Showing posts with label Bad Cannstatt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bad Cannstatt. Show all posts

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cannstatter Wasen: a Stuttgart tradition





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Anyone who claims to know anything about Stuttgart is aware of one thing for sure: in the district of Bad Cannstatt, across the footbridge from Berg, lies about 85 flat, open acres known as "the Wasen". This long, rectangular strip of land on the north-east bank of the Neckar River is a popular place indeed to all who live and, well, celebrate here. Six years from now, this beloved piece of real estate will celebrate its 200th anniversary, and this writer has the feeling that due to its reputation, it will see a celebration the likes of which will not be seen for a long time thereafter. However, although its origins were to celebrate good fortune, the situation leading up to that were not good at all.




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Throughout the growing seasons between 1815 and 1817, the little Kingdom of Württemberg suffered the worst famine in its history. Crops failed miserably due to remarkably cold temperatures which lasted throughout the year leaving hardly any summer at all. The people suffered miserably. Many would starve. 



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Young King Wilhelm I received grain shipments from the Tsar of Russia to help relieve the desperate situation. When crops finally began to yield produce once again, the king and queen held a festival in what is known as the Wasen in Cannstatt to celebrate the positive change in the people's fortune. It was held on the king's birthday, September 28, 1818. He decreed that every year thereafter on this day, the festival, otherwise known today simply as "The Wasen", would be held.




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The Wasen, located in what is known today as Bad Cannstatt, is a large fairground of approximately 85 acres which is located right along the banks of the Neckar River, very close to where Rosenstein Palace stands today.




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Tradition takes root                                                                                                    
Throughout the 19th century and first part of the 20th until the fall of the monarchy and establishmentof the Weimar Republic in 1918, the fall festival, known as the Volksfest, was held for only one day. It was an agricultural fair with prizes and awards given out for agricultural accomplishments. Thousands attended the event despite limited time of one day. In the 1920s it was expanded to just under a week and in the 1970s it was lengthened to just over two weeks. Agriculture is still a part of the theme during this time, but rides and other attractions have long taken over the festival's skyline and now it is the second largest festival in Germany after Munich's Oktoberfest, which has only just wound down when Stuttgart's huge party begins.  




The festival which takes place during the spring, beginning mid April through the middle of May is known as the Spring Festival or Frühlingsfest. Because there are two festivals in the year at the Wasen, people tend to mix the names and call both of   the events the Volksfest and I really don't think many people are too overly concerned about it. The most important thing is that everyone has a good time. And certainly this writer can attest: they do!




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So what is Frankie Avalon doing at the Stuttgart Frühlingsfest? Well, as can be seen in most of these photographs, the festival is similar to so many other festivals around the world. As this writer walks around the Fest grounds, the references to American and British pop stars from the past are obvious. If the huge beer halls with traditional music bellowing out of them were not so in abundance through fair lanes, it would be very obvious that one was in Germany.  




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Some people mistakenly call it Stuttgart's "Oktoberfest". It isn't. Certainly beer flows throughout the tents and halls, but doesn't it flow at just about every public event in Germany? Right, so that isn't the only thing that makes this festival what it is today.




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Interestingly enough, so many millions attend the festival during its duration that it makes it one of the largest such festival attractions in the world! I don't live so far away from the Wasen and I go by the festival grounds on the train or streetcar almost every day. The crowds are mind-boggling, but it all seems to work. It's worth walking through, at least, to see people in national costumes all over. Young people today are more and more caught up in the atmosphere of wearing traditional dress for the occasion, although some of the outfits tend to be borrowed from their Bavarian neighbor's styles than those of the traditional Württembergers. Oh well, it's colorful and a good time is had by all!




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The Ferris-wheel is said to be the largest portable Ferris-wheel in the world! I think the emphasis is on "portable" because it certainly isn't there the rest of the year. Now, that big thing on the banks of the Thames in London is notably larger, of course, but I don't see that going anywhere any other times of the year.  







Even though the fair-ways could be mistaken for any fair in North America, there is one thing that makes it all German: the massive beer tents with benches and tables and music and singing and eating and large mugs of beer in every hand. You are allowed to stand on the wooden benches to sway arm-in-arm with your neighbor while singing all the songs, but never stand on the table: it just ain't fittin'!   


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