Germany’s Sommertagszug Tradition: Greeting Spring & Bidding Farewell to Winter

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In parts of Germany three weeks before Easter, it’s customary to celebrate spring’s return with a Sommertagszug or summer procession. Though this year’s round of such fests was held last Sunday, for me, the 14th of March will forever be synonymous with Sommertagszugs since ‘Pi Day‘ 2010 is the date my husband and I first met and then enjoyed the Sommertagszug celebration together in Heidelberg, Germany. The fest has been celebrated in Heidelberg for more than 500 years.

Heidelberg Sommertagszug

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Believed to have pagan origins, the fest celebrates spring’s return and winter’s banishing. Children take to the streets with sticks adorned with colorful, ruffled ribbons, topped with pretzels and eggs. In Heidelberg, they walk along the city’s long pedestrian street, the Hauptstrasse, until they reach the Market Square (Marktplatz), where dancers (dressed as winter and spring) theatrically battle it out on stage. Finally, a paper effigy of winter is torched. The best part of the celebration is, of course, the pretzels that are handed out to onlookers, and the realization that spring has returned.

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Paris and Heidelberg with Shawn008

Paris and Heidelberg with Shawn009

Paris and Heidelberg with Shawn010

woman and children on balcony in Heidelberg Germany

A woman depicting Liselotte (a German princess who promoted traditions such as the Sommertagsfest) watches the procession. Liselotte was the sister-in-law of Louis XIV.

Paris and Heidelberg with Shawn012

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16 Comments on “Germany’s Sommertagszug Tradition: Greeting Spring & Bidding Farewell to Winter

  1. Great pictures – I especially like the man with the grumpy face – reminds me of my granddad who always looked grumpy but never really was!

    • Your comment about your grandfather brought a smile to my face, Andrew. I guess I should’ve mentioned that this man was playing old man winter. He was swiftly defeated by miss spring. :)

    • It’s quite fun to imagine people having done this for centuries too, Phil. When I lived in the city where this parade was held, my home was in a circa 1762 building. So much history in Heidelberg!

  2. The photographs are a delight, and they made me hungry for pretzels. The Good Husband makes oversize pretzels so I informed him he must make them before Easter. A new tradition! Virginia

    • What a fun new tradition you have!

      Do you have a recipe, Virginia? Even though I can’t eat the gluten version, I’d love to make a batch for my husband. Perhaps you can post pictures from your pre-Easter baking fest?

    • My husband does too; he can’t resist the pretzels whenever we’re in Germany. They’re super tasty with a fresh, creamy cheese spread and chopped herbs.

  3. Wonderful pics of both people and architecture… rituals like that bind a community together, I think it’s wonderful that they are all out there participating….

  4. Tricia, stunning pictures! Love the pretzels too. My favorite from the celebration!!

    • Thanks, Judy. Have you ever whipped up a batch of homemade pretzels? My husband can’t resist them whenever we’re on a roadtrip in Germany. :)

      I’ve wondered how they tuck that egg into the decorative stick too? So festive!

  5. Hello,
    I grew up near Heidelberg but I’ve never been there on Sommertag. But we too had Sommertagsstecken in Kindergarten.
    I have some remarks:

    (Liselotte was the sister of Louis XIV) She was the sister in law to him. See also: Wikipedia “Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine”
    (this was indirectly the reason why Heidelberg and his castle was destroyed by the troops of Louis XIV).

    You have to distinguish the dough of a Sommertags-Brezel (and the one on Saint Martin’s Day). It is out of a sweet dough with yeast. Whereas the other Bretzels you normally buy in southern Germany are salted dough with yeast (Lye pretzels). And the salted ones differ: in Mannheim and Heidelberg they are thicker (not bigger!) than in Speyer (where they have a big feast: Brezelfest).

    The biggest difficulty for the homemade pretzel seems to me how to organize the lye.
    We eat the Brezels normally only with butter. If you want to learn How: http://www.butterbreze.de/kurs1.html

    Greetings from (now) Schwaebisch Hall (which is also a nice old town),
    Meike B.

    • Meike, thank you for reading and for sharing your insight about Sommertag and the tastiest part of the day – the pretzels! I had no idea that Speyer had a Brezelfest, and I was also interested to learn about how the pretzels differ from area to area. Looks like something we’ll have to add to our must-do list the next time we are in the Rheinland-Pfalz. Enjoy spring in Baden-Württemberg; it’s certainly a pretty time of year to be there.

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