Walpurgisnacht (“Walpurgis Night”) is a festival based on pagan rituals and celebrations. It is derived from local myths and folklore, which have it that witches used to whisk on their broomsticks to the highest peak of the Harz Mountains (Brocken) on this night, and to other locations of pagan sacrifices, to have a get-together with other witches and devils to celebrate the retreat of winter and the arrival of spring.
Walpurgis Night begins on the night of April 30 and the festivities roll on until well into the early hours of the following day.
Walpurgis Night is celebrated throughout almost all of the Harz region, adding up to around 20 festival locations. The biggest celebrations are hosted in the small hilly town of Thale at the Hexentanzplatz (“witches’ dance floor”). The quaint town of Goslar turns wild for one night, with large-scale festivities. The main square of Wernigerode and Wernigerode Castle fill with the infectious buzz of the festival. A fun event peculiar to Wernigerode is the storming of the city hall by witches. Unsurprisingly, some of the wildest festivities happen at the Brocken, the location of the origin of the Walpurgis legend.
Walpurgis Night is so named as it takes place on the eve of the feast of Saint Walpurga, who was an 8th-century abbess. The origin of the festival can be traced back to an ancient pagan legend, which says that the devil Wotan married his beloved Freya on the Brocken on the night of April 30. This myth found its way into the famous play Faust by legendary German poet Goethe, who wrote:
“Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
the stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats, with witches a-farting on stinking old goats.”
Walpurgis Night is a time for families, friends, and communities to get together and indulge in some crazy fun for one night. Thousands of people from all over the world converge in the Harz Mountains to take part in the Walpurgis festivities. People dress up in outrageous witch and devil costumes and flock the streets, armed with broomsticks. Stages are set up in festival locations for jugglers, magicians, and bands to enthral the visitors. Rows of stalls mushroom up, selling arts, crafts, food and a lot of other tempting stuff. Additionally, visitors are entertained with spectacular fireworks, bonfires, parties, music and dance, and comedy performances.