The Reich Harvest Thanksgiving Festival (German: Das Reichserntedankfest) was a monumental National Socialist celebration of the peasantry and the German farmers.
The festivals ran from 1933 to 1937 on the Bückeberg, a hill near the town of Hamelin. Most festivals occurred every October, with the 1934 festival commencing 30 September. The official purpose of the festival was the recognition of the achievements of the German farmers, whom the National Socialists called the Reichsnährstand (the Reich’s Food Estate). The celebration was also used by the National Socialists to demonstrate the connection between Adolf Hitler and the German people. The festival was part of a cycle of National Socialist celebrations which included the annual party rally at Nuremberg, Adolf Hitler’s birthday celebrations and other important events on the National Socialist calendar.
In 1937, the festival was attended by about 1.2 million people, culminating with Adolf Hitler walking through the Führerweg (Führer’s way) to the harvest monument, in the form of an altar, to receive the harvest crown from the Farmers’ Estate on behalf of the German people. The festival was attended by more people than any other National Socialist ceremony or ritual activity, including the party rally at Nuremberg.
In addition to its agricultural theme, the festival was used by the National Socialists to increase the contact of the Führer with the masses and to demonstrate the Reich’s military prowess. From 1935, Wehrmacht staged mock battles at the festival with the participation of up to 10,000 soldiers, airplanes and panzers. In 1933, during his inaugural speech at the festival, Hitler announced the passage of a new law, the Reichserbhofgesetz, the State Hereditary Farm Law, which provided safeguards for the integrity of ownership of some family farms.
The location of the hill near Hamelin was chosen for political, historical and infrastructure reasons. Hamelin, a town in Lower Saxony, was an urban centre which had the infrastructure to support mass gatherings of such size. In addition, National Socialist support in the region was high. The National Socialists also made frequent mentions of the historic struggles of the Germanic tribes which had settled the area. The nearby Weser River was referred to as the „most German of all rivers“. The Weser region was also significant for the National Socialists, and appealed to their mysticism, because it was believed that it was there that Arminius had defeated the Romans and Saxon leader Widukin had defeated Charlemagne’s army.
Dr. Joseph Goebbels chose Albert Speer as the designer of the grounds. The initial design of the place opted for simplicity to better reflect the rural roots of the celebration. Two stages were erected which were connected by a long corridor. A circular area featuring thousands of flagpoles was also constructed. The inaugural celebrations in 1933 were met with success and this led Dr. Goebbels to the idea of converting the grounds to a „Germanic cult place“ (Reichsthingstätte). Additions included a monument which was to last for eternity, construction of new roads, renovations of existing train stations and the construction of a new Führerbahnhof which was Adolf Hitler’s own train station purpose-built for his arrival during the celebrations. The new design was also created by Speer.
As part of the celebrations, choirs consisting of thousands of singers sang nationalist anthems while pictures of distinguished farmers were distributed to the crowds. The most anticipated moment of the celebration was the arrival of the Führer at noon, followed by Adolf Hitler walking on the Führerweg (Führer’s way) toward the monument where a peasant woman at the altar awarded him the harvest crown. The 600-metre procession took the Führer 45 minutes to complete due to frequent stops to meet and greet the crowd.
In 1938, most of the preparations for the festival were finalised when the plans were abruptly cancelled due to logistical problems caused by the pending returning of the Sudetenland aria to Germany which necessitated the use of trains to move military materiel to the border rather than transporting peasants to Bückeberg to attend the celebrations.