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Osterzeit: how is Easter celebrated in Germany?

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Germany is famous for its Christmas traditions, but it is also full of many Easter ones too. In fact, it was in Germany where the Osterhase (Easter bunny) was first used as a part of Easter celebrations. Below are five important German traditions that take place during the Easter period.

Photo: David Mark from Pixabay

1. Carnival season

At 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th day of the 11th month, the ‘Fifth Season’ (the carnival period) commences. This is usually signalled with the storming of the local town hall by a mob of costumed merrymakers. The carnival season then carries on until Ash Wednesday the following year.

The most important day in the carnival’s calendar is Rosenmontag (Shrove Monday), two days before the beginning of Lent. The festivities include parades, costumes, dances, and a lot of alcohol.

2. Osterfeuer

At sunset on Holy Saturday, it is very common to see bonfires in the towns of Germany. They are usually left to burn until sunrise. In some regions, particularly Altbayern, an effigy of Judas is placed on the bonfire, in keeping with the tradition of the Burning of Judas.

Whilst the origins of the Osterfeuer are somewhat disputed, the fire is said to act as a symbol for the light of Christ. Nowadays, however, the tradition is largely seen as a way to get the community together for a night of celebration.

3. Ostereierbaum (Easter egg tree)

Eierbaum, Saalfeld. Photo: AndrewPoison at German Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Similar in concept to a Christmas tree, Easter trees are common in German homes over the Easter period. Typically, the Easter tree is a vase with branches inside, and many decorative eggs dangling from them. However, Easter egg trees can be seen on much larger scales. For example, in the state of Thuringia, visitors can see the Saalfelder Ostereierbaum (Saalfeld Easter egg tree). The apple tree has been decorated by the Kraft family since 1965 and now boasts over 10,000 eggs. However, the Guinness World Record holder for the most eggs is Rostock Zoo (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), having decorated a tree with 71,596 eggs.

4. Easter brunch

On Easter Sunday, families in Germany usually enjoy a special brunch. The food on the table usually consists of buns and various baked goods. Typically, the children will have decorated some boiled eggs, which are a necessary addition to the meal. The highlight of the brunch is often either the Osterkranz (Easter wreath) or the Hefezopf (yeast braid) – types of dough made of yeast and filled with dried fruits and nuts.

5. An Easter walk

Photo: "Frühling"by Tobi NDH is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Thanks to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Osterspaziergang (Easter walk) has become popularised; on Easter Monday, many German families will go for a long walk and enjoy the feeling of spring in the air.

In his play Faust, Goethe incorporates a poem about Faust going on an Easter walk with a friend. On this walk, the character feels a sense of rebirth because of his connection to the natural world around him. Many schools in Germany ask their students to learn and recite this poem. As such, it has become almost entirely linked to contemporary German traditions during the Easter period.

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