Holiday Backlash Germans Cringe at Rise of Halloween

Halloween is barely two decades old in Germany, but it's swiftly become a wildly popular holiday among children and adults alike. Retailers say it's now a vital source of revenue. Still, not everyone is getting in the spooky spirit.

Some Germans complain about the Halloween boom, and the crowds of costumed trick-or-treaters that have come with it.

Some Germans complain about the Halloween boom, and the crowds of costumed trick-or-treaters that have come with it.

By Rupert Neate and Nicholas Connolly

The residents of Luchsweg are preparing for an invasion -- of ghosts, wizards and mummified corpses.

The upmarket street in Dahlem, a western Berlin suburb known for its wealthy American residents, has become a mecca for thousands of expats and locals celebrating Halloween.

Though German children say "Süßes oder Saures" ("sweet or sour") instead of the American "trick or treat," the custom otherwise follows tradition. Ana Ross, who has lived on Luchsweg for the past decade, said more than a thousand children came trick-or-treating in the street last year, and that this year she expects even more. "It is really an invasion. I used to live in America, and there are far more people trick-or-treating here than even in the US," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "There are so many of them -- now there are more German than American children."

Ross, who had just returned from the supermarket with her trunk laden with more than €100 (about $140) worth of candy, said she expected her stock of sweets would be gone before 8 p.m. "They target this street and the neighboring area because they know Americans live here and have loads of American candy. But it's amazing how quickly the word has spread -- seven years ago we didn't have any visitors. Now we have thousands."

'A Lot of Germans Are Angry'

Ross said the number of children turning up has shocked and angered some residents, especially those who don't play along with the demand for treats. "A lot of Germans are very angry about it. They don't understand the 'trick' part, and are shocked to have eggs thrown at their windows and fireworks put through their letterboxes," Ross said. "We were away from home one year, and when we came back the house was covered in egg -- I still can't get it off that window," she said pointing to the second-floor balcony.

Edwin Hilbert, a German doctor who lives on a nearby street, said he was "totally shocked" when children first turned up at his door asking for sweets. Hilbert bought a "giant bucketful" of sweets to give away, "but they're all German sweets from a German supermarket," he said.

"It is so strange, and so... un-German," he adds. "They demand sweets. They don't even sing a song like for St. Martin's Day," he said, referring to the Nov. 11 holiday when children traditionally walk door-to-door with paper lanterns and recite poems or sing songs.

Creeping Americanization?

The popularity of Halloween, which is now celebrated by a fifth of Germans, according to a YouGov poll, has sparked debate over the Americanization of German culture.

Margot Kässmann, former head of Germany's main Protestant church umbrella group, said Halloween went against the tenets of the Lutheran Church. "[Martin] Luther wanted to free people of their fears of spirits, ghosts, and the devil. And today? You have children running around in scary costumes," she said in an interview with Dortmund-based daily newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten.

Kässmann said Halloween was a purely commercial event designed by big business to sell merchandise in the gap between summer barbeques and Christmas.

Dieter Tschorn, a public relations consultant for the German Toy and Novelty Retailers Association and self-proclaimed "father of Halloween in Germany," is only too happy to admit to Halloween's commercial benefits. Halloween is a "godsend" for retailers, he said -- the association expects revenues related to the holiday to reach €200 million this year.

Tschorn said he introduced Germany to Halloween in 1991 when the state cancelled celebrations for Carnival due to the Gulf War. "The industry was forced to find a way of making up the losses. Halloween was chosen," he said.

He said the idea for bringing Halloween to a wider audience was inspired by US troops who rented Frankenstein castle near Frankfurt. The castle, which is believed to have inspired Mary Shelley's eponymous novel, has been hosting one of the most sought-after of Germany's Halloween parties for the past 36 years.

Tschorn rejects the church's accusations of commercialism, claiming that Christmas, Easter and even Mother's Day attract far more marketing money than Halloween. And he added that it was a bit rich for Lutherans to attack the sale of Halloween candy when the church has started selling Lutherbonbons, orange candies in wrappers bearing Luther's portrait.


Discuss this issue with other readers!
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harry.haddad 10/31/2013
1. Halloween is a very fun holiday!
Halloween is a very fun holiday! I think it will take some time for some Germans to get used to it, however. For those who have concern about Halloween not being an aspect of German culture, the answer here is simple: follow as the Japanese do in how they fit everything from abroad into their own culture; the answer thus is if some people do not like Halloween because it is not German, well then make it German! :)
ego_alphonsus 10/31/2013
2. Taking life TOO seriously
Not everything is supposed to be a millenarian tradition. New things, even if "American", have to be welcomed. Opposing Germans should relax and roll with the punches, cos life is short to worry about such trifles.
Jim in MD 10/31/2013
3. Commercialism
Martin Luther advocated for the Christmas tree, so it's only fair that the Irish re-introduce the Celtic new year to old Celtic Europe. It is secularism, not commercialism, that led Americans and Europeans to throw out Christian holidays in favor of pagan ones. It is pretty sad, but I doubt that you can find a SPIEGEL reporter who takes his or her children around for St. Martin's.
bryan 10/31/2013
4. halloween
Halloween is not an American invention,it was introduced in the 19th century by Irish immigrants and dates back to old Celtic times.It is one of the highlights of the year in Ireland
sneeekysteve 10/31/2013
5. Funny
I think this is a hilarious article. I never knew that Halloween has become popular in Germany. Its a fun holiday for kids and adults. Its silly to say that its "un-german". The most important thing is that people have fun. I can see why people are annoyed by 1000 kids coming to their door. That is a bit much. In the US its rare to get more than 100. Those kids should not be egging houses. That is rare in the US. The worst thing that happens in my area of the US is that pumpkins get smashed on the street after the trick or treating is over.
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