For members


EXPLAINED: Why Germans get drunk on Ascension Day

In Germany, Christi Himmelfahrt is not just about honouring Jesus' ascent into heaven - it's also Father's Day, and sees a tripling of alcohol-related accidents. The Local explains why.

Cologne Christi Himmelfahrt
A group of men in floral outfits take a cart full of beers around Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

On the 40th day of Easter, Catholic tradition says Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, thus why Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday – and we in Germany get to revel in a nice holiday from work. In 2023 the day falls on Thursday May 18th. 

But in Germany you’re more likely to see day-drinking debauchery than pious reverence for the holiday (unless you’re in Bavaria) and it’s not just because people are excited not to work.

Ascension Day in Germany is also Father’s Day (Vatertag), or Men’s Day (Männertag) as it’s called in some places, and the traditional way that Germans like to honour dear old Dad is with good old beer, and lots of it.

And that means you may spot some groups of men drinking beer on Thursday – or dads will get a day to relax in front of the telly at home.

This might be surprising for newcomers who see Father’s Day as a time for cheesy “World’s Best Dad” mugs and ugly neckties.

But the German way is more about celebrating manhood and going out into nature in “gentlemen parties” (Herrenpartien) while pulling along decorated Bollerwagen (handcarts) filled to the brim with food and booze.

Men with their Bollerwagen in Warendorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, on Father’s Day 2020 in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Guido Kirchner

The tradition dates back to the 18th century as a way to celebrate Jesus returning to the Holy Father. Men would ride into town on carts or carriages and whoever had produced the most children would be rewarded with a big slice of ham, according to Spiegel.

By the 19th century, though, religion become less relevant and the day became more and more about ‘being a man’ through drinking, smoking and hiking, especially in now former communist East Germany where the religious holiday was abolished and eager binge drinkers decided to take the day off anyway to indulge in tradition.

Nowadays, these often no-women-allowed groups wear coordinated costumes and go on bike rides, hikes and strolls with their Bollerwagen booze-carts in tow.

This has led to an annual threefold increase of alcohol-related traffic accidents on this day each year, making it one of the peak times of year for reckless intoxication, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

Men drinking on Vatertag in Remscheid, North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Ina Fassbender/dpa | Ina Fassbender

The amount of drunkenness got so out of hand that in 2008, current President of the European Commission (then German Family Minister) Ursula von der Leyen begged in exasperation for an end to the inebriated ways of her countrymen, saying their age-old habits were “awful” and calling for a revolution.

“Men who want to be far away from their children are the final straw,” she said.

“A father should not be drunk in front of his children… I am in favour of reinventing Fathers’ Day as a day when they enthusiastically play with their children.”

READ ALSO: Why Germans are being warned not to cycle drunk on Father’s Day

Alas, her pleas have not quite yet been heeded.

That is of course until you go further south to more Catholic regions like Bavaria where towns continue on with religious parades that actually honour Jesus Christ on the sacred day – and give locals yet another reason to wear Lederhosen with funny hats.

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For members


5 ways living in Germany changes you as a person

Getting used to the German way of life can be challenging. But, once you've been here for long enough, you'll not only find yourself adapting, but changing too. Here are five ways life in the country changes you.

5 ways living in Germany changes you as a person

You gain a thicker skin

It would be unfair to say that Germans are rude. But Germans do tend to have a more direct communication style than say, people from the UK or from the US, which can sometimes come across as blunt or abrupt to non-natives.

This directness can also extend to certain behavioural traits, such as not smiling as frequently as people in other cultures or engaging in small talk.

READ ALSO: Which German cities have the rudest locals?

At first, this communication style can be a shock and even be quite hurtful, but, over time, you learn not to take things so personally and that, beneath the slightly tough exterior, even the most direct of Germans are generally nice people who mean well.

Eventually, you might also find yourself cutting to the chase more often in conversation and seeing small talk as slightly superficial.

You become more patient

From getting an appointment for a Wohnungsanmeldung (apartment registration) to trying to stream a video in a rural bed and breakfast, there are many things in Germany you have to wait for.

One of the first things you’ll realise when you move to Germany is that the idea of German efficiency is a myth in many ways –  such as the lack of digitalisation and the unreliable train service – the country is slow to change.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

At first, you’ll probably feel a lot of frustration and irritation, but you can’t keep that up forever. Eventually, you just have to learn to be patient, which isn’t such a bad thing.

You pay more attention to detail

There’s no doubt that living in Germany will sharpen your sense of precision.

For one thing, the language is extremely precise: there is a word to describe pretty much everything.

But it’s not just words that are more precise in Germany. Certain life habits require a keen eye on the details, too.

A waitress holds a bill for drinks and food in a restaurant in Stuttgart.

A waitress holds a bill for drinks and food in a restaurant in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

Take paying a restaurant bill, for instance. When eating out in a group in Germany, it’s normal for each person to pay only for exactly what they ate, down to the last cent.

As The Local journalist Rachel Loxton said in this week’s Germany in Focus podcast: “Now, I feel it’s normal to pay a bill getrennt (separately) rather than together (zusammen) and I feel like my Scottish friends would think I’m stingy for doing that because I even thought that when I first arrived here.”

You appreciate nature more

Germany is a country rich in natural beauty and Germans generally have a strong appreciation for nature and the environment.

Outdoor activities – such as hiking, cycling, and camping – are an integral part of German culture. Gardening and growing your own fruits and vegetables is also a popular pastime, explaining the popularity of Kleingärten (allotments).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get a Kleingarten in Germany

The German government also places a high priority on environmental protection and conservation, and Germans are generally very conscious of their impact on the environment: recycling is taken very seriously and many Germans travel with public transportation or by bicycle instead of by car. 

The love for nature also extends to the love for the natural beauty of the human body. Nudity in Germany is not such a big deal (in the right places, of course) and in saunas for example, going nude is seen as the healthier option than wearing a swimsuit.

After some time in Germany, you’ll definitely find yourself wanting to spend more time in the great outdoors and feeling less self-conscious about being naked in public. 

You take better care of yourself

Perhaps the best way that living in Germany changes you is in your attitude towards your health. 

Germany has one of the best healthcare systems in the world and, though those obligatory monthly health insurance payments can sometimes be painful, the insurance system comes with a lot of benefits. 

You don’t usually have to wait long for an appointment with a specialist and most health insurance companies subsidise special treatments like osteopathy, physiotherapy and even dental care.  

The German attitude towards sickness and work also firmly prioritises individual health. 

Whereas, in other countries, it might be normal to go to work with a runny nose or a cough, it’s generally frowned upon to go to work in Germany when you’re sick.

There’s a cultural expectation in Germany that employees should take care of their health and not put others at risk by coming to work when they are sick. This is seen as responsible behaviour, and it is generally appreciated when employees take time off to recover fully before returning to work.

German law also guarantees employees the right to take sick leave without fear of losing their jobs or suffering any other form of negative consequence.