In the US, our infatuation with pumpkins at Halloween borders on the religious. Long gone are the days when carving pumpkins was just for kids! For us, October typically involves a carriage ride to the nearest farmer’s pumpkin patch, picking the perfect pumpkin for carving, and hosting a rockin’ party to turn our newly acquired orange beauties into works of squashy art. While these traditions may be less common in Europe, we discovered this year that Germans share a love of Halloween – and by extension, pumpkins. In fact, the town of Ludwigsburg is famous for hosting the world’s largest pumpkin festival, an event held with considerable pomp and grandeur on the grounds of an actual 18th-century Baroque palace.
Every year, over 400,000 pumpkins are trucked in for the event, which runs from September through November. While some of them are for sale, most are used for decoration. Larger pumpkins are scattered throughout the grounds. Artists skillfully use many of the smaller ones to recreate scenes and characters based around a theme, which changes each year. In 2015, it was “Flight.” This year the theme is “The Pumpkin Circus is Coming to Town.”
The festival features about 500 types of pumpkins, including peculiar green varieties, tiny ones, lumpy pumpkins, and those mottled in the colors of fall.
In addition to the large main circus displays, smaller carved pieces are sprinkled throughout the grounds, including these peppy little porkers, snakes, and whimsical mice.
Since a variety of events are hosted across the weekends at the exhibition, it’s a good idea to check their schedule (link at bottom of page) to make sure you see what most interests you. Depending on when you visit, you can plan to see things like the Pumpkin Canoe Regatta where folks race across a small lake inside giant hollowed-out pumpkins. Or you can attend the Gourmet Pumpkin Festival to see chefs concocting Germany’s largest vat of pumpkin soup. We were most excited about the Giant Pumpkin Carving Festival!
I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. ~ Henry David Thoreau
Though we missed the actual European Pumpkin Weigh Off, the winners were still on display a week later during our visit. This year, Mathias Willemijns from Belgium set a new record for the world’s heaviest pumpkin, “smashing” all previous heavy-weight titles. His monster pumpkin topped out at 1190.5 kgs – or 2623 pounds!
Besides all the fun stuff to do and see at the exhibition, what would a festival be without tasty snacks? In keeping with the pumpkin theme, booths sell things like roasted pumpkin seeds in different flavors. We tried all three, but I think I’ll have to stick with good ol’ fashioned salt. The cinnamon/sugar ones are an odd combination. Pumpkin sparkling wine, jars of pumpkin pesto, and pumpkin oil are also available for sale.
For “real” food, a large building that functions as an actual restaurant is set up on site. The menu includes some pretty standard fall foods, like pumpkin soup and pumpkin muffins, but some rather unique specialties as well. I ordered kürbus-käsespätzle (traditional German cheese noodles with pumpkin), while Travis ordered kürbus-maultasche (meat-filled pasta squares in pumpkin soup). The latter was a recommendation from a fellow blogger, Bevchen, who writes Confuzzledom. Not only was her suggestion spot on (the kürbus-maultasche is incredible), but I first found out about the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival on her blog last year.
Stuffed to the gills after dinner, we wandered through the rest of the exhibition, where we ran across Ray Villafane’s hard-rollin’ band of pumpkin characters – the “Hubbard Family.” An American who’s famous for his pumpkin carving skills, Ray Villafane and other artists from his studio have been invited to Ludwigsburg for the last four years to create a scene for the festival. This year, members of his Hubbard Family sit around drinking, are passed out in pails, make a run for the latrine, lift weights, and engage in general rabble rousing. In other words, they’re simply charming.
Assuming that we have a free weekend next fall to make the long trip to Ludwigsburg, we’ll likely visit the pumpkin festival again. We were in Italy this year and missed the pumpkin canoe regatta, but we’re hoping to meet friends from Switzerland for it next year. Plus I’m already thinking about what new tasty pumpkin dishes they might have on the menu and getting excited about the theme for 2017. Whatever they choose, it’ll undoubtedly be fun!
Know Before You Go:
- An adult ticket costs €8.50 or €4.20 for a child’s ticket (age 4-15).
- The 2016 exhibition runs from September 2nd to November 6th.
- Be prepared for long lines at the entrance to buy tickets, particularly on sunny weekends.
- Only domestic EC cards are accepted for payment. If you don’t know what this is or don’t have one, bring cash!
- This is a very family-friendly event. For those who don’t have kids and don’t like jockeying past huge strollers – sometimes 3-wide on the narrow trails – visiting on a weekday might be more enjoyable.
- Dogs are allowed in the park, but again, be mindful that small dogs especially are apt to be trampled. We had our rat terrier with us and carried her on the most crowded sections of trail.
- Parking is a bit of a nightmare (several nearby parking garages were completely full during our visit), but if you’re patient and willing to walk a few blocks, you’ll likely find street parking. You can always take public transit as well.
- Ludwigsburg is just north of Stuttgart in southern Germany.
- Official website for the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival (English)
What’s up next on our agenda?
The Halloween festivities continue at the spookily spectacular Burg Frankenstein, where we throw one of our friends to the wolves…