Bamberg is a beautiful city …. yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I happened (all right … I planned it) to visit Bamberg during one of their big festival times — Sandkerwa. When I planned the visit, I envisioned Sandkerwa as some kind of throwback to what German Festivals like Oktoberfest used to be. Because of that, I have to admit that it was a little disappointing to me. Although there were a broad array of breweries from all over the region represented there and the beer was flowing freely, it impressed me to be more of a hard core drinking event than as a traditional cultural celebration.
A kerwa (pronounced care-vah) is traditionally an event established to celebrate the founding of the local church and nearly every community has a kerwa on the calendar. They can be quite small village affairs, or they can be huge celebrations like Sandkerwa. I imagine that most of them have a strong traditional streak to them, but that doesn’t always have to be the case.
Whereas Oktoberfest in Munich takes place on a festival ground with many huge beer tents as venues, Sandkerwa is a street festival with local breweries serving from their permanent establishments and visiting breweries wedged into every available nook and cranny in the Sand district of Bamberg. There are food vendors everywhere and tables set up in the streets are full of revelers. The streets are ancient and scenic. There are many bandstands, but little traditional folk music — “Are you ready to rok’n’rol!”
The only folksy traditional thing I observed was the fisherman’s joust that takes place on gondolas on the river. The fisherman poke and parry, seemingly in slow motion and according to some ancient fisherman etiquette. It’s fun to watch and listen to the play-by-play. The crowd is huge and definitely into it.
I decide that coming at Kerwa time was interesting, but it doesn’t allow for fully experiencing the beauty and cultural significance of Bamberg. I’m glad I’ve been here before at calmer times.