Travelogue LI: Kulmbacher Bierfest

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Rock those pink Lederhosen. Tracht–traditional dress, which in Bavaria consists of Lederhosen and Dirndl–is still very much in style.

August 3, 2015 I spent the weekend on my favorite organic farm in Kulmbach, a tiny Dorf in the heart of the Bavarian countryside. We weeded and harvested and chopped and canned and pickled, and then on Friday evening went down to the local Beer Festival.

As I have written before, the part of Germany I am living in is the land of wine–to the South and West, along the banks of the Rhine River. The cities are full of Weinstuben, and in the summer there is some Weinfest or another on almost every corner, with lights strung up in the vineyards and rows of champagne flutes and wine glasses, fancy French pizza and slices of Zwiebelkuchen.

Here in Bavaria, however, the Weinkultur is replaced by Bierkultur: a little more insanity, a little less inhibition, and a lot more of what looks to my mostly-vegetarian eyes like enormous portions of raw meat. No champagne flutes here–you drink from a Maßkrug, a glass mug that holds an entire liter of beer. And you dance, not on the ground in front of the stage like normal people, but on the tables.

A tent full of some 2,000 euphoric, Maß-drinking Germans dancing on picnic tables to Schlager is a sight to see. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside the Bierzelt (Beer Tent).

Inside the Bierzelt (Beer Tent).

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The band interrupted itself every five minutes so that the entire hall could sing the ultimate German drinking song–Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!–mugs in the air, cheers all around.

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Germans are not particularly well-known for their party dancing skills, but they have Schunkeln down pat–link hands with the friends or strangers next to you, sway back and forth until somebody falls off the bench or the next Prosit comes around.

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Dapper Tracht-wearers.

After the sun went down, I went back to the festival without my camera, and danced on the tables with strangers and sang along to all the Schlager, and also to Sweet Caroline for good measure. Good times never seemed so good, and all that. The pure joie de vivre in the air was absolutely redemptive. 

Travelogue XLVIII: Johannisnacht

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Cabaret in Mainz  during the Johannisfest.

June 20, 2015 Summer is the time of festivals in Germany. It seems like every town has one, or several, from the tiniest Dorf to the largest city–a weekend of live music and dancing and wine (or beer, depending on which part of Germany you are in) and all sorts of unhealthy-but-delicious German culinary specialties.

In Mainz, there’s the Johannisnacht festival at the end of June. Things are a little different in Mainz than in the rest of Germany, I think–a bit more intensive, all-encompasing, more Dionysian perhaps. The Fastnacht spirit isn’t just limited to a couple weeks in February.

In Würzburg, for instance, the yearly Kiliani Festival takes place outside of town, on neat and properly contained fairgrounds. In Mainz, the Johannisnacht takes up half the dang town, with the bus schedule screwed up for days and the entire Inner City full of stages and lights and stands selling cocktails and bratwurst. And the Meenzers know how to throw a party–some 250,000 people attend the festival over the course of four days, despite the pouring rain and semi-arctic temperatures this year.

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One of the hundreds of local vineyards who set up a stand for the weekend...

One of the hundreds of local vineyards who set up a stand for the weekend…

Schlager behind the cathedral.

Schlager behind the cathedral.

Music plays an enormous role at the summer festivals. At the Mainzer Johannisnacht, there are four main stages and dozens of concerts over the course of a long weekend–from oldies and brass band to rap and hip-hop, and everything in between.

And Schlager. The Schlager concerts are inescapable. The genre is distinctly German–kitchy, danceable, inescapably catchy pop ballads with roots that go back to the operettas of the 1920s and 30s. Many of the songs sung today date from the 1950s or earlier and have been re-written and re-mixed and re-sung hundreds of times in the ensuing decades. Like Country Music in America, the texts are mostly about drinking and falling into and out of love, but also about the simple, unadulterated joy of being alive. The world of Schlager is full of schöne Tage (beautiful days). In the words of one Fastnacht hit, Eins kann uns keiner nehmen und das ist die pure Lust am Leben. There is one thing nobody can take from us, and that is the pure joy of life…

And everyone knows all the words, it seems. During the Johannisnacht, one has the feeling that half of Mainz is standing in front of the stage, young and old alike, singing and crying and smoking and drinking beer and dancing in that awkward-but-infectious way that only Germans can.

I suppose part of me will always be the snobby operagoer who drinks champagne in the intermission and can talk for hours about a particular interpretation of Mahler’s 2nd. But every once in a while, you just need to link arms with a bunch of crazy Meenzers singing “Traum von Amsterdam” and let it all out.

And anyway, you can’t dance at the opera.

This guy managed to wear lederhosen, drink beer, twerk, and sing all at the same time. That takes skill, folks.

This guy managed to wear lederhosen, drink beer, twerk, and sing Schlager all at the same time. That takes skill, folks.

Despite the pouring rain...

Despite the pouring rain…

80s Rock in the pouring rain.

80s rock.

Cabaret. In some past life, I'm pretty much certain I was a Kabarettistin--coattails and lipstick, glass of red wine in one hand and cigarette in the other. 

Cabaret. In some past life, I’m pretty much certain I was a Kabarettistin–coattails and lipstick, glass of red wine in one hand and cigarette in the other.