Holi festivals in Germany Three, two, one, multi-coloured

Holi-Festivals
Holi-Festivals | Photo: © Colourbox.de

A countdown in a Berlin park: ‘Three, two, one’ – followed by a gigantic cloud of colour floating in the air: people are throwing red, yellow or blue powder. Seconds later, the cloud clears and you see a crowd of people, no longer looking quite as clean as they did before. But dancing with abandon nonetheless. In 2012, a trend developed in Germany and holi, the traditional Indian spring festival, has been a part of German youth culture ever since.

‘There was nothing like this before,’ says Maxim Derenko. He works for one of the largest holi festival organisers in Germany and helped organise the first festival in Berlin.
 
A friend of his, while on a trip to India, had the idea of celebrating the festival in Germany as well. He then convinced his colleagues at a Berlin event management agency to bring holi to Germany too. But the festival in India could not be copied in every aspect. ‘We have adapted the concept of holi to the European market,’ says Derenko.
 
Holi in Germany is therefore not the same as its role model in India. The reason: the commercial nature of the festival and the more stringent safety regulations. In Germany, people do not walk down the streets throwing coloured powder. One celebrates in closed-off spaces which can be entered only after purchasing an entry ticket. The ticket can cost anything between EUR 10-30.

First Berlin, then the world

It started with the first party in Berlin. Since then, holi has spread to many other German cities as well. The battle of colour has already taken place in Munich, Dresden, Stuttgart and Hanover. Derenko's holi agency is planning to hold 14 festivals in Germany this year – with over 150,000 participants. And Derenko is expanding: to other European countries, to South America or even to Australia. His agency now offers holi festivals in almost 20 countries.
 
However, these festivals do not take place in spring on the first day of the full moon in the Indian month of Phalgun. Germany is usually still very cold at the end of February or beginning of March. ‘Otherwise everybody would have to run around in heavy jackets,’ says Derenko. German holi festivals therefore do not start until early June and then continue until the end of summer.
 
In other words, it is more of a summer festival than a religious festival. Whether this goes against the very notion of holi? ‘We have consciously left the religious angle out of it,’ says Derenko. For him, while holi in Germany is also about values such as community, equality or tolerance, it is first and foremost of course about having fun: ‘People want to experience a relaxed day, enjoy the music, and really let go with the colour.’

A holi festival in Germany starts around midday and continues well into the evening. The visitors tend to be young: According to Derenko, ‘the 19 - 22-year-olds make up the bulk, and 70% are female.’ Electronic music blasts from the loudspeakers at the festival grounds. Indian musicians and dancers appear on a stage. At 3 pm the countdown starts, on the hour, to the battle of colours.

Battle of colours in front of a stage

The visitors then collect in front of a stage. Almost all of them wear light coloured clothes. An Indian moderator starts with the countdown: ‘Ten, nine, eight…’ The people tear open small plastic packets with coloured powered or gulal. ‘Three, two, one.’ Thousands throw the powder into the air:  red, yellow, green, pink or orange – many small mini clouds merge into one large coloured cloud that passes over the heads and floats slowly to the ground.
 
The visitors are not, however, allowed to throw original Indian gulal powder. ‘We had the colour developed ourselves – in Germany,’ says Derenko. To ensure that the contents meet German standards.
 
When the coloured dust slowly dissipates in the air, people hug each other and laugh. One thing is clear: holi in Germany and holi in India are certainly different in many respects. But one thing is the same: everybody is multi-coloured at the end.