In Germany, a traditional children’s birthday party includes Topfschlagen, literally ‘hitting the pot’, and egg-and-spoon and sack races. Jonas is looking forward to playing the classic games and a delicious birthday feast to celebrate turning four.
Have you ever crawled across the floor blindfolded in search of a saucepot? Or climbed into a burlap bag and hopped your heart out to be first to cross the finish line? Most Germans will associate feeling around for a pot on all fours or tripping over their own feet in a scratchy sack as formative childhood memories, memories of their earliest birthday parties.
Similar scenes have been taking place for generations, when birthday parties were unthinkable without the beloved traditions. And while today older children would rather celebrate turning a year older at the pool, with a football tournament, or playing laser tag, the little ones are still often treated to a more traditional party. Like their parents and grandparents before them, it just wouldn’t be a birthday without cake, candles and presents, Topfschlagen, and sack and egg-and-spoon races. We were invited to help Jonas celebrate his fourth birthday with all the best known and loved birthday party traditions.
Present roulette: spin the bottle
Jonas has been looking forward to his birthday for a long time, and imagining the loads of presents he will get. His parents helped him send out the hand-drawn invitations to his big day weeks ago. With an island, pirate and treasure chest, they hint at the exciting treasure hunt to come.
Six boys and girls from Jonas’ kindergarten have arrived. Once everyone is gathered in the living room decked out in festive streamers and balloons, the first thing Jonas wants to do is unwrap his presents. A traditional game will decide who has the honour of handing their gift to the birthday boy first. The children sit in a circle around a bottle around on the floor. The bottle is spun, and whoever it is pointing to when it stops is the first to go. The first gift is opened, and the spinning continues until every child has had a turn to give Jonas their gift.
The birthday party starts with opening presents. | Photo (detail): © Adobe
“Many happy returns of the day!”— birthday cake and songs
Even most adults would agree: no birthday would feel complete without cake and plenty of sweets. But before the children can dig into the cake, they sing a song for the birthday boy. “Happy Birthday” is a perennial favourite, as are the old German folksong “Viel Glück und viel Segen” (good luck and many blessings) and children’s singer-songwriter Rolf Zuckowski’s “Wie schön, dass du geboren bist” (How nice that you were born) from the 1980s.
Now it is Jonas’ turn to blow out the flickering candles on his birthday cake. There are four, one for every year of his life so far, and the trick is to get them all out in just one go. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and blows. Tradition has it that any wish the birthday boy makes before blowing out the candles will come true. Then the cake is cut. Jonas and his guests devour marble cake decorated with chocolate buttons and muffins, washing them down with apple-juice spritzer.
Candles on a birthday cake, one for each year of the birthday girl or boy’s life. | Photo (detail): © Adobe
All hands on deck: pirates hunt for buried treasure
Jonas made his intentions quite clear on the invitations: a treasure hunt is a must. His parents show the party guests a mysterious, glittering treasure map that they just happened upon that very morning. It shows a bunch of different spots the children have to work together to find. Each guest is outfitted with a pirate’s head scarf, and off they go. Let the treasure hunt begin!
The hunt ends on the playground, where the tiny marauders find the treasure hidden under the slide. There is a goody bag marked with the name of each guest, filled with chewing gum, a bouncy ball, a party horn, and a key chain for them to take home once the fun is over.
The party game to end all party games
The pirate crew returns home victorious, and the afternoon of games begins. Topfschlagenis first on the agenda, for many the children’s birthday party game par excellence. Luisa is first up. She is blindfolded, given a wooden cooking spoon, and the children spin her around until she loses her sense of direction. The children have hidden an upside-down saucepot in the room, and now Luisa has to find it by crawling around as she hits the floor with the spoon. The other party goers help, shouting old “warm” or “cold” as she gets closer to or further away from the pot. As soon as the clink of metal under her spoon tells her she has found the pot, she takes off the blindfold and turns the pot over to reveal a little surprise.
Many fondly remember Topfschlagen as the children’s birthday party game par excellence. | Photo (detail): © Adobe
There are lots of other classic party games still popular in Germany. The next in line at Jonas’ party is the egg-and-spoon race. Each child balances a hard-boiled egg on a tablespoon and begins racing toward the finish line. The first to cross wins, and anyone who drops their egg has to go back and start all over again. The sack race is another test of agility and skill. Each child climbs into a cloth sack, pulling it up to waist height. Holding the sack in both hands, they hop towards the finish line, hoping to be first and win the prize.
Children hop their way to the finish line in the sack race. | Photo (detail): © Adobe
Sausage and chips for dinner
The children have really worked up an appetite from all the games and excitement, and sit down to a small dinner before their parents pick them up. Jonas has asked for sausages and chips, all-time favourites among little diners. Like his parents before him, when Jonas looks back on his childhood, these very first afternoons of games and fun with friends will remain in his memory as the ideal child’s birthday party.
Jonas asked for sausages and chips for his birthday dinner. | Photo (detail): © Adobe