10 ways to celebrate Easter in Germany like a local

Whether it's setting giant rolling wheels ablaze, or decorating their 'Easter trees', Germans have some quite amusing traditions to entertain themselves during Easter.

10 ways to celebrate Easter in Germany like a local
An Easter tree in Wulkau, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: DPA.

The Easter season starts in earnest on Maundy Thursday, marking the last meal Jesus had with his disciples.

Easter traditions follow the religious calendar with Friday a day of mourning (the crucifixion of Christ) before Easter Sunday marking his resurrection.

If you really want to celebrate like a true German, let this list be your guide.

1. Eat something green

Photo: DPA

Gründonnerstag – Maundy Thursday in English – is the last time Jesus ate with his disciples before he was crucified in what is known as the Last Supper. But the word grün in Germany does not in this case mean the colour green. It actually comes from the old German word grunen or greinen, meaning to cry, as theologian Ingolf Hübner told Spiegel.

Nevertheless, many Germans make it their tradition to eat green foods on this day anyway, including spinach or Frankfurt's famous green sauce.

2. Eat your fish, stop dancing, and be quiet

Photo: DPA
On Good Friday, Karfreitag in German, traditionally no church bells are supposed to ring, no songs are sung and no music should be played as this is the day Jesus was crucified. The word Kar comes from old German Kara, meaning sorrow or grief.
For many places, this quiet time also means it is still illegal to dance on Good Friday. But whether anyone actually enforces this is another question.
And for Catholics, it is also a day of fasting when fish rather than meat should be eaten.

3. Make a bonfire

An Easter bonfire on the island of Norderney. Photo: DPA

On the night before Easter Sunday, Germans across the country gather around huge bonfires, sometimes built with the wood of old Christmas trees. Depending on the region, you might notice these bonfires are planned for different days of the Easter time Holy Week.

The fire marks the end of winter and the coming of spring – and some say it also drives away the evil winter spirits.

4. Make a wheely big fire

Easter as celebrated in Lügde. Photo: DPA

Not content with a standard fire, some regions stuff straw into a large wooden wheel, set it on fire and roll it down a hill at night. This is called the Osterräderlauf – Easter wheel run.

The burning wheel is supposed to bring a good harvest if all wheels released roll straight down the hill. Lügde in North Rhine-Westphalia is particularly famous for its burning wheel rolling.

5. Search for goodies from the Easter Bunny

Photo: DPA

You may already be familiar with this tradition, but the idea of an egg-hiding Easter Bunny actually came from the Germans first. There are many different theories for how the myth came about, and in some regions there were also Easter Foxes and Easter Cranes in the past.

SEE ALSO: The very deutsch origins of the Easter Bunny

6. Eat a lamb

Photo: DPA

The lamb in Christianity is a symbol of Jesus Christ, as he was the sacrificial “Lamb of God” sent to die for the sins of humanity.

So you might also see lamb on the menu for Easter. And some Germans also bake cakes in the form of a lamb.

7. Paint some eggs

A girl painting an ostrich egg. Photo: DPA

This is also a very traditional German custom. In fact, the oldest surviving decorated egg dates back to the fourth century AD, and was discovered in a Romano-Germanic sarcophagus near Worms in Rhineland-Palatinate.

8. Get an 'Easter tree'

Photo: DPA

Christmas isn't the only holiday in Germany involving a tree. Germans also like to decorate their foliage with colourful hanging eggs in time for Easter in what is known as an Osterbaum – Easter tree.

9. Fight with your eggs

One game that some German families enjoy playing on Easter is Ostereiertitschen or Eierklopfen – egg tapping – though it has different names in different regions.
The basic premise is that two players each hold a hard-boiled egg in hand and with it try to crack their opponent's egg as much as possible without damaging their own.
10. Go for a walk
Germans also use all their time off over the long Easter weekend to get a bit of exercise in der Natur. The public holiday on Easter Monday is often the best time to do this.
This article was originally published on April 11th, 2017 and updated on April 15th, 2019.


‘Three Wishes for Cinderella’: How a 50-year-old German film became a Christmas classic

During the festive season, Germans of all ages go wild for a 50-year-old film that retells the story of Cinderella in a unique way. As a new exhibition opens, we explore how a children's film produced in the GDR become such a cultural phenomenon.

‘Three Wishes for Cinderella’: How a 50-year-old German film became a Christmas classic

For many viewers in Germany, it’s a film that is just as integral to Christmas as the trees and Lebkuchen. With its snowy landscapes and fairytale castles, the adaptation of ‘Three Wishes for Cinderella’ – or Drei Hasselnüsse für Ashenbrödel in German – has been enchanting audiences since its release in 1973. 

In Germany, most people know the story of Cinderella (played by Czech actress Libuse Safrankova), who with courage and deception, cleverly wins over the heart of the handsome, but somewhat naïve, prince (Pavel Travnicek). 

The onscreen fairytale turns 50 in November but its popularity shows no signs of wavering – both in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  

In fact, an exhibition based on the cult classic will soon be on display at Moritzburg Castle – a gothic castle in Saxony that was one of the shooting locations for the film. 

