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National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this series.
Germany

Global Getaways EditorWho runs the show: Klaus Liedtke, Chief Editor

Name of the game: National Geographic Deutschland

When it all started: October 1999

Where it all happens: Hamburg

Who makes it happen: Ten staff members

What goes out: 280,000 issues a month

GeoHappenings: National Geographic Kids and one pilot issue of National Geographic Traveler will be launched later this year.

Business as usual: "We don't need too much coffee or anything to keep us going. It's just the motivation of working for a great magazine. And of course being successful is motivation in itself."

Best office perk: "Nothing. We just work all week, and then we leave for the weekend. Our week is pretty busy, and we don't leave the office on Friday until 6 or 7 p.m. So there's no time for any perk or activity other than working."

What's great about the Germans: "We're immensely interested in other countries and cultures, and that's without any overstated patriotism. Germans have a great interest in other countries and people. Germans are probably world champions in traveling."

What's great about Germany: "After hundreds of years of European fighting, Germany is surrounded only by friends for the first time in its history."

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FlagFive Cultural Bests

Cultural Bests

A love of culture in the form of music, humor, and literature is reflected in Liedtke's five favorite German traditions:

1. Schützenfest (Shooting Match)
"This festival has its roots in the guilds and fraternities of the late Middle Ages. These groups of farmers and craftsmen operated as charitable organizations or militias to protect their villages. Today Schützenfest is celebrated all over Germany, mainly from June to August. People in rural areas get together for the festivities, the center of which is a shooting match. Contestants shoot wooden figures, and the winner is crowned king. He even has a queen at his side. It's a lot of fun, and the whole village takes part in it. People drink and party for several days. Every German must take part in this at least once."

2. Weiberfastnacht (Women's Carnival)
"This special day is celebrated throughout Germany in February or March, depending on the moveable feast of Easter. In ancient times this was a chance for the ordinary people to playfully rebel against social and clerical rules. The exact origin of Weiberfastnacht is unclear. In some parts of Germany, people believe it is connected to smugglers who disguised themselves as women. Today on Weiberfastnacht, women have freedom to do whatever they want. They generally play hoaxes on men, for example, by cutting off their ties or shoelaces. So on that day men wear their oldest ties."

3. Deutsche Weihnachten (German Christmas)
"German Christmas is special for its unique traditions, some of which originate from Christianity, others from heathendom. For example, the stollen, a German sweet bread, symbolizes the swaddled Christ child. The tradition of the wreath started when our pagan ancestors used prickly evergreen boughs and twigs to stave off evil sprits. In some areas they used trees for the same purpose, and later in the 1800s, started placing wax candles in the trees to decorate them. Hence the modern practice of decorating the trees with lights. The custom of giving gifts dates back to Saturnalia, a Roman celebration for the god Saturn."

4. Frankfurt Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair)
"The Frankfurt Book Fair dates back to the 15th century, when Gutenberg printed his first Bible in nearby Mainz in the western part of the country. Frankfurt was the setting for the country's leading book fair until the 18th century, when it was ousted by Leipzig. However, after World War II the tradition was re-established when 205 German exhibitors met in the Frankfurter Paulskirche building. Today 6,400 exhibitors from 110 countries participate in the book fair. It's a major cultural event in Europe."

5. Bayreuther Festspiele (Bayreuth Music Festival)
"The German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) selected the Bavarian city of Bayreuth as a potential setting for his long-planned festival-theater at the beginning of the 1870s. But the influence of the Bavarian king Ludwig II—a great music lover—was required to make it a reality. In 1876 the first Bayreuth Festival took place. Today it's one of the most celebrated music festivals in Germany. A member of the Wagner family traditionally heads the festival, which attracts many politicians and celebrities every year in July and August. It's so highly acclaimed that in order to attend, one must make reservations several years in advance. For some people, attending the festival is the highlight of their life."

—Interview by Saadia Iqbal

Photographs by Ina Fassbender (CORBIS, left), Jim Zuckerman (CORBIS, center) and David Ball (CORBIS, right)
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