Summer’s almost over and the fall season is just around the corner. That means cool weather, cozy sweaters, changing leaves, and pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING. If you think this seasonal obsession with pumpkin is just an American thing, think again. In Germany, pumpkins (or kürbis) are eaten like any other squash, but in the Fall get their own celebration called Kürbisfest. The have them in cities around the country but the fest in the town of Ludwigsburg, just outside of Stuttgart, is one of the best.
Kürbisfest is held on the grounds of Schloss Ludwigsburg. On a regular day, the baroque palace is spectacular not only for it’s size and the ornate design of it’s rooms, but also because it managed to survive World War II intact. During the Fest however, the sprawling palace grounds are filled with incredible sculptures made from all kinds of gourds, pumpkins, and squash. There is a different theme every year and the theme when I visited was, appropriately, Royalty.
But the sculptures are just the beginning! Kürbisfest features a bunch of other events and experiences. There is a ton of stuff to explore in the gardens of Schloss Ludwigsburg.
From the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) take the S-bahn (S5) towards Bietigheim-Bissingen. The ride is about 30 minutes to Ludwigsburg Main Station. From there you can either take a bus or walk to the Schloss, it’s about two miles from the train station.
Pumpkin Canoe Regatta
Yep, this is exactly like it sounds. People racing in canoes carved out of giant pumpkins. The Pumpkin Canoe Regatta takes place in a large pond in front of the Schloss, an intense and unique sport I’ve never come across before and probably never will again.
While seeing someone paddle around in a giant pumpkin is actually really exciting, the main attraction at Kürbisfest is definitely the pumpkin sculptures. You can follow an easy path through the gardens and take your time checking them all out. Some of them are really massive – like the statue of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, who was at least ten feet tall. All the statues were designed to fit the theme of ‘Royalty’ and it was clear how the frog prince and queen bee’s fit in, but it took us awhile to figure out why there was a T-Rex in the mix. Can you guess?
Beyond the main garden where the pumpkin statues are there is a still larger garden known as the Blühendes Barock and Gartenschau, or Fairytale Garden. It’s huge and pretty famous in Germany for being AWESOME. Each section of the garden is themed after a different fairytale and many of them have something interactive – a phrase said, or a place to stand on, etc., that causes something to happen. Some of the displays are inside rooms, like the room filled with glittering gold and other treasures for 1000 Arabian Nights. There’s even a small boat ride (free!) that takes you into the belly of a whale, just like a Disneyland. Okay, so it might be designed for kids, but it is extremely cool for adults too.
Did you think I was done with the pumpkins? Not even close. When you explore the Fairytale Garden you might see some more cool displays. All throughout this area there are vignettes with tiny pumpkins. Some of them are pretty funny, like the pumpkins waiting in line for the outhouse. And some of them have really intricate faces carved into them. Other events at the Fest include a competition for the largest pumpkin and of course, pumpkin smashing.
Pumpkin Food & Drink
After we had had our fill of seeing pumpkins and exploring the gardens, it was time to feed our growling stomachs, with what else? Pumpkin of course! The food tents were set up back in the main garden with outdoor seating. The line was a bit long so we had one person hold our table and the other two wait for food. I decided on the pumpkin maultashen (kind of like ravioli) because maultashen is my favorite German food. Other options included soup, risotto, even spaghetti all made with pumpkin. There were pumpkin flavored drinks too – pumpkin schorle (a mix of juice and water which is very popular in Germany, usually in apple form) and wine. The maultashen was delicious, just thinking about that dish right now is making me wish it was fall!
Kürbisfest is a great way to celebrate fall and experience some really fun things. But for me, the best part was giving in to my inner child for a day. It was so fun to find all the creative pumpkin displays all over the grounds and play in the Fairytale Garden. If you can’t visit in October, the city has many events throughout the year including a beautiful Christmas Market and a really neat Venetian Fair where people dress in incredibly intricate carnival costumes and masks and just walk around the city center. It’s crazy.