As an American in Germany, I didn't notice a difference in how Father's Day was celebrated for a few years. Occasionally you see a group of men traveling by beer bike or rowdy dudes in Berlin bars, but I just figured that was the usual bachelor/stag party rolling through the city. It wasn't until I heard mention of Männertag ("Men's Day") that I connected these raucous events with a holiday.
Father's day in Germany is so much more than gifting a tie. This public holiday is a day off work for everybody, and a chance for men to act like boys. Also known as Vatertag, it involves drinking beer by the maß (liter), finding some wheels, and for responsibility to take a vacation. Find out how you can make the most of Father's Day in Germany.
History of Father's Day in Germany
The holiday actually has noble beginnings in the Middle Ages as a religious ceremony honoring Gott, den Vater (God, the father). Towards the 1700s, the day transformed into Vatertag, a family day honoring the father of the household. Men would be carted into the village center and the father with the most children would earn a reward, often a large ham.
It fell completely out of favor, but made a comeback in the 19th century as Männertag. Losing the focus on dear old dad, it was billed as a "boys' day out" or by its more positive euphemism for "gentlemen parties". How that has transformed to today's celebrations where there is nary a gentlemen to be seen is still a question.
When is Father's Day in Germany?
Germany's Vatertag coincides with Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt in German). It happens every year on the fortieth day after Easter on a Thursday in May. It is a national holiday around the country and the Friday following is usually a bruckentag (bridge day) providing for a 4-day weekend. That means you can have one drunken day out and three days to recover.
In 2019, Vatertag is on May 30th.
How to Celebrate Father's Day in Germany
While celebrations are generally men only, it is not limited to fathers. Any male with männlichkeitswahn (machismo) and a desire to indulge in their caveman side can participate in Vaterstag.
Popular activities for Father's Day in Germany
- Pub tour of your favorite bars (Männerrunde)
- Indulge in the drinks, eats, and atmosphere of Germany's many biergartens
- Group bike ride with a bollerwagen (hand wagon) of booze or by beer bike
- Reserve spots in a beer hall for your group to drink and sing your way through the day
- Gather in a park with games like Boules, a grill and crates of beer, schnaps and mixers
If you'd like to honor your father, gifts are of course appreciated. Something as simple as a call is expected, or you can get crafty. Better yet, buy papa a German beer to fit the spirit of the holiday.
Whatever the day brings, alcohol is likely to be involved. Männertag's reputation as a sauftag (drinking day) has made it unpopular among some segments of the public and - understandably - with the Polizei (police).
According to the UDV (German insurers accident research institute) there are three times as many alcohol-related traffic accidents on Männertag. Popular German magazine, Bild, has even cheekily dubbed Ascension Day, "Accident Day".
Some cities have tried to curb the mayhem by imposing public drinking bans on this day or after dark, but these measures have been struck down by the courts. In Rostock, police got experimental trying to exchange alcoholic beverages for non-alcoholic...with limited success.
It appears that there is little chance of curbing the behavior officially, so wherever the day takes you - it is your responsibility. Abide by all laws and regulations and be respectful of the authorities. Männertag is only one day a year; you don't want to pay for it with the other 364.
How to Avoid Männertag
For those that want to opt out of the celebrations, it is still a day off is May that offers the chance to enjoy beautiful weather (daumen drücken or "thumbs pressed"). Stay out of the bars, avoid roving groups of men, and enjoy your holiday.