Every four years, the historic town of Landshut in Bavaria gets feverish with the vibes of a landmark festival that dates back to 1475: the Landshuter Hochzeit. For three weeks in July, music is made by minstrels, Buchskränzlein (box garlands) are coveted accessories, men with shoulder-length hair wearing tights is comme-il-faut and every Landshuter walks around with a copper cup dangling from his or her belt. The LaHo, as it is intimately called, is one of the biggest historical pageants in Europe with more than 2000 participants in the medieval party, and attracts more than 600,000 visitors from all over the world. It is also conveniently close — a mere 30 minute drive — to Munich’s international airport.
Himmel Landshut, Tausend Landshut, Landshut Halloooo, the 2017 “LaHo” is the 41th re-enactment of the pageant that followed the wedding between Princess Hedwig of Poland and George, the son of the Duke of Landshut, capital of lower Bavaria. The wedding between the daughter of the King of Poland and son of the Bavarian Duke was seen as a powerful alliance against the Ottoman Empire.
Historic importance aside, this is indeed a fun festival to visit. For the three weeks of the pageant, a camp (festival terrain) is where the medieval village is rebuilt, and where all participants stay during the festival weekends, dressed in period outfits. It’s where you listen to music, eat from one of the many stalls around and watch an ongoing medieval spectacle, including (ticketed) events like an authentic jousting tournament.
That copper cup isn’t so much part of tradition as it is a perfect way to avoid (plastic) waste. It also comes in handy when you pass by the ‘camp’ and find one of the participants happy to pour you a beer. That is actually only likely to happen if you are (with) a local, someone who knows a ‘man in tights with long hair’ by name. We are that lucky, visiting the 2017 LaHo with my friend Sabine, a Landshutter local and the one who encouraged me to visit. We met last year in Greenland. She is a diehard LaHo fan, growing up with the tradition and knows many in the pageant.
Under the watchful presence of the tallest brick bell tower in the world, on Sundays in July even street signs and traffic lights get in character: covered with brownish bags they become part of the medieval setting for the street parade.
Knights and edeldamen (ladies in waiting), vagabonds and gypsies, flag dancers and fire performers, pages and jousting knights, they all gather on Sundays to parade the streets of Landshut as the colorful, musical and lively entourage of the adorned carriage with the bride and her groom riding on horseback beside her. Musical bands stroll by playing a variety of medieval instruments, from busines (long thin trumpet) to chrottas (square-shaped string instrument to krummhorns (bent horns) and handwinding lyres. They play skillfully and with noticeable pleasure.
At night, on the second Sunday, after rain decimated the audience and darkness begins to fall over the festival grounds, we find ourselves in the middle of a ‘battle of the bands’ when one after another band gathers, raises their respective instruments and fill the night air with the musical tunes of trumpets and drums.
At the close of the final weekend, the town holds a Mass on Monday, an occasion where “everyone cries like a baby” said Sabine — because the party is over, and it will be four years before the groups can dust off their medieval costumes again, polish their instruments, grow their hair to shoulder length (a requirement for male participants in the pageant) and gather for the next re-enactment of this historic medieval pageant. Mark your calendars! I sure will.
What to eat:
During the week and after the parade, locals gather on the public stands and share a picnic meal. Prepare like the locals do, bring a (copper) cup and baskets of goodies to share (or not share).
At the camp (festival terrain), long tables in the center of the terrain are surrounded by food stalls offering a great variety of local specialties, including traditional foods as you would find them “back then”: spit-roasted whole ox and whole hog and fish on sticks roasted over charcoal (steckerlfisch).
Visit Landshuter Hochzeit website for more information.