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Hallo! Wie geht’s? Today I’d like to introduce you to a German tradition called Richtfest. I only learnt about this recently, as my parents are having their roof re-done and my mum said she wanted to get some beers for the builders once the roof is finished, “like they do at a Richtfest”. Naturally, I had to learn more – and now I’d like to tell you all about it, too!
Put simply, Richtfest is where people who are building a house, or having some major renovations done on their house, give thanks to the builders and all involved in the construction work with a mini-ceremony. People involved include der Bauherr – builder, der Baumeister – architect/master builder and der Zimmermann – carpenter. The Richtfest typically occurs when the final beam is added to the roof of the new build.
A giant wreath called der Richtkranz is used to decorate the roof of the house, and a speech or poem known as der Richtspruch is spoken to mark the completion of the build and declare the house ‘open’. This speech usually calls upon God to bless and protect the house. The ceremony usually involves a Prost (toast) with Schnaps or another alcoholic drink.
Here is the first part of a typical Richtspruch:
Viele Stunden sind vergangen,
seit man das Werk hat angefangen.
Wände stellen, Dachstuhl richten,
all der Zunft gerechten Pflichten.
Es floß der Schweiß bei Sonnenglut,
gelobt sei Gott, es floß kein Blut.
Many hours have passed
since we began our work.
Putting up walls, laying the roof,
And all of the duties approved by the guild.
The sweat was flowing in the heat of the sun,
Thank God there was no blood flowing.
This tradition is not unique to Germany; it happens in many countries. In the UK this ceremony is called ‘topping out’.
The word das Richtfest roughly translates to ‘roofing ceremony’ or ‘build celebration’. The word richt comes from the verb aufrichten – to erect/set up, and das Fest is the German word for celebration. You may also see das Richtfest under the names das Bauheben, das Weihefest, das Hebefest, or die Hebfeier.