Pumpkins pop up everywhere in Germany come October - sometimes in the oddest of formations. This "pumpkosaurus" is part of an exhibition at Krewelshof in Mechernich in western Germany. Some 48,000 gourds were formed into such artistic sculptures here, while another 25,000 were used purely for decoration.
The red kuri squash (known in Europe as a Hokkaido pumpkin) is by far the most popular in Germany. You'll find mounds of them at the supermarkets. While they tend to grow in more arid regions like California, South Africa and, of course, Japan, they are also homegrown in Germany. However, the tradition of annual trips to the pumpkin patch is actually not a big deal here it is in the US.
In the US, where pumpkins are native, the orange gourds are most often associated with pumpkin pie, which is typically eaten on Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. In Germany, you won't find pumpkin pie anywhere, not even pumpkin muffins. Here, pumpkins are most often used in savory dishes like pumpkin soup.
Savor the seeds
In Germany, it's not just the meat of the pumpkin that lands on the table, but there'S also an appreciation for the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a common addition in bread and rolls, which can be found in many German bakeries.
Ever tried to carve a red kuri squash? Their skin is particular hard to cut through. The practice of carving pumpkins - a common Halloween tradition in the US - has only been around in Germany for some 25 years. You'd be hard-pressed to find a red kuri jack-o'-lantern in the US. In Germany, they're a common type gourd, though larger Halloween pumpkins can also be found in some supermarkets.
Halloween first came to Germany in the early 1990s. After the Iraq War broke out in 1991, Carnival celebrations were canceled the next month - out of respect. Costume sellers apparently tried to make up for the loss by promoting Halloween later that fall; it took a few years for the US celebration of ghosts and gouls to really take off. These jack-o'-lanterns were spotted in Brandenburg last year.
Halloween is said to have begun in Ireland and was brought to the US by Irish immigrants in the 19th century. The jack-o'-lantern takes its name from the legend of a man named Jack, who tricked the devil into not taking him to hell. When he died, heaven apparently didn't want him either, so his soul was homeless. In Ireland, turnips were carved and lit to chase away wandering spirits like Jack's.
Turnips were replaced by pumpkins in the US, where they are native. There, jack-o'-lantern designs know no boundaries. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump, pictured on a pumpkin displayed in Los Angeles, is an obvious choice for this year's carvers. Some people in Germany also place a jack-o'-lantern in front of their home during the week before Halloween, but how many will feature Trump this year?
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is featured on this elaborately decorated pumpkin featured this month at the "Rise of the Jack-o'-Lanterns" shows in Los Angeles. In the US, the variety of pumpkin most often used for carving is the large, light orange Jack-O'-Lantern type. These can sometimes be found in Germany, but are not that common.
In the US, it's not uncommon for jack-o'-lanterns to get political - just like Carnival floats in Germany. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are featured on these less than flattering gourds at Madame Tussauds in New York. Is it a compliment for your face to land on a pumpkin? It remains to be seen whether Chancellor Merkel will feature on Germany's jack-o'-lanterns this year.
Germany's largest pumpkin
While the art of pumpkin carving is still catching on in Germany, the art of pumpkin growing has long been mastered. Matthias Würsching, pictured above in Ludwigsburg, won this year's German championship with his 901-kilo (1,986-pound) white pumpkin.
The German winner is even heavier than the first-place pumpkin at the famous Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival in California. This year's winning gourd tipped the scales at 1,910 pounds - claiming a prize of $11,460 for its grower, an elementary school teacher from Washington. Half Moon Bay, a small beach town, has dubbed itself the World Pumpkin Capital.
Musical pumpkin pumpkin
While Germany adopted Halloween from the US only recently (which had earlier adopted the holiday from Ireland), Germany is most certainly one of the leading countries in the world for heavy metal music. It's also home to the world's largest metal festival, Wacken Open Air. Top German heavy metal outfit "Helloween" draws on the holiday's gruesome connotations, using a jack-o'-lantern as its logo.
While impressively huge, neither pumpkin came close to the German record of 901 kilograms, awarded at the festival last year.
Grower Peter Bohnert spends six hours a day on his hobby and has competed at the competition for years. "It starts at the beginning of the year, with internet auctions for the best pumpkin seeds," he told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency. At such auctions growers can pay several hundred euros for a single seed from a previous winner.
The plants emerge in May and are constantly irrigated and cultivated.
The winners of Sundays contest qualify for the European Championships on October 8, also in Ludwigsburg.
The winning pumpkins will be cut up and distributed to next week's festival visitors.
Poor weather conditions have contributed to small specimens in recent years, leading to greenhouse pumpkins reportedly faring the best.
Other events at the Pumpkin Festival include pumpkin carving, a display of more than 800 varieties grown in the lead-up to the festival, Germany's biggest pumpkin soup, a pumpkin canoe regatta and pumpkin cooking.