A report about the famous Trachten- und Schützenzug – the biggest traditional costume parade in the world.
You’ve probably heard of Oktoberfest in Munich. It’s the world’s largest folk festival and certainly, a must visit on your tour through Germany. But Oktoberfest is not only about beer and beer tents (even though that certainly belong to the festival; read my Oktoberfest survival guide for more information). The Oktoberfest has always been tightly connected with ancient Bavarian traditions. One such tradition is certainly the Oktoberfest parade that takes place on the very first Sunday of Oktoberfest: The Trachten- und Schützenzug (traditional costume and marksman parade).
Traditional Costume Parade Oktoberfest: An introduction
The Trachten- and Schützenzug is the largest costume parade in the world. Between 8.000 and 10.000 people walk the 7-kilometer long course straight through the heart of the city of Munich. Among them are 70 traditional bands. Costume groups not only from Bavaria but form the rest of Germany frequently take part. Some come as far as Poland, France or even the USA. So if you are into traditional costumes, this really is your holy grail (here is the official participant list)
The parade is an integral part of the Oktoberfest in Munich. In fact, the one seems almost unthinkable without the other. Their history is equally entwined. Oktoberfest dates back to October 1810 and was first held to celebrate the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese (wrote a bit more about the history of Oktoberfest here). 25 years later a grand parade in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary was held, featuring traditional costumes and the best marksmen of the country. 60 Years later, in 1895, another such parade was organized by the German writer Maximilian Schmidt with roughly 150 groups. But it was not until 1950 that the costume parade became an annual event and one of the highlights of the Oktoberfest. Since 1956 a club has taken over the increasingly complex organization of the mega event.
What to expect?
The Trachten- und Schützenzug in Munich more or less marks the beginning of the Oktoberfest. As a tourist, I can only recommend starting your Oktoberfest-stay in Munich with this glorious parade. Be warned though, that the focus is very much on tradition. Anything that even resembles modern influences is strictly frowned upon. Carriages and floats will be horse drawn and all decorations will be flowers and natural materials – that, and above else that, makes the Traditional Costume Parade so very charming. Personally, I’d say it is especially worth your time if you got kids or elderly people along.
If you are not fond of getting a very intimate glimpse into Bavaria’s fashion and music history– don’t go. While most local people will bring a long drink and food to watch the parade (some even bring chairs or beer benches!), there are no booths selling such items.
So I have indeed heard people telling me that the Trachten- und Schützenzug is sort of boring. But honestly, I don’t see how! Nowhere else in the world you will see so many people wearing authentic traditional dresses. But even more amazing: The participants are more than just mere amateur actors. You will find these same costume clubs attending many traditional events throughout the year. They also focus on keeping ancient crafts tradition alive and mostly work closely together with local authorities. Even in their private time, you will see many of them wearing their traditional clothes on special days.
What to watch out for at the Oktoberfest Parade
Each year the parade will feature different costume groups, following an application system for the precious few spots (sounds weird with a parade of more than 2 hours and 10.000 people, I know). That being said, there are a few groups and participants that will always be there. Here’s the list of my favorites:
The Münchner Kindl
Did you know that the city of Munich has its own brand ambassador: It’s called the Münchner Kindl (eng.: Munich’s child). Each year it is selected from the most beautiful women in Munich. In all earnesty, the title isn’t worth a lot, much like a wine queen, but traditionally she will open the parade (okay to be quite precise the mounted police will do, but they look, in all honesty, quite boring).
Bavarian legend has it, that there once was a beautiful farmer’s daughter called Rosi. Each evening she would tour the now famous Pschorr brewery sitting on big steed generously drinking from a mug of beer. It is said it helped her fall asleep. According to legend, she was so beautiful, that soon quite a crowd gathered each evening to watch her. When in 1901 the beer tent of the Pschorr brewery opened for the first time, the owners hung up a painting from the royal Bavarian painter Karl Schultheiss inside the tent featuring the Bräurosl (roughly: Rosi from the brewery [of Pschorr]) in a traditional dress. Ever since then the tent has been called Bräurosl, even though the original name was actually Pschor’sche Almhütte. Now the facts about the original Bräurosl are all lost in legend, but the owners of the Bräurosl beer tent decided to stick to the tradition. These days the Bavarian singer Karolin Weidner impersonates the Bräurosl and will ride along the traditional costume parade. If you happen to visit the Pschorr tent during your stay at Oktoberfest you will probably get the chance of hearing her yodeling as well!
The Bavarian Prime Minister
To be honest, I really don’t know why, but for some reason, important Bavarian politicians will parade along in their carriages. Now as a tourist you will probably not care about Horst Seehofer or our mayor Dieter Reiter, but the carriages with their rich flower are still quite the show either way. (I love the fact that the security person is wearing lederhosen as well!)
The horse carriages of the Oktoberfest breweries
I already mentioned the Bräurosl, but the rest of the breweries also will send their carriages with huge beer barrels (they are mostly fake; only Augustiner Bräu stills uses wooden barrels for fermentation).
On the carriages, you will see the tent owners sitting next to a driver. The guy from Pauler has quite the grumpy face, wouldn’t u say? (Personally, I’d say: he’s a true Bavarian! :P). Either way, there is no denying that those brewery carriages are quite impressive!
