An Ode to Oktoberfest (Free Verse)

Oktoberfest

You, Oktoberfest, are without compare,

Overpriced everything, and especially the beer.

Drunken Debauchery, in December we do detox,

Fill up on roast pork, dumplings, or a slice from an ox.

Fill up my glass, sir, ten euros is very dear.

.

With girls scantily clad, call it tradition I might add,

After a liter or two, the lager ain’t half bad.

Up on the benches, the floor is not far,

Wooden floors cushion blows, they aren’t really that hard.

Teenies step aside now, and be a good lad.

.

The lights go up, and the place is a mess,

If I could only find a way to get her out of that dress.

Not this time, sorry, your lederhosen are too poor,

Big security guards, not German, forcibly showing you the door.

Pour yourself into a taxi, ask thy ‘what’s my address?’

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A Short List on How to Integrate into Bavarian Culture (For Beginners)

Germans are asking themselves 'what is a German'? The Bavarians are not having an identity crisis. Photo: Wikipedia

Germans are asking themselves ‘what is a German’? The Bavarians are not having an identity crisis. Photo: Wikipedia

With all that’s been happening with the demonstrations for or against immigrants in Germany, I thought now might be a good time to look at a list of ten things I’ve done (or plan to do, if I can ever get a signature from my wife on a few of them) to integrate, and ingratiate, myself into Bavarian culture. The list is long and I’ll add to it and update it often. Since we’re talking about Bavaria, I’ll limit my list to things that men should do.

Food and Drink

  1. Drink beer like a Bavarian. This means drinking beer before 10am, but only if it’s a wheat beer. Drinking Lager or (God forbid) Pils is the sure sign that you have not understood the beer drinking culture in Bavaria. Not drinking beer in Bavaria is similar to not drinking vodka in Russia. Unless, of course, you have a medical issue of some sort which might preclude you from imbibing. If you cannot drink beer, you can make up for it with an overindulgence of number two on this list.
  2. Eat pork often. My dad used to say to me ‘…those Germans (he meant Bavarians-they are what most of the world thinks of when they think of Germans) sure can cook a pig.” Truer words have never been spoken. The ubiquitous “Schweinsbraten (Germans would call it Schweinebraten)” is on every menu in every Wirtshaus (tavern, inn) worth its salt. Do NOT do what I saw a lovely Japanese couple do, take off the crisped fat (pork rind) and put it off to the side of the plate never to be touched again. It must be eaten with the tender, succulent meat. Leberkäse (Bavarian meatloaf) or Leberkäsesemmel (the meat between the sides of a Kaiser Roll) must be eaten once a week, normally on Fridays. Surprisingly, the Bavarians in Munich don’t really have a pork sausage to call their own, but they make up for it with number three.

    Do not attempt to eat these sausages with metal utensils if you entertain any hopes of becoming a Bavarian!

    Do not attempt to eat these sausages with metal utensils if you entertain any hopes of becoming a Bavarian!

  3. Learn how to eat ‘Weisswurst’ with your hands. These plump jewels are made from veal and a few other herbs and spices and are very mild in flavor. Do it right and eat it with Händlmaier’s sweet mustard which comes from Regensburg. They come to the table in a porcelain bowl of steaming water. Never boil them! Real Bavarian men suck the meat out of one end. The skin is inedible, which makes for great comedy if you have the opportunity to watch naive Americans (read the guidebook before you get here!) try and chew the skin. These sausages are normally eaten before the 12 o’clock bells, with a Breze (pretzel) and a wheat beer. That’s it. What else do you need?

