Holiday pumpkin tradition is taking root in Germany
Stars and Stripes October 24, 2004
Growing up, Michel White always loved Halloween.
It wasn't so much the costumes or the trick-or- treating, as it was the gooey excitement of cracking open a pumpkin and carving it out.
When the Army sent him to Germany 11 years ago, he was astounded to find that few of the locals even knew of the holiday, much less knew about his favorite pastime of creating grimacing gourds.
“At the time, the Germans grew pumpkins, but they were only for eating, not the good ones for Halloween carving,” said White, a native of Lynn, Mass., and the son of French Canadian immigrants. An artillery crewman stationed in Baumholder and then Bamberg, White was always frustrated at the slim pickings.
“You just couldn’t find good pumpkins,” he said.
So, White began his one-man crusade as an evangelist for the harvest holiday.
As a soldier, he taught local school kids a dance he called the “Pumpkin Wiggle” and began growing his own pumpkins.
Four years ago, after getting out of the Army and moving to a village outside of Stuttgart, White began tilling a patch of land the size of two football fields with his favorite crop.
“The first year, no one was interested. A few old ladies bought some pumpkins for making soup, and that was about it,” he said.
Undeterred, White kept at it — while studying genetics to increase size and perfect shape.
This year, his private patch of orange orbs has produced more than 700 pumpkins primed for creative carving. Among them, a 459-pound monster melon.
Around town, he’s now known simply as “Kuerbis” — German for “pumpkin.”
More importantly, he said, “the kids just love it.”
"Everything that I grow will be sold. Everyone wants them now,” he said. “It’s getting crazy.”
And not just in White’s village.
Throughout Germany, pumpkin mania is taking root. While German kids are slowly picking up on the idea of trick-or-treating and some stores are even selling Halloween cards, it’s the scary squash that has most captured Germany’s attention.
Karl-Hans Damm, a German farmer in Heidelberg, said he first started growing pumpkins in 1976. But it was only for the Americans in the local military community, he said. “Germans were never interested.”
Now, 60 percent to 70 percent of his sales are to Germans.
“They’ve become very popular,” he said. Indeed, restaurants are now just as likely to buy a load of pumpkins for Halloween decorating as they are for soup, he said.
White likes to think he’s had a little to do with that.
About 50 farms throughout Germany are growing giant pumpkins, he said, “most of them from my seeds.”
“It’s just fun,” he said. “The best thing in the world is to see the look on kids’ faces, the thrill they get when they stick their hands inside a pumpkin. They love it. That’s what makes Halloween great.”