Oktoberfest has been enticing overzealous beer drinkers from far and wide to Munich for decades. Though 200 kilometers away, held during the same time, also originated out of a royal marriage, and with a similar focus on beer, another festival takes place, but without all the international fanfare: Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volksfest.

Wasen, as locals call it, may perennially live in the shadow of Germany’s most notorious festival, though that isn’t all bad. The festival’s tourist to local ratio is far healthier than its Munich counterpart, preserving many of the customs and traditions since its origins in 1818 (only eight years after the first Oktoberfest, by the way). And despite the attention Oktoberfest garners, attracting six million visitors every year, Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volksfest boasts an impressive attendance of four million annually. That makes it not only the second largest beer festival in Germany – but the second largest beer festival in the world.

But don’t assume that to know one is to know the other, as there are marked differences between the festivals. Though there are similarities between Oktoberfest and the Cannstatter Volksfest as to be expected, either adopted over the years or simply cultural parallels between these two nearby cities. Experiencing the Cannstatter Volksfest is a journey in its own right – just don’t refer to it as another Oktoberfest.

Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest

Stuttgart's Cannstatter Volksfest

The Grounds

The Cannstatter Volksfest is held each year in its dedicated location in the district of Bad Cannstatt, on the opposite side of the Neckar River from central Stuttgart. Getting to the Wasen grounds are easy via the U Bahn, which has a wide transit network across Stuttgart.

The festival grounds are large but manageable – a five-kilometre stretch of food stalls, beer tents, carnival games, and rides lining each side, rammed with revellers in the evenings and weekends.

A favourite among festival-goers is the Alpine Village – a lodge like area with an outdoor bar and beer garden.

A unique aspect of Wasen is the Kraemermarkt, a trading market that’s set up during the festival. Here you’ll find many stalls selling one of a kind wares and handcrafted goods.

Nearly two dozen rides light up as the sun goes down creating a electrifying sight. Ferris wheels, roller coasters, a haunted house and a few too many intense spinning contraptions for my liking, including the aptly named ‘Hangover’, are popular attractions at the festival.

Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest

The Attire

Although many have adopted the traditional Bavarian clothing that’s so iconic of Oktoberfest, it’s not local to Baden-Würtemberg. Despite this, you’ll see both locals and visitors decked out in lederhosen and dirndls, partly attributable to their rise in popularity by Germany’s younger generations. While a sizeable proportion of Wasen goers will be in the traditional tracht, many are not, so you won’t feel completely out of place as you would at Oktoberfest if you opt against.

If you’re interested in dressing the part, head to one of Stuttgart’s many department stores such as Breuninger, C&A and Galeria Kaufhof.

Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest

The Tents

Nine distinct beer tents offer local beers to thirsty patrons, though Fürstenberg from the Black Forest is the one exception. Like Oktoberfest, litres of beer are on offer in the tents, though half-litres, which are more common in Baden-Würtemberg, are sold in the outdoor stalls and beer gardens. If you’re in the mood for something other than beer, the tents also serve wine, champagne and schnapps.

Each tent, which can accommodate up to 5,000 festival-goers, has its own character – from the alpine lodge feel of the Almhüttendrof to the rotating bar in Sonja Merz’s tent. One of the most popular tents of Wasen, the Göckelesmaier is a family run establishment and has been a part of the festivities since 1938. Named for its roast chicken specialty, ‘göckele’, the Göckelesmaier has an upscale yet cozy feel to it.

The tents feature an overall more modern and clean design than those of Oktoberfest, some of which appear to have remained unchanged for decades. All feature row upon row of communal tables, though many of the tents at the Cannstatter Volksfest have private seating and exclusive VIP areas.

Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest

The Food

Like any good German beer festival, food is an integral part of the Cannstatter Volksfest. On the festival grounds you’ll find numerous food stalls selling all sorts of fare from bratwursts and flammkuchen to roasted nuts and gingerbread heart cookies. Inside the tents, traditional German meals and hearty Swabian specialties like spätzle, roast chicken, and multiple variations of potato will provide a much needed base for all the beer you’re likely to consume.

Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest

The Music

The music style at Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volksfest is perhaps the most apparent deviation from Oktoberfest. You won’t find the full brass bands playing traditional Bavarian oompah-esque songs. Instead bands with lead singers, guitarists and bassists rock out some classic festival ballads and modern hits throughout Wasen’s beer tents. Rather than the music being more of an accompaniment to the overall merriment, here it’s front and centre like a concert with impressive light effects and stage theatrics.

Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest

The Vibe

The tents at the Cannstatter Volksfest are filled with a fun loving crowd on evenings and weekends, and the ensuing excitement is palpable. The majority of patrons are younger and looking for a good party, which is fuelled by the band’s move toward more mainstream club hits as the night progresses. Like Oktoberfest, everyone is up on the benches dancing and cheers-ing their mates. The tents are open late with the party continuing until midnight on weekends.

Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest
Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest

The City

Stuttgart is a wonderful city and worthy of a visit on its own. Impressive on multiple fronts, Stuttgart has gorgeous architecture, an abundance of art and cultural sites, is the home of Porsche and Mercedes Benz, and is located in a region that produces excellent wines.