All Saints’ Day Fair in Soest
Europe’s largest old-town fair
Hawkers and “bull’s eyes” in a picturesque old town setting: Old traditions live on and special experiences await at the Soest All Saints’ Day Fair.
An old town sounds like an unlikely setting for a funfair. But every year in early November, visitors flock to Soest in Sauerland for a large and colourful funfair right in the centre of town. This annual event takes place over five days from the first Wednesday following All Saints’ Day.
At Europe’s largest old-town fair, the fun takes place not on a characterless site on the outskirts of town, but right in the historical centre of Soest with its idyllic streets, alleyways and squares. Every year, the bright flashing lights of the high-tech rides transform the unique green sandstone buildings of Soest’s old town into an incredible sea of colour and lights.
One million annual visitors
When a town with only 50,000 inhabitants is invaded by almost one million visitors, it goes without saying that the place gets more than a little crowded. But that is exactly what makes the All Saints’ Day Fair such an unforgettable experience.
The 400 or so stalls, stands and rides look particularly appealing against the picturesque backdrop of the old town. Of the 40-plus rides, funhouses and amusements, over 15 are designed especially for kids, which gives the All Saints’ Day Fair its deserved reputation as a family-friendly event.
Visitors young and old will need plenty of stamina if they want to discover the entire fair in a single day: If all the rides and stalls were arranged in a row, they would stretch for a total distance of three kilometres.
The religious origins of the fair
The All Saints’ Day Fair was not always organised on this scale, however. Its origins can be traced back to a celebration of the oldest church in Soest. The Church of St. Petri was consecrated on All Saints’ Day many centuries ago, and the town marked the occasion with a large festival enlivened by jesters, puppeteers and tightrope-walkers. Small traders and large merchants also came to Soest to sell cattle, horses, wax and animal skins and to forge contacts with the businessmen of the Hanseatic town of Soest.
Many other fairs which are still going strong in North Rhine-Westphalia can likewise trace their origins to the consecration of a church before its first service. Several towns, including Soest, decided to celebrate the consecration date as a recurring religious festival, which later evolved into a secular fair.
Traditional horse fair
Today’s visitors can still experience age-old tradition at the All Saints’ Day Fair. The annual horse fair takes place on Thursday, and is attended by around 100 traders vying to sell not only horses but also cattle, agricultural machinery and bric-a-brac. The shouts of the traditional stall-holders hawking their cheese, fruit or smoked sausages give visitors an idea of what the atmosphere was like in an old-style marketplace.
Moving on to a modern tradition, there is a particular drink that has become synonymous with the All Saints’ Day Fair: the bull’s eye. The curious name is due to its appearance, with the drink being made by adding a dollop of cream to a glass of mocha liqueur.
Dates: 8 to 12 November 2023