Clothes and Costume

  1. Buy some Lederhosen, and wear them whenever you can. The more worn they are the better they’ll feel  and look. Don’t wear underwear. You need nice calves for the correct effect, but don’t let this stop you. Most people think that the only time people here wear Lederhosen (and for women, Dirndl) is during Oktoberfest. Wrong. There’s the Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival) in late winter/early spring, assorted holidays like Ascension Day (which coincidentally is Father’s Day in the Vaterland), May 1st, when the Maypoles are raised, any Volksfest or Dorffest (Citizen’s or Town’s Day) usually during the summer months, weddings, funerals, etc…

    I understand COMPLETELY why she appears bored, but as for him? WTF? Photo: Wikipedia

    I understand COMPLETELY why she appears bored, but as for him? WTH? Photo: Wikipedia

  2. This one really hurts because I grew up in Florida, but wear socks with your sandals. Yes, Birkenstocks and socks are the trend, and it’s been that way since the time of Friedrich the Great. Just do it so you don’t look like a tourist from America or even worse, Australia. You can wear this combo the three weeks it’s actually hot in August, just don’t wear them when you should be wearing…
  3. …proper hiking shoes. Take a lot of time in the store, try the shoes on and walk around all afternoon. You’d be surprised how bad a heavy boot can feel after an hour. Spend the money. You want a boot that feels comfortable enough to be buried in, and after your first real hiking tour with a Bavarian that’s exactly what you’ll be wishing for.

Around Town

  1. Buy a bike, and then buy another. The first bike you should buy is known as a Stadtradl (city bike). This is going to be the fastest, most reliable mode of transportation around most German cities. Looks are secondary. Get a bike with a basket on the back. Not for carrying anything, mind you, but every bike in the city has one and you want to look the part. Spend more money for the lock than the bike. The second bike should be your Ferrari. Buy an even more expensive lock, though you’ll rarely leave her (yes, her) out of your sight. If you think you’ll be riding the trails, get a mountain bike — and take a Bavarian with you; they are experts. If you think you’ll be riding the paved paths and roads around Bavaria, I’d suggest a ‘cross-bike’. It’s fast enough for the roads and you can still ride offroad. Choosing the correct bikes might be the most important thing you ever do in Bavaria/Germany.

    Munich is continuing to make the inner city more bike friendly, much to the chagrin of Mr. Mercedes and Ms. BMW!

    Munich is continuing to make the inner city more bike friendly, much to the chagrin of Mr. Mercedes and Ms. BMW!

  2. Get a comfortable, stylish backpack with an endless number of pockets. There are so many free newspapers, culture programs, empty beer bottles and Red Bull cans (they’re worth money) that you’ll need something to carry them all. And take along a few plastic bags so the last bit of swill from the said bottles and cans doesn’t leak in your backpack. Get a backpack that clips firmly to your torso.
  3. Take a few minutes to plan your route before you set off. Remember, in Munich sometimes the longer way is the better way. Take an extra ten minutes and walk through the known FKK areas (nudist areas) during those hot three weeks in August. Show off your sandals and socks, and of course your hot rod. Bike. I was thinking bike.
  4. Get a dog and TAKE IT FRIGGIN EVERYWHERE! Nothing says Bavarian or Munich like a dog or two. Bavarians don’t have children they have dogs. It must be a pure breed, no mutts allowed. It’s OK for the people to be mixed, but not the animals…

    Girls in Munich dig dogs and Lederhosen, therefore they must really dig dogs IN Lederhosen.

    Girls in Munich dig dogs and Lederhosen, therefore they must really dig dogs IN Lederhosen.

Confessions of an Oktoberfest Hater

A young man tossed this before being tossed by security, at 11:15 in the morning!
This post is a guest post from my good friend Albert Mooney, who sums up succinctly what about half of the people in Munich actually think about Oktoberfest.

It must be like living in Rio and hating Carnival. Or being a Dubliner who dreads St. Patrick’s Day. Or a citizen of Nero’s Rome who has long grown bored with the repetitive tedium of watching Christians being thrown to the lions. I am part of a beleaguered minority of Munich residents for whom the final two weeks of September is something to be endured, not enjoyed. Ours is the Loathing that Dare Not Speak its Name.

I hate Oktoberfest.

