to the right and you’re spoken for. To the left you’re single. If you tie it to the front either a virgin or relationship status is none of anybody’s business! Finally at the back means that unfortunately, you’re a widow.
Footwear is also something you need to consider when planning for Cannstatter Wasen. In times gone by it was appropriate to wear traditional heeled Drindl shoes with a strap over the top and a pair of white socks. However as time has passed anything goes really, many people wore heeled ankle boots, some wore flat ballet shoes and even smart dress trainers were seen. Remember you’re going to be on your feet dancing on the tables a lot of the time or walking around so be comfortable. Don’t wear open-toe sandals or flip flops though as you don’t want to get glass in your feet.
Getting ready for Volkfest
Another question I had before the Volkfest was how should I wear my hair? I read many conflicting things about straight hair being disrespectful to wearing your hair how you like. Since returning from the Cannstatter Wasen I can confirm that you can wear your hair however you like. We did check Pinterest and Instagram before getting ready to look at how people were wearing their hair. The five of us all wore our hair down and curled. However, if you’re going for the full experience we suggest wearing your hair in a plaited style.
Whilst I also read that you should avoid taking handbags. We all did simply for our cameras and equipment which was again fine. If you need to, take a small messenger style handbag as large bags are not allowed in the tent. And keep it on you at all times as there were warnings of pickpockets.
Your day at Cannstatter Wasen
Once you’re ready to head to the Wasen there are a few things you need to make sure you have before you go. Make sure you have Euros. A lot of the vendors and stalls don’t accept card so ensure you have plenty of cash. If you run out there are ATM machines around but don’t rely on them.
If you don’t have a table reservation you’re going to want to get there early. Fortunately, Stuttgart Airport had reserved us a table for 18:00. So we just walked in at this time to our seat. However, those without table reservations should arrive 30 minutes before the Wasen opens to make a beeline for the unreserved tables. Once you have a table remember your group can’t walk away and leave it or you’ll forfeit your seat.
Research the tents
If you are reserving a table, do make sure you research the tents. So you can find the tent that’s going to give you the best experience. There are 7 different tents all serving different beers all with diverse entertainment on all day and night.
Do note that by reserving a table you won’t have a table to yourself (unless there’s a group of around 20). As the tables are all communal. This is great though as you might be able to strike up a conversation. And make new friends with others at your table. Wasen is a place for coming together and celebrating.
The beer at Volkfest is stronger than your average and served in Maß (pronounced Mass) a 1litre glass. They’re pretty heavy and huge! Our server managed to carry 10 at once to the table, which was mighty impressive! Remember to pace yourself! You don’t want to be asleep in the corner for the conga starting or the shots coming out!
Cannstatter Wasen has so much going on that if you can spend a couple of days in Stuttgart you’ll really get a feel for the heritage of the festival and enjoy it to it’s maximum.
Have you been to Volkfest before? I’d love to hear about it below