Soak up local culture in Southwest Germany

Festivals and flowers

Southwestern Germany

Photos: (above) © Castle Hohenzollern at Sigmaringen, (left) © Mainau GmbH
Above: Hohenzollern Castle at Sigmaringen offers a number of creative tours and recently opened an exhibit called Glittering Pieces, which displays some of the treasures still owned by the descendents of the Hohenzollern dynasty.

Cynthia Elyce Rubin
The Norwegian American

In the summertime, when life often plays out in parks, fields, and cafés, around fountains, and in the little streets of Europe’s old cities, people enjoy outdoor evening events. In Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, there are no shortage of outdoor festivals, gardens, cafés, and restaurants. In almost every small town, village, and city, there are festivals and performances of every kind. Many of them take place inside the walls of the ancient ruins, preserved palaces, and striking castles that have the space for large performances and are able to accommodate large crowds while offering a historic ambience. If you are visiting southwest Germany during the summer, these festivals and outdoor activities are a wonderful way to soak up local culture.

Bountiful, beautiful, and botanical

On the garden island of Mainau, an island in Lake Constance, which borders Switzerland and Austria, visitors are not only treated to a feast of flowers, botanicals, and beautiful trees but also served up exhibits that teach conservation, ecology, and the influence of nature. During a tour of the flower island, guests learn about photosynthesis in the energy pavilion, but it is not only solar cells that generate energy from the sun. Algae can also serve as a source of energy when exposed to sunlight. The importance of the sun for the plant world is also clear in the nomenclature of plants. For example, there are the sunrose (Helianthemum), the sunbeam (Helenium), and the sun-eye (Heliopsis).

The main events, however, are the flowers themselves, and they do not disappoint. Year after year, millions of crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths line the Frühlingsallee, peonies from China and Tibet are followed by rhododendrons and azaleas. One of the highlights in the floral year is the month of June when the roses present themselves in more than 1,000 varieties along the lane and in the Italian Rose Garden, established in 1861 by Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden. The dahlia show also has a long tradition on Mainau, which annually announces the colorful autumn along the banks of the island. Some 12,000 dahlias in more than 250 varieties unfold a veritable fireworks display and compete for the favor of visitors who decide from Aug. 30 to Oct. 6 which variety is dahlia queen of the year.

Southwestern Germany

Photo: © Mainau GmbH
An aerial view of Mainau Island, which each summer dazzles with its array of flowers.

Behind the scenes

About 70 miles north of Mainau, the Glittering Pieces exhibition is presented to visitors at the Hohenzollern Castle in Sigmaringen, ancestral seat of the swabian-catholic line of the Hohenzollern dynasty. It is still private property today and offers guided tours through its splendid interior rooms. This new special exhibition is all about sparkling silver, bright gold, and fine porcelain. The historic dining table, a 19th-century masterpiece of carpentry, which is set and decorated in the dining room, gives you a taste of how sumptuous princely tables are. The exhibition organizers have put together a very special look behind the scenes: the porcelain and glass chamber of Sigmaringen Castle will be open for the first time to the public. This special and permanent exhibition was organized and curated by Katharina Fürstin von Hohenzollern. In addition to this spectacular exhibition, the palace offers a number of entertaining and informative tours in English. The list of tours and the descriptions are creative and unusual and well worth the effort!

Glittering Pieces exhibition

Photo: © Castle Hohenzollern
Glittering Pieces is a permanent exhibition at Castle Hohenzollern giving visitors a glance into a world of days gone by.

Small towns host big festivals 

The opera festival in Heidenheim, just over an hour east of Stuttgart on the border with Bavaria, is one of the most successful classical music festivals in Germany. It takes place in the romantic knights’ hall as well as the town’s modern performance hall. The schedule for 2019 is all about the 18th-century composer Christoph Gluck, and the festival runs through July 28.

In the other direction, the little town of Baiersbronn of culinary fame in the Black Forest holds a summer festival that started as a small one-day affair and now has grown to host thousands with top performers. This year it takes place on June 29.

Close to Heidelberg, the Karlsruhe Summer Festival is incredibly colorful and is one of the biggest open-air festivals in Germany with enormous projections against the castle walls so that the entire façade of the castle becomes a multimedia spectacle. Known as the City of Law, as it is home to Germany Federal Constitutional Court and the Federal Court of Justice, the city of law is celebrating 70 years of the German Basic Law, or constitution. Although they have festivals throughout the summer, these special castle illuminations will take place from Aug. 8 to Sept. 15 and promise to be worth the trip!

Cynthia Elyce Rubin, Ph.D., is a visual culture specialist, travel writer, and author of articles and books on decorative arts, folk art, and postcard history, who collects postcards, ephemera, and early photography. See

This article originally appeared in the June 14, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.