Thinking of Going to Oktoberfest in Germany? Consider Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volkfest Instead

A historic alternative to Munich’s Oktoberfest promises colorful local ambiance and laid-back fun
September 26, 2018 Updated: September 26, 2018

Who knew a volcanic eruption could cause agricultural disasters around the world? It happened on April 10, 1815, when Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia, erupted violently. It was the largest eruption in recorded history, and the explosion was heard as far as 1,600 miles away. The consequences were felt near and far, with harvest failures and famines occurring on a global scale.

In the Northern Hemisphere, 1816 was referred to as “the year without a summer.” Southern Germany was one of the places where famines hit.

After these disasters, King Wilhelm I of Württemberg founded Stuttgart’s agriculture festival in 1818, the day after he turned 36, to strengthen the area’s agricultural industry.

This year, the city is celebrating not only 100 years of the agricultural show, which occurs every four years, but also 200 years of its historic beer festival. The two festivals take place on the grounds of the Cannstatter Wasen, not far from Stuttgart’s city center. A third festival, the Historical Volkfest, is also due to start a few days prior.

Historical Volkfest

The Historical Volkfest (Sept. 26–Oct. 3), to be held on the main Stuttgart square—the Schlossplatz—will feature fairground rides and entertainment from times past, including jugglers, acrobats, old traditional crafts, and farm animals. The amusements will be split into 19th- and 20th-century styles.

Actors dressed in historic costumes will play the roles of King Wilhelm I and his wife Katharina; traditional dancers and bands will perform in period clothes. Food won’t be an afterthought, either: Visitors can try Metzelsuppe (a sausage soup), sauerkraut, boiled beef and fish on sticks, and jubilee beer made by the Stuttgart breweries Stuttgarter Hofbräu and Familienbrauerei Dinkelacker.

Cannstatter Volkfest

Two days later, the beer festival gets underway on Sept. 28; it runs through Oct. 14. Known as the Cannstatter Volkfest, the festival will feature seven beer tents, two wine tents, and an Alpine village. In addition to rides and roller coasters, food will also be highlighted, with hearty dishes such as grilled pork knuckle, fried steak, and Swabian Maultaschen (filled pasta), to go alongside mugs of beer.

The Cannstatter Volkfest is the second largest beer festival in the world after Oktoberfest, with 4 million annual visitors. That includes more than 20,000 Volkfest club members—descendants of German immigrants and their families from New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, who make it a point to regularly visit the festival to affirm ties of friendship with Stuttgart.

In the old days, traders markets played an important role in the beer festival. Traders would come from afar to sell their wares. Nowadays, too, traditional craftsmen ply their trades and showcase their creations, such as brushes and baskets.