I hate the noise. I hate the crowds. I hate the back alley stench of stale alcohol, sour breath, and undigested meat that wafts through our streets as if a drunken giant had just belched. I hate the febrile atmosphere of borderline mania that descends upon an otherwise relaxed city like a chemical smog. I hate the overpriced beer, the harassed waiting staff, and the loss of personal space.

But, above all else, I hate the jollity. Is there anything in this world more unendurable than forced jollity? That particular species of exaggerated, flushed, gesticulating, guffawing, thigh-slapping gaiety that is forced upon us all once a year because that is when we Have Fun. We know everyone is Having Fun, because it’s Oktoberfest, when we all dress in a uniform in order to Have Fun. The laugher that is a little too loud to be sincere, the umpteenth clinking “Prost!” that everyone pretends not to be irritated by, the arm around the office colleague you don’t like as you dance on tables to music you both hate. Because we’re all Having Fun.

Sanitäter des Bayerischen Roten Kreuzes beim Einsatz auf dem Oktoberfest, 2003Some believe that hell is an eternity of fire, others an eternity of ice. I believe the damned are destined to spend the numberless aeons of infinity trapped in an S-Bahn with a bunch of drunken teenagers who boarded at Hackerbrücke on their way back from the Wies’n. Oktoberfest is the Saturnalia of modern Munich, the feast of fools when behavior that for the rest of the year would be considered boorish is smiled upon with amused indulgence. Oh look, you’ve had four Maß and you’re drunk. How wonderful. “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit!” Splendid, I’ve never heard that before. Do please sing it again.

Oktoberfest is the festival of too much. Enough chickens to populate the Titanic are slaughtered, the liquid volume of beer consumed would float the Titanic, and the degree of flatulence generated by both expels sufficient C02 into the atmosphere to melt the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Well, I’ve had enough of too much. I say it every year, but this time I mean it. I’m staying at home with a good book. No Wies’n for me.

Well, maybe just this once.

A Lonely Father’s Day

Dom-Pedro-Platz Forty-year-old Sepp looked at his watch, took a last sip of his coffee, and grabbed his cap. As he was leaving the bakery all he could think about was how excited he was for his last shift before his two-week holiday was to begin. One more shift and then tomorrow he would commence with two weeks of revelry and drunken debauchery at Oktoberfest. He and some of his old school friends reserved a table for the duration, as they did every year, and Sepp went often. Though it had become commercialized in many ways, Sepp still enjoyed the Oktoberfest celebrations. He’d been hung over or had dragged ass too often in his younger days at work during the festival, so he’d just as soon forget trying to balance work and fun. To avoid any issues he now took the two weeks off for the party.

He met his crew at the job site. They were all finishing their last cigarettes before beginning the day. It was overcast and wet, with periods of rain and darker gray. The men were going to lay some new fiber optic cables for SWM (Stadtwerke München-Munich Utilities) near Dom-Pedro Platz, a very scenic and upscale area in the Nymphenburg Quarter on the west side of Munich.

The work commenced at 7am sharp. It was uneventful. Brotzeit (literally bread time, but it was more like a coffee break) was from exactly 9 to 9:15. The conversation invariably led to the idiosyncrasies of the Bavarians, Sepp being a near-perfect rendition of men in Bavaria, and the other three from northern Germany. It was all in good fun.

At 11:30 the guys decided to take their lunch break and Sepp volunteered to stay with the equipment so the other three workers could duck into an Italian restaurant and grab some pizzas. He had packed a couple of Leberkäse (Bavarian meatloaf) sandwiches which would go down nicely with the two bottles of Helles (Lager) he had. This was his typical lunch.

