Burning Easter Wheel In Germany- UNESCO Heritage in Lüdge

Cover image by Nifoto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In 784 Charlemagne visited the town of Lügde, and according to his chronicler Einhard, witnessed large oak wheels stuffed with straw, set on fire, and sent rolling down the Osterberg to greet the Spring. What an impressive sight! Burning wheels of fire careening down the hill…sparks flying all around. Although no one knows how long ago the practice started, this once-pagan tradition got Charlemagne’s approval because of the Christian inscriptions written on the sides of the wheels. Today the tradition of sending a burning Easter Wheel down the hill continues in Lüdge, where thousands gather every year to witness the fiery spectacle.

Burning Easter Wheel or Osterrad

Every year for as long as anyone can remember, on Grüner Donnerstag, large Oak wheels (with an open center, like a donut) brought to the Emmer River, which flows through Lüdge,  chained together, and left to soak up as much water as possible. How big are these wheels? They weigh in at 280 KG (over 600 lb) and stand 170 cm (just over 5 feet) tall and 30 cm (about 1 foot) wide.

On Easter Sunday participants load the wheels onto a wagon, then a procession of marching bands and townspeople escorts the wagon to the top of Osterberg. A long Hazelnut wood pole through the opening of the Osterrad helps keep it balanced while rolling. Then Rye straw is woven and stuffed into the wheel’s opening. When night falls, a cannon goes off! At 9 PM the 6 flaming Easter Wheels roll hundreds of yards down the hill leaving trails of fire! The hazelnut poles help keep them upright… but aren’t always successful. Any wheel reaching the bottom of the hill successfully is met with cheers!

After the wheels reach bottom, fireworks fill the skies.

Lüdge Osterrad Stadt

Why send burning wheels down a hill?

In the deep past of Germany’s pagan history, the practice of burning an Easter Wheel was common. Over time, it was stopped or changed in most communities by the church because of its pagan roots. Like other practices involving fire in the Springtime, (like the Easter Fire) it’s believed that the practice was a way of saying Tschuß to Winter… and welcoming back the sunshine of Spring and Summer. The wheels represent the fire of the sun. Wheels that made it down the hill without crashing and burning were signs of an upcoming good harvest.

Like Folk Dancing and the Passion Play of Oberammergau, the Easter Wheel run is part of UNESCO’s Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Germany. Although the church tried to block it from time time, the people of Lüdge perservered. The practice was stopped during the war, but in 1946, 6 brave men started the wheels turning again.  Lüdge nicknamed itself the Osterradstadt,  “Easter Wheel City”, and today, crowds gather in Lüdge to see the event as they have for well over a thousand years.

Learn more, and find out how you can go see this spectacular here-> Osterräderlauf in Lüdge


Osterräderlauf in Lüdge

UNESCO Heritage – Easter Wheel Run

Germany’s Easter Traditions

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