One of my favorite festivals of the year has got to be the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival. I'm just wild about pumpkins -- our wedding cake was even pumpkin flavored -- and this festival is completely dedicated to them.
I remember our first fall in Stuttgart when we attended the festival for the first time. I was amazed how such a quirky event had become a staple here. The stately Ludwigsburg palace gardens were completely transformed into a wonderland of gourds, with fantastic shapes and carvings, all with the theme of Switzerland. We got to see the Swiss Alps of pumpkins, a Swiss army knife, and even a Swiss Alpine man blowing a horn made out of pumpkins.
The following year we returned again, to the theme of the Olympics. We saw pumpkin skiers, pumpkin torch bearers, and pumpkin bobsledders.
This year, in keeping with our tradition, we returned to see the Royal theme.
I began our yearly pilgrimage by stopping at Starbucks. I actually don't go to Starbucks all that often. I don't really like the taste of their drip coffee, and at 4€ a drink, they can be quite expensive in Germany. Still, I really do love their pumpkin spice lattes.
In fact, I was distraught when we moved here and found out that the German Starbucks didn't have the syrup. Instead they served some bizarre apple syrup drink. I even tried to make my own pumpkin syrup (only to end up with a veggie mush mess that left a pumpkin/cinnamon paste at the bottom of my coffee). Then the following year Germany figured it out and imported my favorite Starbucks coffee. Now I feel like I can enjoy the fall properly again.
So following my trip to Starbucks, we headed out on the train to Ludwigsburg. My VVS Ticket Plus covers me, Leo (as a child), and Matt (as a guest), throughout all the zones in Stuttgart on the weekends and holiday. This meant we basically got to travel the 20 minute ride to Ludwigsburg for free on my pass.
Once arriving, we decided to walk to the palace. It only takes about 10-15 minutes, and we passed through the stunning downtown area. We took close to 20 minutes this time, though, because I was distracted by the Bäckerei Luckscheiter shop window along the way. They had lots of lovely little marzipan and chocolate confections in the shapes of mushrooms, hedgehogs, pumpkins, and other fall themes. I walked out of the store with a bag of marzipan vegetables and praline pumpkins and acorns, which made for some yummy snacks at the end of the day.
Once we got to the palace, we passed through the central grounds and headed straight through to the gardens. The cost per person to get in was 8,50€, which is the usual adult price to see the palace grounds. Happily for us, Leo was free and allowed in as long as we had him on his leash (which he always is).
We headed down the main path first where we were greeted by one pumpkin sculpture after another, from a lion to a giant chess set, jousters and frog princes -- even Elvis made an appearance. Each sculpture was royal in some way, though I raised an eyebrow when they declared Robin Hood the "King of the Thieves". It was probably a bad English translation.
See if you can spot the royal theme in my gallery below:
Around the middle of the grounds there were the usual food stands featuring all things pumpkin, including pumpkin soup, pumpkin maultaschen, pumpkin quiche, spaghetti with pumpkin sauce, pumpkin muffins and cookies, pumpkin flammkuchen, and even pumpkin burgers. In years past I've enjoyed the pumpkin soup (smooth, but heavier on the vegetable than on the cream) and the spaghetti with pumpkin sauce. If I had to choose a favorite, I'd say it was the pumpkin fries that we ate on our first visit. Sadly, this weekend was the big soup event, and so they replaced the vats of sizzling fries with a huge cauldron of soup.
Since I've had the soup before, I instead went for two new foods this year: a pumpkin schorle and a pumpkin sausage. The schorle was a rather interesting blend of apple, pear, and pumpkin ciders. I really liked the taste (which was heavier on the apple than the pumpkin), though Matt wasn't impressed. The sausage, I have to admit, was a bit odd in texture. The sausage itself tasted like a normal German white sausage, but it was studded with pumpkin seeds inside that were a bit soft and crunchy at the same time. It certainly tasted good enough, though I don't know if I'd order one again.
Next to the food stands there were many picnic tables and where we enjoyed our snack while we listened to music from light rock to country. There was also a giant wooden house decked with shelves and shelves of pumpkins from all over the world. Inside I found the usual craft-type decorations (think wooden mushrooms, pumpkin candleholders, and fall wreaths), along with various packaged pumpkin foods, like pasta, seeds, oil, liquor, curry, chocolate, and sekt. New this year was tall jars of orange pumpkin ketchup.
After filling ourselves with pumpkin snacks, we wandered around the grounds and saw some very not-so-royal, though comedic, displays. In one tent they had several fish tanks filled with carved gourds featuring grotesque faces. At another display, a number of pear-shaped green gourds put on a series of tableaus, including a chase scene, a dinner scene, and a battle scene.
In addition to the food and displays, there are usually weekend special events going on. This year we went on the weekend of the big soup event. Our first year we stumbled across a pumpkin carving contest and our second year we saw a giant pumpkin judging contest. I've even heard that they have pumpkin boat racing in the large castle pool. I should note that the festival is also very kid-friendly, with pumpkin carving of Halloween and hay rolling stations among the many sculptures.
On the way our the door, I selected a few gourds to take with us and scatter around the house. It just doesn't feel like fall to me unless there are pumpkins around. They sell many different kinds of pumpkins for both decorating and eating at the festival, so it's a good place to stock up.
We also picked up a bag of cinnamon-sugar coated pumpkin seeds. I really like the sugared nuts at all the festivals in Germany, and though almonds continue to be my favorite, pumpkin seeds and cashews are also pretty high on my list. They also offered salted and chili flavors at the festival, but cinnamon is still my favorite.
Tip: Most of the stalls had small samples at each of the stands, so you can try them before you buy them (or go fill yourself up on samples).
I've had my fill of the festival for the time being, but it is going on through November 2nd, so there's still plenty of time if you want to make a visit yourself to check it out. Let me know what you think of it in the comments below.