Whenever Ms B and I get a chance, we like to do Burgfest (‘Castle Festival’) in my initial home town of Burghausen, Bavaria. I grew up there and only left when I was 19. My parents still live here in the same house I grew up in.
It is 1.5 hours’ drive (2.5 hours by train, 2 interchanges) from Munich airport and 45mins drive (3.25 hours [sic] by train via Germany, 3 interchanges, busses infrequent; another option is bus to central station, then train from there to Ostermiething, all on Austrian side, only 1 interchange, then taxi from there; takes 1h45m) from Salzburg airport. This little town of just 18,000 residents boasts the world’s longest castle (unless you count the fortified garden fence our Chinese friends built) at just over 1,050 metres in length.
It sits between a little lake (that once used to be the river bed before the river changed its direction) and a river on a ridge. Old town squeezes in between the river and the castle hill. On the other side of the river lies Austria.
Once a year, thousands of Burghausen citizens volunteer to run a medieval pageant. My Mom used to perform with a music group, many friends of mine took part too; I was more into heavy metal festivals back then. Bit of a shame, in hindsight.
All of the castle and much of old town are becoming part of the festival for three days around the second weekend in July (this year it was from 13th to 15th July). Admission was €6 (Fri), €12 (Sat), €10 (Sun). Children are free. They offer combo tickets. 50% off if you dress up in medieval costume. It turned out that lederhosen (which I was wearing for the occasion) do not comply with the strict medieval attire regulations.
Depending on how you count, Burgfest, established in 1903, is by many considered to be the fifth biggest such event in Europe and in my view most likely the best one. Better even than the giant spectacle of the Landshut Wedding (our blog post here), which happens only every four years. Certainly more interesting than the lovely but tiny Medieval England Festival (blog post here) and the likes.
Burgfest used to be called Rentamtsfest (Customs House Festival) until recently, to pay respect to the fact that it was the salt on the Salzach (Salt River) that passes by Burghausen, that made the town one of the most powerful and largest ones in Bavaria. The customs house made sure every salt merchant that passed through town would pay their dues. Nearby towns are called Hallein (Salt Mine), Hallstatt (Salt Town), Bad Reichenhall (Spa Rich in Salt), and, of course: Salzburg (Salt Castle).
The stage is set in the year 1516, which in many other regions of Western Europe would already be firmly settled into the Renaissance era. In this mountainous region, it still remained under the strong grip of medieval traditions. Duke Wilhelm IV is visiting Burghausen. A pretty big deal back then.
The main event each year is the re-enactment of the arrival of the Duke, followed by the welcome ceremony and the parade from old town up to the castle. The event usually takes place on Saturday afternoon, not on Friday as one might expect.
We already talked with friends about next year’s pageant to see if they like to join us.
Burgfest is by no means the only time of the year to visit Burghausen. This town has been running its International Jazz Week every March since 1970 (many of which I visited). They might not be quite on par with Montreal, Montreux, and Monterey, but certainly come close to them during their many big moments. Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Hargrove, BB King, Chris Barber, Chick Corea, and Dave Brubeck have all performed in Burghausen. I also remember having been on a concert of Ten Years After of Woodstock fame as part of Jazz Week. These guys had written rock history in front of more than 400,000 people in 1969 and now they finally made it to Burghausen’s city hall (950 people). We made sure that they felt welcome, yay! And these guys pulled off a great show. Everyone ends up in Burghausen at some stage!
Even when there are no big events going on, Burghausen is always worth a visit. It’s a beautiful town at any season and you can easily spend a great half a day or so there. It’s also so close to Salzburg, Munich, and a few other gems like Altoetting (15mins by car, boasting a chapel from the 7th Century which became a major Catholic pilgrimage destination), Marktl (15mins by car; birthplace of Pope Benedict) or Braunau (20mins by car; birthplace of the Anti-Christ: Hitler).
Looking for more posts about Germany? Try Nuremberg or our post about Landshut. German restaurants we have reviewed include Lafleur and La Scuderia in Frankfurt, as well as Ratskeller in Munich. For more castles you cannot go wrong with our friend John from Carpe Diem Eire, who has posted about many castles, for example Drimnagh Castle in Dublin.