He finished his sandwiches and one of the beers when he spied an attractive, well-dressed young man sitting on a bench at Dom-Pedro Platz drinking a beer. Sepp, in true Bavarian fashion, preferred to drink beer with another person rather than alone. He grabbed his other beer, locked up the truck and made his way on over to the young man. The sky had quit spitting drizzle for a spell.Autumn Sadness

Sepp approached the young man. He noticed that the young man was wearing a lambskin leather jacket, expensive Italian shoes, and a bouquet of flowers lay next to him on the bench. The young man seemed unaware of his surroundings and was staring at the ground lost in thought.

“Mind if I sit here?” asked Sepp.

The young man looked up vacantly with bloodshot eyes. He looked at Sepp and then at Sepp’s beer. Though there was no reply, Sepp felt from the man’s body language that sitting down wouldn’t cause any friction, and in fact, the man might’ve even wanted Sepp to join him. Sepp sat down and opened his beer with a plank from the bench.

“The weather’s going to be really shitty this weekend,” said Sepp, trying to open the conversation with the most superficial, safe opening he could muster.

“I hadn’t noticed,” came the curt, quiet reply.

“You from around here?” asked Sepp.

“No, but I’ve lived here a few years. You?”

“Originally I’m from Mühldorf. You know it?”

“I’ve heard of it. Never been.”

An older blue-haired woman walked by with her Schnauzer, reaffirming that dogs begin to take on the characteristics of their owners if given ample opportunity. She and her dog looked at the two men. The dog took the lead in seemingly passing judgment on the liquid aspect of the two men’s lunches.

A few seconds later a woman came by pushing a stroller with a cooing baby inside.

“You have any kids?” asked the young man.

“Me? Not that I know of,” said Sepp. “I usually change girlfriends every few years. Whenever a girl mentions anything about starting a family I know it’s a good time to start looking for another girl. You?”

The young man paused for a moment and then spoke.

“A few days ago a woman called me. She knew my name and told me her name was Sabina. She asked if I remembered her – I said I did, though I didn’t. She said we’d hooked up after meeting at Club 089 in late December last year. Said she was carrying my child, she was sure it was mine. She told me that she didn’t want anything from me except to be with her when the baby came. Her brother and mother were going to come from Switzerland to be with her but had had a pretty serious accident on the way to Munich, so they’d be unable to be with her. I told her I would do it. The baby was overdue so the doctors were going to induce labor this morning at around nine. I tried to get into the hospital right over there, but since I didn’t know her last name they couldn’t let me in. The receptionist told me that there were four different Sabinas at the hospital today, and I couldn’t just walk around peeking in different rooms looking for the one with my child.”

“Wow. Can’t you call her?” asked Sepp.

“No. In all of the excitement I forgot to charge my phone and the battery is completely dead. Now I have a child that I know of, but may never know.”

Sepp was alone, like the young man The young man got up and left, his shoulder heaving as he walked away. Sepp was alone now too, left to rue his choice of sitting down next to the young man.

Only a few minutes earlier a baby had been born to a strong, solitary woman named Sabina. Hurt, she’d sworn that she’d never answer any phone calls from the young man, ever. She kept her promise…

Germany Still Has a Wall that Divides

Usually punctual, very comfortable

Usually punctual, very comfortable. Photo: wikipedia

If you travel by train or car in Germany for any distance, a few aspects of Germanness are inescapable. They all share similar ideas of orderliness, tidiness, and structure. Other pillars of Germanness, especially in the workplace, include punctuality, productivity, and thoroughness. These are the things that unite them, a sort of common consciousness,  a Teutonic core.

But there are great divides and differences between Germans. These fault lines are often geographic in nature. Surely it would seem that the East Germans, separated for decades by a physical wall of concrete and steel, would contrast immensely with the Western Germans. And, in fact they do. There is also a mental wall that has been even harder to overcome.

Many an Ossi has struggled mightily to come to terms with ideas of deadlines, competition and overall productivity, which come easier to those Germans who recovered from World War II in American, French or British Zones of occupation. Communism’s inferior business model, coupled with an overzealous and EXTREMELY well-organized secret police, the Stasi, adds to many East Germans distrust and narrower world view.

