In the last two weeks of September until the first weekend of October, more than six million people from all over the world will be heading to Munich for the famous Oktoberfest. They will drink way too much beer, eat copious amounts of German food, get dizzy on the rides (or just get dizzy from the beer), and generally have a good time. I love everyone’s excitement about Oktoberfest, and I’ve held the occasional Oktoberfest-themed party myself while living abroad, but I’m telling you not to go. This year, head to Stuttgart for a change. Go to the Cannstatter Volksfest, also known as “Wasen” by the locals.
It takes place around the same time (September 26th to October 12th this year), and while it’s almost as big as the Oktoberfest in Munich, it’s a more local and laid back affair. A Volksfest (German for “people’s fair) is a common occurrence all over Germany in the fall, and while the Oktoberfest in Munich has its roots in the wedding of crown prince Ludwig and princess Therese in 1810, the Cannnstatter Volksfest dates back to a harvest festival in 1818. To this day, the symbol of the festival is a 26 meter high fruit column, and every four years, the fair is accompanied by an agricultural exhibition to showcase local agriculture and technology.
But I digress, you’re probably mainly interested in the beer! There’s plenty of that, as the Wasen is the second biggest beer festival in Germany (and the world, apparently, if internet statistics can be trusted). Just like in Munich, the Cannstatter Volksfest has numerous beer tents that are filled with lines and lines of beer benches and beer tables (apparently you don’t call them that in English, but we do in German, we like to be precise and these tables and benches are, well, for drinking beer), each of them packed with people holding a Maß in their hand, singing along to the music and partying. If you prefer watching from a safe distance, many of the bigger tents have balconies with quieter areas, although you may have to reserve a table in advance and a minimum consumption will apply.
The good news is, the beer in Stuttgart is cheaper than in Munich (as are hotel rooms), where prices for a Maß can now cross the 10 Euro barrier. A Maß (the strange squiggly letter is what we call a “sharp s”) is one of those famous mugs they serve the beer in, and it carries exactly one liter or 33.8 US fl oz of beer these days, if the bar man served it correctly. If you’re worried that the beer is not the same as in Munich, rest assured that many German breweries still pride themselves for brewing according to the “Reinheitsgebot”, a law going back as far as 1516 in Bavaria and now technically superseded by EU regulation, but still followed out of tradition and for marketing purposes. It states that the only ingredients that can be used to make beer are water, barley and hops. The German brewers are proud of their beers, and they brew special editions for the Volksfest. Word of warning: They often contain a higher-than-usual percentage of alcohol – and that’s pretty high in German beer to begin with, so you might want to line your stomach with some greasy food, of which you’ll find plenty.
And if beer isn’t your thing, Stuttgart also has two wine tents, as the city is surrounded by vineyards – the nearby town where my parents are from is actually called Weinstadt, literally “wine city”! So go ahead and try both, beer and wine (in that order of course!). German white wine is surprisingly good, and the “Cannstatter Oberamt” tent celebrates it in style.
Aside from the alcohol – have I mentioned yet that there is plenty of it? – the Cannstatter Volksfest also has amazing food. Some traditional options to try:
The traditional but somewhat unadventurous Wasen option, the “halbes Göckele”: You´ll get a simple but delicious half rost chicken if you order this
- Spanferkel: Suckling pig, grilled, usually served with Sauerkraut in the beer tents.
- Schweinshaxe: Grilled ham hock! Can you tell by now that we like meat here, preferably in big chunks?
- Käsespätzle: I dare you to pronounce that one! Home made egg noodles with cheese and fried onion. Kind of like a Swabian version of Mac and cheese and a dish I deeply love. Also, vegetarian friendly!
- Maultaschen mit Kartoffelsalat: Think giant pork and spinach ravioli served with potato salad.
- Rote Wurst: A local type of grilled sausage, served on a bun. Pick one up at one of the stalls as you walk around the fair outside!
There´s a lot more, but that would make a whole post in itself… just point at whatever your neighbour is having, it´ll be good! And order a beer to go with it. Fun fact: If you don´t speak German and just say “a beer”, you´ll sound just like a local! The Swabian dialect abbreviates and changes many words, and the word “ein” (a or one) turns to “a”, so you´ll fit right in!
Have you been to the Cannstatter Volksfest aka Wasen? What did you think?