The Volksfest takes place from the end of September to the beginning of October on an area called the "Cannstatter Wasen". The extensive Wasen area is located in the Stuttgart city district of Bad Cannstatt, near the river Neckar. A smaller variant of the Stuttgart Festival - the Stuttgart Spring Festival is also held each year on the Wasen.
Although the Volkfest is not strictly speaking a beer festival, it is considered by many to be the second largest beer festival in the world after the Munich Oktoberfest. According to estimates about 4.2 million people visited the festival in 2006. The Volksfest begins one week later than the Oktoberfest.
The Bad Cannstatter Volksfest (Cannstatter Festival) has its origins in an annual agricultural trade fair. The first official festival took place in 1818 to celebrate the opening of what is now the University of Hohenheim, which was founded to improve harvests and is now the oldest remaining university with an emphasis on agriculture. From its beginnings the festival was a tremendous success with more than 30,000 people attending in the first year alone. Over the years, the Cannstatter Wasen grew larger and gained regional significance. During the 19th century the festival went from only one to three, four and five days by the 1920s. By the 1950s the festival was extended to ten, then twelve, and finally (since 1972) 16 days. At the beginning there were only a few festival stands (with entertainers and beer tents), but by 1860 the ever-increasing number of visitors led to the introduction of three main alleys with numerous side streets, much as the fair is organized today.
The festival offers a variety of attractions ranging from booths to rollercoasters, carousels, roundabouts and fairground rides. One of the largest attractions at the Cannstatter Volksfest is the world's largest mobile Ferris wheel which measures 60 meters in diameter.
Symbolic of the Cannstatter Wasen is its "fruit column", a wooden pillar decorated with fruit, 26 meters high and weighing 3.5 tons. After World War I, with the beginning of the Weimar Republic, the fruit column was removed from the Cannstatter Wasen as it was considered a relic of the monarchy. Since 1935, the 100th anniversary, it has been back in its traditional place. Until recently the fruit column, the design of which has changed over the years, was dismantled after each Volksfest. Every few years it is redesigned. Since 1995 it has been left in place throughout the year and is thus also on display at the Stuttgart spring festival. In recent years only the tip has been dismantled leaving the lower portion in place housing information stands and the Cannstatter "city can".
Typical rides include
as well as 73 stands ranging from shooting galleries to raffles, some 95 food stands and a chandler's market with 60 market stalls and a boxing show.
Today, there are seven large beer tents on the Cannstatter Wasen for people to celebrate in. They either have their own name or carry the name of the brewery supplying the beer:
Since 1982 the tents of Laub, Grandl and Klauss have been located by the fruit column. Each tent takes it in turn to host the opening ceremony. The price for a Maß is usually the same in all tents.
The French village belonged to the Cannstatter Volksfest. In 2004, there were 33 food stands offering French meals and beverages along with traditional French music. Now there is an Alpine village instead of the French village part of the Volksfest.
Traditionally a parade also takes place at the Wasen, usually on the first Sunday. In 1954 a record number of spectators attended the parade along the route from Stuttgart's central square to the Wasen site: 300,000.
German Reunification is marked every year on the 3rd of October by a firework display.
Every three years an agricultural exhibition (Landwirtschaftliches Hauptfest) is included in the main celebration. This was the original Cannstatter Wasen Volksfest. Unlike the Volksfest, there is an entrance fee to visit the exhibition. The last exhibition of this kind was in 2006.
The festival is opened by a ceremony in which the incumbent Lord Mayor of Stuttgart tries to tap the first barrel of beer with as few hits as possible. This takes place on a Friday in late September, so that the duration of the festival is actually 17 days.
The food stands, fixed tents and carousels are open between Sunday and Friday from 11am to 11pm. On Saturdays and before Bank Holidays the Volksfest is open until 11.30pm although music is stopped at 11pm.