Bonfires mark the end of winter | DW Travel | DW | 19.02.2016
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Bonfires mark the end of winter

The end of winter on northern Germany's North Sea coast will be marked with dozens of fires on Sunday. The ritual attracts thousands of people each year.

The tradition of spring fires, or Biike as they're called in Frisian, dates back more than 2000 years. For the north Frisians, it's tantamount to a "national" custom. According to historian Thomas Steensen, Director of the North Frisian Institute at the University of Flensburg, the Biike fires are an expression of joy about the end of the winter. "You could call it the Friesian version of carnival," says Steensen. Although pagan in origin, the custom also long coincided with the beginning of Lent.

The tradition was initiated by Germanic tribes who were keen to appease Woden, their highest deity and the god of war and storms. Thomas Steensen says other explanations are unfounded, such as the legend that the fires were intended as a send-off for seafarers setting off on whaling expeditions. But he concedes that such explanations often have a grain of truth. In the eighteenth century, whalers used to set sail at this time of year and they signed their contracts on St. Peter's Day, 22nd February.

Over the last few decades, the fires have become a tourist attraction in low season, drawing visitors to the coastal region to sing, dance and drink alongside the locals. When the bonfires go out, everyone heads to nearby restaurants to eat a traditional meals of curly kale and sausages.

Germany has applied to have the tradition of Biike burning placed on UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list. A decision is expected by the end of 2016

at / jg (dpa)