With the summer festival season in full swing, I thought I'd take a moment to share a few tips to help you have a good time at your next festival. These are by no means the end-all-be-all of festival enjoyment, but they do represent a few of the things I've learned from three years of festival-going in Germany.
1. Go hungry but not starving. This one is probably a no brainer, but I can't tell you how many times my husband and I have gone to a festival hungry so that we can try everything, only to end up cranky at each other because of long lines and low blood sugar. (This happened to us just a few weeks ago at the first street food market.) If you absolutely insist on going on an empty stomach -- as I usually do -- then bring an emergency snack just in case.
2. Make a round and then decide (but bring a drink with you). The last thing you want is to stuff yourself at a festival, and then find your favorite food on your way out and be too full to try it. That's why I like to survey all the food stalls at a festival before I make my choices (or better yet, go back to a festival a few times, like at the second street food market). Just be sure to get a drink first so that you have something to keep your stomach occupied while you peruse the stalls.
3. Bring a friend -- or two or three. My reasons for this are twofold: firstly so that you can try as much food as possible, but secondly so that you can tag-team. My husband is my favorite festival partner for this reason; while he waits in line for one kind of food, I'll get us drinks, or vice versa. (This really helped to make the lines at this year's Afrika-Festival much easier.)
4. Bring cash. Germany, as a whole, runs on cash, and this is especially true for festivals. You'll need to make sure that you stop at an ATM before attending a festival. If you can, also try to bring as many smaller bills and change as possible. Most glasses (yes, your beer and wine will be served in a glass) and plates (yup, your food will be served on plates, too) come with a 1-2€ Pfand, which is a fee for using them so that people don't just steal them left and right (though it's an easy way to collect some souvenir glasses at the Stuttgarter Weindorf). When you return your glass or plate after you've finished eating, then you'll get your Pfand back. As such, bring a little more cash than you think you'll need to cover your Pfand costs.
5. Bring a bottle of water. Even though all festivals sell drinks, they can be expensive. For example, you can buy a bottle of beer at the grocery store for around 1€, give or take a few cents, but at most festivals, a draught beer costs anywhere from 3-5€ with most cocktails costing anywhere from 5-8€. Even if you're willing to pay those costs, it's a good idea anyway to have some water on hand so you can stay hydrated in the summer sun. You can also often find fountains around the city labeled Trinkwasser at which you can refill your water bottle.
6. Dress appropriately. Yes, this is another no-brainer, but there are a few different parts to this tip. Firstly, wear close-toed shoes. Even if it's burning hot outside, stubbing your toes or getting stepped on at a crowded festival can really hurt. Wearing sturdy shoes can help you avoid any accidents. Speaking of, don't wear white. Even if you're not likely to spill your food, others people might be. (I was finding mulled wine stains on my cream-colored winter jacket for weeks after our trip to the Weihnachtsmarkt. I learned my lesson then.) And lastly, dress in layers. I find the summer weather in Germany rather unpredictable. One day might be super hot, while the next might feel like fall. This can be especially true once the sun goes down. If nothing else, bring a wrap or pashmina to protect you from both the sun and cold.
7. Wear an over-the-shoulder bag. This is a good idea just so that you can leave your hands free to eat and drink while you're walking around. It also makes you less likely to leave your bag, or worse, turn around to find it's been stolen (though I find theft to be uncommon here). If you don't have one, then you could always pick one up if you're going somewhere (like the SommerFestival der Kulturen).
8. Bring a picnic basket or plastic bag for personal belongings. A picnic basket is smart for outdoor festivals, like the Sommerfest, so you can bring your own goodies, like wine or snacks for children and pets. However, if you plan to go to a festival like the Cannstatter Volksfest or Oktoberfest that are indoors, then bring a plastic bag or reusable plastic shopping bag to store your belongings. Trust me, when the night is over and the lights go up to reveal all the spilled beer and food, you'll be very glad you stored your fall coat in a safe place to wear home.
9. Bring a blanket with a lined underside. Maybe I left the States before these became popular, but I find them to be an absolutely brilliant invention: picnic blankets with a lined underside. They keep your blanket from getting soaked through when the ground is wet. Ours always comes in great handy at the Sommerfest and for picnics in the Schlosspark. Even if you're not going to a festival with grass, it's nice to have something to sit down on to protect your bum from a hard sidewalk. We found our blanket at Galeria Kaufhof, though I've had friends who've purchased theirs at other German department stores.
10. Don't bring your dog at peak festival hours. Although dogs on a leash are allowed at most festivals in Germany, unless you've followed tip #3 and can leave your dog with a friend on the edge of the crowd or on your blanket in tip #9, it's not a good idea to bring him/her during peak festival times, like lunch or dinner. This is especially true for tight spaces, like at the Hamburger Fischmarkt, and for loud spaces, like the Stuttgart Lichterfest. I know from experience that as much as Leo loves to be with us, he much prefers his comfy bed at home to being stepped on at a loud, crowded festival.
So there you have it! Those are my top 10 tips for enjoying the summer festivals in Germany. Have you been to any festivals recently? What tips do you have? Leave them in the comments below.