It begins on Wednesday November 22nd and will include original costumes, memorabilia, props and more. Fans can also visit other filming locations from the outdoor shooting at the gothic Svihov Castle in the west of the Czech Republic and the snowy slopes of the Bohemian Forest on the German-Czech border.  

Why does the film remain so popular?

Over the years, Three Wishes for Cinderella has become the classic Christmas film in Germany, as well as in the Czech Republic and Norway. Diana Heuschkel, editor of Desired magazine, summed up this German obsession when she wrote in a recent article: “Christmas is only half as nice without this film.”

In a testament to its popularity, Three Wishes for Cinderalla was shown a whopping 15 times between December 1st and New Year last year on German and Norwegian TV. 

In many ways, you could think of it as the Christmas version of “Dinner for One” – the British sketch that has become a New Year’s Eve institution in German households. 

READ ALSO: 50 years of a New Year’s dinner for one

In the case of Cinderella, audiences love its romantic cinematography and festive wintry scenery, but it also stands out as a uniquely inter-cultural creation. 

Three Wishes for Cinderella castle

Saxony’s Schloss Moritzburg in Saxony, where part of Three Wishes for Cinderella was filmed. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

With a cast of both German and Czech actors, the film was shot in multiple languages, with these characters then dubbed in each country to match the primary language.

Surprisingly though, this festive film was never intended to be a Christmas classic. In fact, the original plan was to shoot it in summer. 

The first version of the script planned to have Cinderella running across the ‘blooming meadows’ and washing her laundry in a ‘sun-drenched creak’. It was a fortunate coincidence that the East-German film studio DEFA, the German co-production partner of the Barrandov Studio in Prague, had the means to produce the film in the winter of 1972/73. 

DEFA also brought German acting legends to the table, including Rolf Hoppe who plays the king.

The script was quickly adapted to this change of season in just a few days.  

‘Autonomy and energy’

While November 1st, 1973 is traditionally cited as the official premiere date for today’s Christmas classic, investigations conducted by the National Film Archives in Prague revealed that the film began airing in Czechoslovakian cinemas on November 16th 1973. Interestingly, a gala premier for the socialist youth federation, SYU, had already taken place on October 26th.

READ ALSO: 10 must-see films and series to help you improve your German

Despite this early screening, the GDR-premiere was confirmed to have taken place on March 8th 1974. Unfortunately, some of the stars aren’t around to see the anniversary celebrations; the main actress, Libuse Safrankova, sadly passed away in June 2021 at the age of 68.  

One of the most memorable scenes of the film is the first meeting between Cinderella and the prince. When the heir to the throne is trying to hunt down a deer with his crossbow, he is suddenly struck by a snowball. It was thrown by the defiant Cinderella, who quickly runs away.

Three Wishes for Cinderella

The prince (Pavel Travnicek) embraces Cinderella (Libuse Safrankova) – a scene from the classic “Three Wishes for Cinderella”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/WDR/DRA/ARD | –

”This is not the kind of girl who waits passively to be rescued by a prince,” says Michael Bregant – the head of the National Film Archives in Prague – in an interview with DPA. 

“In this version, Cinderella acts with more autonomy and energy – that’s what makes the film so interesting.” 

Behind the scenes however, the young girl wasn’t the culprit behind the snowball attack: it was director Vaclav Vorlicek who threw the snowball with perfect precision from his spot next to the camera. 

“Vorlicek was a director who had the ambition of producing successful and popular films,” says Bregant about the filmmaker, who passed away in 2019. “He was no great philosopher, rather a pragmatist.”

Vorlicek’s sense of humour is also unmistakable. In an interview, he once said: “I walk through life with a smile, even when I am faced with obstacles, because deep down I am an optimist in nature.”

READ ALSO: Why ‘made in Germany’ TV has captured the imagination of the world

Political turbulence 

These obstacles were prominent back in 1973 when filming coincided with a time of political oppression and intensified censorship in Czechoslovakia. In August 1968, the Warsaw Pact states had crushed the Prague Spring reform movement with tanks. 

Many artists fell from grace. “The incredible playwright and screenwriter Frantisek Pavlicek wrote the script hidden behind a pseudonym,” explains the film expert Pavel Skopal – even though the fairytale has no political subtext.  

Pavlicek completely contorted the traditional role of a scriptwriter and skilfully weaved in three fairy tale stories by the Czech national writer Bozena Nemcova (1820-1862). That’s why Cinderella opens some magic nuts herself instead of shouting for the “little tree, little tree, shake [its branches and release the nuts] over me” like in the Brothers Grimm edition.

The DEFA co-producers were worried that German children wouldn’t be able to recognise the fairytale, but this has obviously turned out to be untrue over time. 

Pavel Travnicek, the actor who played the prince, was recently asked in an interview on Czech radio what first comes to his mind when he thinks back to the filming. “The winter… the winter, it was horrifically cold,” the 72-year-old immediately spurted out. The cast was young and endured temperatures of minus 17 degrees. 

When he is shown photos from the time, he is almost moved to tears: “Damn, what a time.” 

With reporting by Tom Ashton-Davies