Johannisfeuer Midsummer Celebration, Bischberg, Germany

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This post was originally published on August 1, 2013, and updated on June 30, 2020.

On the last weekend of June every year, Germans – at least the ones in Franconia where I live – get together to celebrate the first day of summer, otherwise known as midsummer or summer solstice. In these parts they call is Johannisfeuer, literally, St. John’s Fire. The focus of this fest is a giant bonfire which is lit after the sun goes down. This gives the populace time to enjoy the local beer, some bratwurst and accompanying oompah music from the local band.

Bischberg had its Johannisfeuer on June 21 this year. My husband and I were invited by Alycja, who runs the flower shop downstairs from my apartment. Bischberg lies on the river, so the fire is held there every year.

We walked the three blocks down to the river where the welcome banner had been strung across the entrance to the bike/walking path along the river. The entrance is actually an overpass; above it is a section of autobahn bypass:

Immediately on the other side of the overpass was the giant, unlit bonfire awaiting its fiery fate:

Although I have several shots of this, I included the one above because it shows some of the dozens of kids who were literally going CRAZY running around the thing. It was as if this was the biggest thing that ever happened to them!

You will also notice the stick figure mounted on top of the stick teepee made out of a straw broom and wearing a rather frilly frock. I’d never seen a Johannisfeuer up close before, so I was unfamiliar with this aspect of it. I asked what the effigy stood for and was told it was a Hexe, or witch. I don’t think St. John’s birthday has anything to do with a witch, but whatevs!

It’s interesting that they truck in the sand to make a place for the bonfire. Then, the next day the truck comes back and they shovel it all back in and haul it away. After 24 hours, you’d never know there was a fire or fest there!

As we rounded the corner out of the overpass, there was our esteemed fire department overseeing things.

Each small village in this area has its own volunteer fire department and the smallest fire departments are volunteer groups. I’ve been told by more than one local that the fire departments, especially the volunteer ones, have the reputation of being major consumers of beer and are tipsy-to-drunk most of the time. Comforting.

Anyway, here’s the beer stand:

Opposite the beer stand were all the fest tables already mostly occupied. Beyond the tables was the local oompah band, which, by the way, has won lots of competitions state-wide. They ARE good, if you like that kind of music, which I do.

Here’s a shot of my friend Alycja enjoying a beer with my husband James:

I shot this cute sequence of a little guy who just couldn’t keep his eyes open!

When the solo trumpeter stood on a chair to be heard, I got this shot:

A rather cool shot of the next table:

A guy who’s drawing beer from the cask. I kinda think he was sneaking his own beer because he and his friend on the right were really self-conscious of my camera:

Alycja with ein Paar – a pair of bratwurst on a kaiser roll, the local fave:

I shot a video of the actual lighting of the bonfire. I dubbed it over with music so you wouldn’t have to listen to the beer-induced editorial you can hear from my husband and me on the original video!

You’ll notice that there are kids who each have a sponsor in the fire department and each of them is helped by the sponsor to light the bonfire.

We were standing about 60 feet or so from the fire and the night was rather chilly until the fire got going. Then it became slightly uncomfortably warm!

Of course I didn’t film the entire fire, but there is enough of it to give you the idea of what was happening. I think it lasted an hour or so after the end of the video but we left just after I stopped filming. I can’t imagine there was much else to see.

All in all it was a pleasant night with people having a good time with an impressive fire as the centerpiece. I hope you enjoyed it, too! Happy summer!

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