I first heard about the Ludwigsburg Venetian Festival three years ago when we moved to Stuttgart. A friend of mine went with her young son and husband, and said it was a great event that I should try. So, the following year (2013), a group of us decided to go together. We picked the same weekend, took the train to Ludwigsburg, and strolled to the Marktplatz on that drizzly Saturday.
However, we knew something wasn't quite right as we approached the main square. Where were the tents and the costumed revelers? Had we missed something? A quick check of our smartphones revealed that the Venetian Festival is a bi-yearly event, and somehow five sets of eyes had missed that fact, because not one of us had ever heard of a bi-weekly festival until that day.
No matter. Our disappointment was soon replaced by good pizza, cheap wine, and new friends as we retreated into the underground dining room of an Italian restaurant along the square. Next year we would be sure not to miss the festival.
And so this past Sunday we once again planned our weekend, took the train to Ludwigsburg, and strolled to the Marktplatz. Only this time, we knew we were in the right place once we got off the train and began to see people strolling by dressed up in 18th century costume (think Marie Antoinette) with the most elaborate masks, fans, canes, and other accessories.
As we got closer to the main square, we were met by an imposing 10-foot cream-colored wall. But once we paid our 10€ entrance fee, we were allowed to step behind the wall into what felt like a another world. All around us were costumed people who had clearly put a lot of thought into their dress. We saw one woman in a unicorn mask with a giant red rose, a pair of women with masks surrounded by giant feathered halos, and many couples dressed in matching his-and-her outfits. The best part was that each costumed festival-goer was more than willing to pose for a photo, a fact that many amateur photographers (including myself) took advantage of.
Lest you get the wrong impression, these costumes were not like the home-crafted ones you often see at American Renaissance Fairs or even at a Halloween. Rather, many of the festival goers looked like they had just walked off of the movie set for Casanova -- their costumes looked that accurate. I suppose Ludwigburgers must get a few chances each year to wear their outfits, what with the Baroque castle and its many events nearby. The Venetian effect was further heightened by the many stages and other artistic installations set up around the main square.
Here are a few of the good pictures that I was able to snap:
Down the Marktstraße there were a good many tents set up selling a number of goods from Venetian masks to Murano glass jewelry. I particularly liked one stall selling vibrantly painted metal animals for the garden and home.
There were also a few food stands, including one selling Italian cookies, another with lots of different types of marzipan, and yet another with huge white chunks of parmesan and dried sausages. We tried some free samples as we took stock of what was on offer, but (somewhat to my disappointment) street food didn't really seem to be the order of the day.
Many of the restaurants along the square, however, are Italian, and for the festival they were offering special menus. And so we walked back to La Signora Moro, the Italian restaurant that we had enjoyed so much last year, and sat down at a table on the patio.
I chose a lovely glass of chianti paired with an orecchiette pasta with a tomato and ground beef sauce, topped with fresh-shaved parmesan. The sauce was rich and satisfying, with the right blend of acidity and sweetness.
Matt ordered the pizza parma with parma ham, arugula, and shaved parmesan. The ingredients were extra fresh and the crust was of the thin variety, but sadly, it could have used another minute or two in the brick oven as the crust, though cooked through, was not as golden brown as it should have been. Despite this minor problem, we enjoyed our meals and would return there again the next time we're in Ludwigsburg.
After dinner we were lured away to the square by the beating of drums, or rather trash cans, being played by a music group, followed by the "ohs" and "ahs" of the crowd watching a pair of fire jugglers. After them we saw a very surreal puppet show with white, single-eyed robots and a speechless comedy sketch featuring three "chefs" that reminded me very much of the old I Love Lucy episode when Lucy works in a chocolate factory for a day.
After that we took another stroll back towards the Fischerhafen where we listened to a jazz band play. Along the way, we stopped to have dessert at a crêpe stand that was selling làngos. These fried flat breads are technically Hungarian, but I didn't really care after taking my first bite of the deep fried dough smothered in nutella. One of the many things I love about Europe is the fact that you can usually always find some kind of nutella-smothered dessert at a festival -- yum!
Finally, as the night started to set in and the festival began to wind down, we were treated to one final show featuring a tiny humanoid light being and later two giant light beings playing with a light ball. The show was definitely my favorite of the evening with its electronic mood music and otherworldly light beings.
I wanted to stay longer, but towards 9:30 pm I began to yawn and knew that we should start heading to the s-bahn if we wanted to take the 20-30 minute journey home and still get a decent night's sleep before work in the morning. When the festival returns in 2016, we'll definitely try to go on the Saturday night (as long as its not raining, as it did this year) so that we can enjoy more of the festivities.
So mark your calendars and plan on going, because the Venetian Festival is truly an event not to miss!