It’s October 31 and jack-o-lanterns line the streets, witches and goblins gather in darkened rooms to eat candy and pumpkin soup, and TV stations pull out all their horror movies – Halloween has come to Germany.
Halloween is becoming more popular in Germany
Years ago Germans waited until November 11, the start of Carnival, to don costumes and consume large bags of candy. But now, the dress-up party season kicks off a bit earlier – at the end of October, just in time for children and adults to embrace the American tradition of Halloween.
In England and America everyone knows that October 31 is Halloween, in fact it’s pretty hard to overlook. The stores start putting up their ghoulish displays a month in advance, the candy producers churn out huge batches of stick-to-your-mouth sugar bombs, and television stations drum up the suspense with horror films.
In Germany, things aren’t much different, despite the foreignness of the holiday.
Bringing horror to Germany
Since the middle of the 90s, the trend of dressing up in scary disguises and celebrating with spooky parties and horror films has made its way to Germany. More and more young people between the ages of 15 and 30 are adopting the Halloween festivities they see on American television shows, in MTV, and in Hollywood films, and bringing them home to cities like Cologne and Berlin.
"I celebrate Halloween because it’s so totally cool," Melanie Schmitz told DW-RADIO in Cologne. "I really like dressing up and scaring other people," the student said, explaining why she and her friends were going to a horror party on Oct. 31.
Others in the traditionally Carnival-crazed city celebrate Halloween because it’s the "in" thing to do. At this time of the year, when the weather is bad, there’s not much going on. And Carnival is still a few weeks off.
Sabine Schröder, a costume salesperson in one of Cologne’s largest department stores, says the Halloween fever has become more noticeable in recent years.
"It’s definitely a trend. Just look around, all the discos and bars – even the cinemas – are putting on big Halloween parties," she told DW-RADIO."Older people may not go for such things, but I think young people are really open to it."
Asked whether or not the horror festival would replace Carnival in popularity, Schröder said she didn’t think so. "The extent of Carnival festivities in Cologne or Düsseldorf far surpasses Halloween, which is only one night. People aren’t ready to shell out 60 to 80 Marks ($30 to $40) for a costume for a Halloween party." Carnival is different, she added.
Big business with pumpkins and co.
Of course, the primary reason for Halloween’s surge in popularity in Germany is commercialization. The costume industry, the candy industry, the entertainment branch and even farmers have all jumped on the horror wagon beginning to market the festival with a gusto that rivals their American counterparts.
The German Association of Retailers reports that sales on Halloween products account for approximately 100 million euro annually, with no end in sight.
Germany’s largest department store, KaDeWe in Berlin, has reported a dramatic increase in sales on Halloween articles compared to last year. The biggest hits are costumes and ghoulish decorations, a speaker for KaDeWe told dpa wire reporters.
Haribo, the makers of the jelly Gummi bears, has also profited from the horror business. "We go with the trend," Marco Alfter, director of the company’s PR department, told DW-WORLD. In terms of sales, Halloween is Haribo’s third biggest candy-consuming holiday after Christmas and Easter. Without giving any exact figures, the company said it had definitely benefited from the Halloween trend, and had been "very successful in sales prior to Oct. 31."
German farmers, too, have started cashing in on Halloween, turning their traditional cabbage fields into pumpkin patches. This year the number of pumpkins sold reached a record of 2,800 tons, reports the Central Office for Agricultural Products in Bonn. The giant orange vegetables have replaced the seasonal Brussels sprouts in sales, not really surprising though, considering pumpkins can be carved into grinning jack-o-lanterns.
But for those traditionalists who can’t fully embrace the imported festivities associated with Halloween, their time for dressing up and letting it all hang out is just around the corner: November 11, the start of Germany’s biggest party season, Carnival.