Back in the 19th century, these had actually been used to bring the beer to Oktoberfest. Naturally, these days are long gone, so they are little more than floats. But hey, who am I to complain about such a sight!
The most successful marksmen of the country
Marksmanship has a long tradition in Bavaria. Basically, every single village throughout Bavaria will have a club dedicated to target practice and (Olympic) sport-shooting. Be aware that these clubs mostly use air-rifles, air-pistols, small bore weapons, and crossbows. Tournament winners are usually awarded a silver medal. During the Trachten und Schützumzug (and similar parades throughout Bavaria) the most successful marksmen will proudly parade their medals for you. Such a lovely tradition, don’t you think?
Goaßlschnalzen (whip cracking)
If you have not heard of the Goaßlschnalzen before, then you will get the unique chance to the traditional costume parade in Munich. And missing them is hardly possible: Small groups of men will perform rhythmic snapping and cracking of a whip. It goes back to carriage drivers developing certain ways of cracking their whip as means of communication. These days it is only a spectacular performance, often accompanied by a band – quite musical, believe it or not.
There are quite a few floats stretched along the Oktoberfest parade since most of the groups will either be bands or just costumes. Some clubs, however, do bring their own floats. Needless to say, they are all very traditional (like an old rowing boat in the picture above). But hey – who said a float would have to feature naked women and lots of sparkles, if you can have a big beard?
Color guards and flag spinning is actually a very old tradition in Bavaria. So it goes without surprise that the traditional costume parade can’t do without them. Most of them will precede the bands (which is actually their historical context), but some of them will be just that – flag spinner groups. Depending on where you stand you will see them spinning around their colorful (and sometimes beautifully embroidered) flags in wonderful choreographies!
Traditional Costumes from around the world
Big as the Traditional Costume Parade at the Oktoberfest is, it started to attract foreign groups as well. The committee will only allow traditional groups, but they never said anything about them being from Bavaria. After all, Oktoberfest itself is already full with Bavarian costumes, haha!
Acrobats and historical costumes
Most groups will feature traditional costumes from the 17th, 18th and 19th century. Some, however, delve even deeper into the past. Usually, you will have quite a couple of medieval groups – some of them even specializing on acrobatics!
I’m not sure if this really needs a special mentioning but I will conclude the list with the many traditional Bavarian costumes that you will be able to see during the Trachten- und Schützenzug. Be aware that it will not only be Lederhosen and Dirndl. A lot of groups will showcase costumes from different times and different regions!
The Traditional Costume Parade will always be held on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest. 2015 it was on September the 20th. The Traditional Costume Parade 2016 will thus be held on September 18th. It usually starts at 10 am in the morning. The whole parade will roughly take 2 hours, so depending on where you are positioned along the course, the first group might walk past you as late as 11 am.
Where does the traditional costume parade take place?
The parade starts right in front of the Bavarian Parliament at a monument called “Max II Monument”, proceeds on along the Maximilianstraße, then Residenzstraße, Odeonsplatz, Ludwigstraße. It then takes the Umkehrung Höhe Galeriestraße, moves on to the Ludwigstraße and further on to Brienner Straße. Here is the rest of the track: Amiraplatz, Salvatorplatz, Kardinal-Faulhaber-Straße, Promenadeplatz, Pacellistraße, Lenbachplatz, Karlsplatz, Sonnenstraße, a grand loop around Josephspitalstraße, Sonnenstraße, Schwanthalerstraße, Paul-Heyse-Straße, Georg-Hirth-Platz, Kaiser-Ludwig-Platz, Schubertstraße and finally Esperantoplatz.
Where is the best spot to watch the Oktoberfest parade?
I usually watch the parade right below the Bavarian parliament. Now as a tourist this will give you the opportunity to check out this beautiful building from close up. The real reason for choosing this as my best spot to watch the costume parade is, however, a different one:
First of all, groups will still be full of energy (remember they got an almost 7-kilometer long walk ahead of them). But in my opinion, the trees lining the Maximilanstrasse also make for a beautiful background. Certainly I am not the only one who sees it this way – usually, this is the spot where the German TV (ARD) will broadcast live as well.
That being said the parade will probably be just as beautiful to watch no matter which spot you chose. Know that there are a couple of stages along the course – most of them are reserved for special guests.
Do you want to partake?
Believe it or not: It is actually quite possible to partake in the parade. The Festring club is taking in the application each year. Be aware that you will not be the only one to apply and obviously they are only taking in official costume groups and no individuals. Furthermore, there is quite the list of terms you need to fulfill to be eligible. It goes without saying that anything resembling modern attire is strictly forbidden (but also tattoos and piercings)!
Now either way, whether you just want to watch or partake with your costume club, I hope you liked my little blog about the Trachten- und Schützenzug in München. Have you visited the Oktoberfest and seen the parade yet? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!
Wow man, this is a wonderful breakdown of the costume parade. Seems like this serves as a proper opening ceremony for Oktoberfest, if I’m not mistaken. Thanks for sharing, Norman. This is a great guide to the first weekend in Bavaria:)
Thx for the kind words Carl. Actually it is quite a pitty that the parade doesn’t get more media attention and Oktoberfest usually is just reduced to the booze. Ah well, it could be worse :P