More than three million visitors from 70 countries – the Kieler Woche (Kiel Week) is not only the world’s biggest sailing event and the biggest summer festival in northern Europe, it is above all a tourist highlight.
Perhaps it’s best to start a visit to the Kiel Week by stopping by the tower at City Hall – much like the almost 2,000 tourists do every day during the festival week. They crowd into the tight confines of the elevator as it judders the 67 metres up to the small observation deck. From here you can look over the city for many kilometres. You can see the fjord as it widens as it meanders north until it ultimately finds its way into the Baltic Sea. The scenery in Kiel is characterised by hundreds of tents, booths and stages. From the observation deck you can also see thousands of people who look like little dots scampering throughout the city.
But those on the deck will at best only receive a first impression of what the Kiel Week is all about. The big picture, that which makes the Kiel Week so special and unique, cannot be identified, not even from above. It’s the details that make the difference: the 2,000 events offered to the visitors over the ten days of the festival. After all, the Kiel Week is not a run-of-the-mill public festival. The Kiel Week has many facets. And more than anything: it has an aspiration.
To start, it’s a sporty one: Boats from 50 nations compete on the regatta course in front of the Olympic training centre Schilksee. Then, 4,000 sailors take to the water in their international, Olympic and Paralympic boat classes. The Kiel Week is the world’s largest sailing event; winners here are among the international elite. And the visitors on land can witness all this up close. The media coverage with live broadcasts of the races has seen an impressive development over the past years.
The week also includes visits to the city by over 100 windjammers and traditional sailing vessels which undertake daily excursions with their guests. The highlight comes on the second Saturday of the festival week with the huge windjammer parade, which regularly attracts over 100,000 people to the shores along the fjord.
Oh yes, the visitors. Nearly 3.8 million from 70 countries attended the event in 2015 – a new record. That means: For every resident of Kiel come 15 Kiel Week guests, at least in mathematical terms. It goes without saying that the city’s hotels are booked to the brim, as are guesthouses and private accommodations.
The Kiel Week is acknowledged around the world for its unique festival programme. Of course, tourism reflects this. Many visitors who came to Kiel for the first time during the festival week often take the time to come back at a later date. And provided that the ten festival days do not fall within school holidays, they also result in a season extension, as was the case in 2015. That means that Kiel also has a considerable number of bookings in June.
One reason is certainly that Kiel Week truly has something to offer for everyone. Northern Europe’s biggest summer festival is hard to beat when it comes to the diversity of events. And it starts with the music: More than 300 concerts are presented on the more than one dozen stages between the Olympic Centre and downtown Kiel – and most often they are free. The music ranges from current international stars to cover and party bands, local heroes and German evergreens to shanty choirs.
In the meantime, children can visit the “Spiellinie” (children’s playground and festival area) which also has a superlative to offer. On the “Krusenkoppel” across from the state building, the city has invited young and old to “Europe’s largest open air children’s culture event” for more than 40 years. The 450,000 young visitors create their own little fantasy world every year on almost 60,000 square metres of open space. The Spiellinie is the place for building, hammering, painting and splashing about; a giant adventure land is created during the ten-day festival. And it all takes place every year under a different motto. The offer is as unique as it is popular. In fact, it’s so popular that parents don’t mind driving for hours so that their children can enjoy the Spiellinie. The number of regular Spiellinie visitors from southern Germany has increased from year to year.
The nations participating in the Internal Market have taken on an even longer journey to get there. Almost 30 countries present their country’s traditional specialities, art and folklore on the square in front of Town Hall. The different nations turn a stroll across the square into a trip around the world (only the distances are much shorter): from Argentina to Australia, from India to Ireland, from Nepal to Norway; they are all just a few steps apart. And there are delicious breaks along the way – for example strips of reindeer meat (Finland), skewers with crocodile meat (Rwanda) or zebra in a bun (South Africa).
Those who have still not had enough of the foods, beverages or music, can simply move on to the artists or the Balloon Sail, a meeting of hot air balloons on the Nordmarksportfeld. Or to the soapbox derby, the trendy sports days or the largest gathering of international naval units in Germany. Or to the quieter spots of the Kiel Week; to “Hoftheater” a theatre with its enchanting puppet and marionette programme, or perhaps to one of the numerous exhibits that accompany the festival week.
And all this is just the summer festival. Fact is that the Kiel Week also has so much to offer in terms of politics and social affairs. For example the Global Economy Prize which has been awarded to Nobel Prize winners and personalities such as former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt or the founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad. Representatives from Kiel’s partner cities come to the international city forum every year to exchange ideas on current challenges. The presentation of the culture and science awards also has a place in the Kiel Week calendar.
So, there is something for everyone. This makes the Kiel Week a highlight for the city as a tourism spot.
Dr. Ulf Kämpfer
The author, born in Eutin in 1972, studied Law and Philosophy in Göttingen and Galway (Ireland) and earned a PhD in Law in 2004. In 2008, Kämpfer joined the judicial service. In 2012, he was appointed as State Secretary in the Ministry of Energy, Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Areas. In 2014, he was elected Major of Kiel, the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein