It’s dark. Too foggy to clearly see. The only sounds to break the silence are screams that only get louder once visitors step inside one of Germany’s horror houses.
“The less senses you can use the more your imagination works, and suddenly something or someone jumps out,” Tomasz Lazar told In Sight.
Lazar, a photographer based in Poland, is describing his experiences photographing Halloween-themed amusement parks in Germany. While working on another project, Lazar became interested in how people behave and are affected during these fear-inducing events. What also interests him about the Halloween parks is how American they seem.
“We know that Europe influenced America a lot, but here we see the opposite . . . it shows that it works in both directions,” he said.
Halloween started gaining popularity in Germany in the 1990s and, although Europeans see Halloween as an American tradition, it’s originally a Celtic one. Unlike American children, who say “trick or treat,” German children say “Süßes oder Saures” or “Sweet or sour.”
“While there is some trick-and-treatin’ here, the major thing is the spooky or creepy aspect, dressing up and celebrating,” Walter Grünzweig, a professor of American and transatlantic studies at TU Dortmund University, told In Sight. Grünzweig and his colleague Hartmut Holzmueller studied the emergence of Halloween in Germany through newspaper reports.
“Our theory was that a ‘crazy’ day like Halloween was very welcome in the German calendar between summer and Christmas, and therefore it became so successful so quickly,” Grünzweig said.
It hasn’t gone over well with everyone.
“A lot of church folks and traditionalists [who are] always complaining about the ‘Americanization’ of German culture have been livid about the intrusion of Halloween into what is supposed to be a quiet, reflective, melancholy season,” Grünzweig said, referring to St. Martin’s Day, a Nov. 11 holiday when children walk in processions with paper lanterns and go door to door singing songs for candy. “Generally speaking, there is indeed an Americanization — better ‘Hollywoodization’ — of American holidays,” he said.
Who started the Americanized Halloween trend in Germany? According to a 2013 article in Spiegel Online, Dieter Tschorn proclaimed himself the “father of Halloween in Germany.” The public relations consultant for the German Toy and Novelty Retailers Association told the newspaper he introduced the country to Halloween in 1991 as a way to recoup losses from the cancellation of Carnival. He claims the idea was inspired by U.S. troops near Frankfurt who rented the Frankenstein castle for a Halloween party.
While there is an American influence in the way Germans celebrate Halloween, fear and joy have no borders, and as Lazar says, visitors to amusement parks are having fun.
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