Turns out that those fireworks were for an Independence Day celebration, after all. Peter and Paul Fest is the single biggest event of the year in Bretten. It’s a weekend festival celebrating the siege that marked the city’s independence from its neighbors back in1504.
For one weekend each year, the people of Bretten and several of its many sister cities put on a festival to remember their history. Everyone dresses up in medieval garb for the weekend, and there is a parade on Sunday where each section is dedicated to a different part of the medieval city life. There were soldiers, a knight on horseback, doctors, nobles, peasants, bakers, farmers, washerwomen, beggars, cobblers, minstrels, jugglers, a jester, prisoners in cages going to the gallows, peddlers, brewmasters, vinters, potters, woodworkers, blacksmiths, priests, basketmakers, metalworkers, ropemakers, weavers, candlemakers, shepherds, and anything else you can imagine.
We saw marching bands
and the colorguard.
There were shopkeepers,
And coal-makers from the black forest (we were told that the people in this section made the coal themselves, specifically for the festival).
Brewmasters (their emblem says “Hopfen und Malz, Gott Erhaltz = Hops and Malt, God’s blessings”)
and a jester with a tiny cannon
that makes a big bang.
And, inexplicably, Italians.
No one seemed to know why the Italians were there. Something about a sister city, maybe. Or maybe they’re just Italians. Who knows.
This year, there were 58 different sections in the parade itself, and then the craftspeople settle into their stalls on the side of the street and perform the trades that they represent for the rest of the day. The bakers, brewers, sausage-makers, etc. have stands where they sell fair food, sometimes made in large brick ovens or fried in cast iron basins full of oil, boiling over an open fire. That’s about as authentic as an elephant ear (fried dough) can get.
It’s an amazing event, if only for the number of people participating. Everyone was in on the action in some way or another, and there were throngs of visitors from other cities as well.
We were fortunate that a kind woman from Karlsruhe overheard us speaking English and took it upon herself to make sure that we understood the different parts of the parade, and the history behind the festival. She explained that the city had been under siege by its enemies, and had nearly given up hope, when they were inspired by Saint Peter and Paul to feed all of the food that they had left to a little dog.* When he was very fat, they let him run around the walls of the city, where the invading troops could see him. The enemies decided that a siege was hopeless if even the dogs were so fat, and moved on, leaving Bretten to its independence. There’s a statue of the dog in the town square, by the fountain, and the festival each year celebrates the victory.
*I didn’t understand exactly how Peter and Paul inspired this idea, but apparently they did…