Sense of Belonging

A Yearning for Home

oktoberfest jester afp
Jesters, minstrels, days of yore. Oktoberfest has it all.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Overwhelmed with globalization, many Germans are seeking refuge in their roots. Marketeers are exploiting the trend.

  • Facts


    • Oktoberfest began in 1810 as a five-day celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig.
    • Now Munich’s Oktoberfest attracts more than 6 million visitors a year from all over the world.
    • The festival’s Oide Wiesn, or old meadows site, which focuses on the historical roots of Oktoberfest, is entering its sixth year.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

Josef Schmid, the boss of the Munich Oktoberfest, proudly looked out over the eight-acre lot. Here, on the southern part of the larger “wiesn” (or fairground meadow), were trucks, containers and tents. They are part of the “Oide Wiesn,” or old meadows, the historical Oktoberfest location, where the original concept, traditions and regalia of the folk festival are featured. One of the area’s main attractions is nostalgia.

The Oide Wiesn museum tent has wooden wagons and a mid-1920s version of a fairground ride known as a swing boat. A few yards away is the Herzkasperl performance tent, with its painted figures of Kasper, or Kasperl, as the famous traditional puppet figure is known in southern Germany. The characters are in yellow pants, red jackets and white neck ruffles. One figure is offering an earthenware jug, the other is tipping his hat to the visitors who want to hear the Tölzer Boys Choir or see “The Wiesn Robbers” in the children’s theater.

Munich’s Oktoberfest, the annual beer festival that attracts 6 million visitors, began on Saturday and runs until October 4. The setup work in the Bavarian capital started in mid-July.

“There is a renaissance of the significance of homeland.”

Josef Schmid, Munich Oktoberfest organizer

It’s Mr. Schmid’s territory. He was born, fittingly, in Munich in September during the 1969 Oktoberfest and now is in charge of the festival.

His historic Oide Wiesn began in 2010 during the “200 years of Oktoberfest” celebrations. It was a homage to the festival’s origins, the 1810 wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig (the later King Ludwig I of Bavaria) to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The five-day celebration in 1810 was a grand ovation to the ruling house of the newly formed kingdom. The event included much fanfare and a horserace. It was also a festival for the people that instilled an identity.

Josef Schmid by Thorsten Jochim
Head of Oktoberfest and the man who brought back the old-world section of the festival, Josef Schmid. Source: Thorsten Jochim


A half a million people came to the historical Oktoberfest in 2010, where brass bands performed and beer was served in earthenware jugs. Visitors wanted to experience that again and again. That’s what Mr. Schmid, then the city council party chairman of the center-right Christian Social Union of Bavaria and today deputy mayor, said he had learned “in the midst of the Wiesn guests.” The voice of the people prevailed.

“There is a renaissance of the significance of homeland,” Mr. Schmid said.

In Germany, the phenomenon of hungering for the past, homeland and roots goes far beyond just the spectacle in central Munich.

A nostalgia for home, as it was a long time ago, is taking hold across society. For a time, the concept of home, or “Heimat” as the Germans say, was scorned and considered stuffy and provincial. But today, half of Germans leave his or her homeland during their lives to study, work or live somewhere else.

Internationalization apparently is causing two things: A longing for something new or exotic, but also a rediscovery of one’s roots. “Globalization is making the world more arbitrary, more homogenized,” said market researcher Jens Lönneker, “and that needs a counter pole.”

The more global the world seemingly becomes, the greater the desire for a local identity. The farther people are separated from their home, their Heimat, the more rootless they are likely to feel.

The more global the world seemingly becomes, the greater the desire for a local identity. The farther people are separated from their home, their Heimat, the more rootless they are likely to feel.

Business has recognized the trend and is happy to make use of the longing for a little bit of homey happiness. Corporate strategists have been taking a great interest in how much the population values regional things in recent years, Mr. Lönneker said. He is the managing director of the renowned marketing research agency Rheingold-Salon in Cologne and is commissioned by companies to track social developments.

Companies seek guidance – through surveys, for example – to make decisions about whether to use place names in the names of products. Researchers at the Allensbach Institute have determined that 35 million people in Germany show a preference for locally produced goods when shopping.

