Our Beautiful Planet: Autumn in the northern hemisphere

One of the four seasons, autumn, otherwise known as fall, is a time of coming together to harvest and prepare for winter. It is also one of the most beautiful and dynamic times of the year.

Sandwiched between the sunny summer and the cold winter is autumn. The days become shorter, the leaves of deciduous trees change colors and school starts up again. Some fear autumn and the melancholy it can bring, while others look forward to the renewal it inspires.

Fall is a season of bird migration, harvests, and nearly as important, festivals like Germany's famous Oktoberfest. Sports fans also look forward to the cooler months. American football is a game that is associated with falling leaves and autumn means that winter sports are just around the corner.  

Mark your calendar

But pinning autumn down is not easy. Its dates are fluid as it is defined differently in different places around the world. For some in the northern hemisphere the season is just a feeling sometime between August and December. For others it is a hard date based on the September equinox when day and night are nearly equal in duration — around September 23 — and the winter solstice — around December 21.

Interestingly, for most of history humans have mainly focused on two seasons — summer and winter, the warmest and coolest parts of the year. The more subtle idea of four seasons is a relatively new idea, nonetheless there is a murky history surrounding the names describing this time of year.

Etymology, the branch of linguistics that looks into the evolution of words, is often a doubtful science. Autumn is a case in point and one version of the story goes like this: As early as the 12th century, what we now call fall was known as "harvest." Obviously this name was based on the idea of harvesting crops, but instead referred to the entire time period. Over the next centuries as the definition of harvest narrowed to only mean the actuall process of gathering crops, various other Latin or French terms were used to denote the more clearly defined season.

In the end, most scholars agree that "autumn" came first and the name "fall" is irrevocably connected to that of "spring" and was originally used in the descriptive phrases "spring of the leaf" and "fall of the leaf." These literal expressions were later shortened to the familiar terms we use today. Although the British still mostly refer to autumn and Americans to fall, this does not change the emotions and impressions surrounding the extraordinary season between summer and winter.


Bursts of color

The days grow shorter, leaves change from green to vibrant yellows and reds, and temperatures drop - it's autumn again. From north to south, fall is a good time to visit Germany for traditional festivals and foods, hip events and even roosting wild birds.


Take to the skies

Autumn is a great time to fly kites. The German word for kite is "Drachen," which also means dragon. China is believed to be the country of origin of the kite, originally made of bamboo and silk. Here, kites dance in the wind along the Rhine River in Cologne.


Festival of Lights

Enchanting, surprising, creative - Light artists from all over the world illuminate Berlin's major attractions, like the above Brandenburg Gate, for 10 days in October. 2017 marks the illumination festival's 13th anniversary.


Chestnuts galore

For two days in October, adults and wide-eyed children line up at the new Haribo factory gates in Grafschaft south of Bonn, dragging heavy sacks or pulling carts full of chestnuts and acorns. The candymaker exchanges the nuts for gummy bears - 10 kilograms of chestnuts earmarked for deer parks are good for a kilo bag of sweets. The tradition goes back to 1936.


Time for a break

Every winter, 20,000 to 30,000 wild Arctic geese hibernate in the Bislicher Island wildlife sanctuary near Xanten, a town on the Rhine River. By October, most of the birds will have arrived at western Europe's largest resting place for wild geese. By the end of February, the flocks will have vanished - until next year.


Grape harvest time

It's wine festival and wine harvest time in German vineyards. The grape harvest for early wines has already begun. Ice wine grapes are picked in winter: they must be frozen, and need temperatures of at least -7 degrees Celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit).


Empty beaches

Sylt, Germany's northernmost island, is a worthwhile destination even in fall, when a strong surf pounds windswept beaches. People out for a walk can expect to brave the elements but can enjoy some solitude, and perhaps an empty traditional wicker beach chair or two.


Traditional festivals

Munich's annual Oktoberfest isn't the only event of its kind in Germany, but it's arguably the most well-known, with millions of visitors from around the world. Millions of beer in hefty 1-liter mugs are consumed - and every year, the lost property office reports boxes filled with lost smart phones, keys, wallets and pairs of glasses.


Pumpkin patch

The city of Ludwigsburg hosts a monumental pumpkin exhibition with spectacular works of art made of hundreds of thousands of pumpkins. 500 varieties of this tasty fall vegetable from all over the world are on display.


Season of change

"The time of year when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang," as William Shakespeare aptly described the months prior to winter in his Sonnet 73.


Tasty treat

A Weckmann or Stutenkerl is a man-shaped pastry of sweet yeast dough that is especially popular for St. Martin's Day on November 11. You know it's fall when the dough-boys suddenly appear in every bakery in town. A traditional Weckmann is shaped by hand, has raisins for eyes and buttons - and a clay pipe coveted by children.

Do you have a picture of a beautiful landscape or something amazing in nature that you want to share with our readers? If so, you can send it to us using the upload tool on our website, or by emailing us at ecoafrica@dw.com. We look forward to hearing from you.    

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