Regional products have “a good reputation, they create trust,” Mr. Lönneker said. The attraction comes from the fact the food doesn’t have to be shipped far, people enjoy traditions, and money is being invested in their own communities, he said. Customers’ wishes for a regional anchoring is growing, he added: People are tending to their backyard gardens, and weekly markets and mom-and-pop stores are more popular then ever.

Video: And they’re off! The keg is tapped and the beer festival swings into action on Saturday.


Another example is the book industry. The German Publishers & Booksellers Association recently announced “regional book weeks.” Publishers, book stores and dealers are supposed to highlight regional subjects and titles – including readings by regional authors and events and window and table displays dedicated to regional themes.

There is one such table display in the Millennium bookstore in the town of Königstein im Taunus in the west-central state of Hesse. A sign says, “Writers of the region introduce themselves.”

Author Nele Neuhaus’s books have a complete table to themselves. The 48-year-old author was in the bookstore on a recent day to sign copies of her book, one of the so-called Taunus mysteries. The duo she created, Oliver von Bodenstein and Pia Kirchhoff, do their investigations in the region’s picturesque localities, including Königstein. The German TV network, ZDF, filmed the crime stories in their original locations. Ms. Neuhaus estimates she has sold close to 10 million books.

As the publisher describes the books, “cultivated bourgeois culture” runs up against an “abyss of an evilness and brutality.” Ms. Neuhaus, who has lived in Taunus since her childhood, said: “The region is perfect for crime stories because at first glance everything appears so nice, but in reality, here and there, things are really broiling,” she said. At the end of one of her latest books, Ms. Neuhaus’ protagonists from Bodenstein thinking about a move to Berlin.

“There were howls of protest from my readers,” she said and couldn’t suppress a satisfied smile. “That’s settled,” she said, the police inspector is staying in Taunus.

The Taunus crime series is published in more than 20 countries. Ms. Neuhaus is one of the most well-known authors of a genre of homespun fiction that is spreading throughout Germany. Other writers have created characters such as Inspector Kluftinger, who investigates cases in the southern German region of Allgäu. There is a crime series in Cologne named after the city, and in the north a regional crime series called “Hamburg, Your Murders.”

Among the genre fans is the TV chef Tim Mälzer. “We are permanently flooded with information, our environment is changing so fast,” he said, “the longing is growing for familiar things; in this respect, I’m no different then the rest.”

Mr. Mälzer has jumped on the bandwagon with a regional cookbook, fittingly named “Heimat.” The book came out in October 2014, and is already in its fifth edition. Market researcher Mr. Lönneker said the TV personality has “a good nose for trends.” Mr. Mälzer recognized the development early enough — and found a way to cash in.

Mr. Mälzer admitted he garnished the cookbook’s recipes with “nice clichés.” On page 41, for instance, Mr. Mälzer, revealed how Germany at lunchtime tastes to him like chicken fricassee. “One of my childhood memories and, to this day, one of my all-time favorite dishes,” he writes.

Regional crime stories, regional cookery, the old meadows at the Oktober fest: the concept of homeland is an all-round hit.

Man in Ledershosen Oktopberfest Sat AFP
Bavaria has a proud tradition of celebrating its ancient customs — and displaying impressive facial hair. Source. AFP


Mr. Schmid, decked out for the duration of the beer festival in traditional Bavarian garb of lederhosen leather shorts, and alpine farmers shoes, is looking forward to having what he calls a “meadows menu” every day: half a roast chicken, a big soft pretzel, and a liter jug of beer.

Last year, visitors consumed more than half a million roast chickens and 7.7 million liters of beer and spent €435 million, or $493 million, at the Oktoberfest. Another €400 million was spent on accommodation. The folksy fest has long since become a significant, profitable part of the Bavarian economy. Ever since the record-breaking year of 1985 when more than 7 million attended Oktoberfest, Munich hasn’t bothered to advertize anymore.

“It’s a paradox,” said market researcher Mr. Lönnekehe of the Heimat trend. “Explicitly because of global diversity and the worry of losing themselves, people celebrate their ties to their homeland in some places in such a fun and dazzling way that people from other regions want to join in – thus adding to the increase of internationalization.”

Many residents of Munich thought it had all gotten too big and began to stay away, but the historical old part of the festival has brought them back said, said Mr. Schmid. “It’s a different pace here.”

Heimat is more than a hit – it’s a home run.


Dorit Marschall works as a reporter for Handelsblatt in Frankfurt. To contact the author:

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!