All of this comes a little surprise. What is a bigger surprise, and which can only be discovered after spending some time in Germany, is the polarity between Northern and Southern Germany. That is the greater divide.

When I travel back to Florida to visit my family and friends, someone somewhere invariably asks me, “Why do you live in Europe? And of all places, why do you live in Germany? France, sure, Italy great, but Germany?”

My patent response is “I live neither in Europe nor Germany. I live in Bavaria.”

Bavarians are not really Germans, but more like the Austrians or the Schwaben (think Stuttgart). Or the Austrians and Schwaben are like the Bavarians, and neither are Germans. Yes, they speak dialects of the same language, the similarities are fewer after that. It’s like trying to tell an Scotsman he’s a Brit, or a Texan he’s an American.

 

A brief history of the land that is now called Germany

Up to 60% of the German population was killed in the 30 Years War. Photo: wikipedia

Up to 60% of the German population was killed in the 30 Years War. Photo: wikipedia

For nearly 500 years, Germany served as a (the) battlefield of Europe. Sandwiched between the stronger powers (empires) of France, Russia or the Austro-Hungarian conglomerate, Germany became a sort of jetty that dispersed the waves of desire of its neighbors by providing a complicated group of territories whose rulers were often at war or in allegiance with each other. All of this changed, and was bound to change the face of Europe dramatically, with the rise to power of Otto von Bismarck.

The Iron Chancellor put Germany on the road to power. Photo: wikipedia

The Iron Chancellor put Germany on the road to power. Photo: wikipedia

When Germany united, through Bismarck’s masterful abilities, some great timing and luck, it immediately proved too strong for Denmark, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, and eventually Russia. Only Great Britain could compete and contain the new industrial and military behemoth. Germany’s ability to produce, organize and analyze was beyond comparison with other major countries then, and is still so today. This has caused a plethora of problems for Germany-and her neighbors. It caused them then as it causes them now. Germany is, and has always been, the question of Europe. It is still so today.

After a few embellishments, or half-truths (lies), Bismarck was able to unite the peoples who shared a common language-German-under a banner that would one day at different points terrorize, amaze and astound the rest of the globe.

Germany will continue to do so, though one hopes that their darkest days of the Third Reich are behind them. Many in Europe are not so sure, though it’s hard to determine if it’s politics being played or authentic fear. The quicker the rest of Europe (and the world) can resign themselves to (or rejoice) the fact that a reunified Germany is a world player, the better off it will be.

Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland would be a formidable economic union

But how unified is Germany? Are there still many obstacles to overcome before they can truly take their place upon the Pantheon of Nations as their robust economy demands?

From east to west in Germany, the differences are stark and clear. Certainly those Germans residing near the border with Poland can’t be very similar to those Germans abutted against France. And they are not. But they are both more German than the Bavarians, those strange, independent and wonderfully quirky Bavarians, who queerly and surely seem to share few of the qualities of their more northern kindred.

Munich's most famous attraction (non-museum). Photo: wikipedia

Munich’s most famous attraction (non-museum). Photo: wikipedia

Americans think of sausages, beer, Audi, BMW, Schweinebraten and Knödel (roast pork and dumplings), Munich, beer gardens, Neuschwanstein (Cinderella’s Castle), Mozart, Einstein, the Romantic Road, the Alps, Mercedes, Nuremberg Parade Grounds, Nazism, FC Bayern, etc., when they hear the word Germany. Most of these first thoughts are either mostly Bavarian or completely Bavarian! Not German! Thyssenkrupp, E.ON, Ruhrgebiet, Currywurst, cabaret, Reeperbahn, Berlin, Hamburg, Dortmund, and the close proximity to one another of more than 25% of the total German population in North-Rhineland Westphalia, that is Germany!

In Bavaria’s sort of sleepy capital, Munich, closes at about 11pm every night. Goths are really strange. Many people still listen to Oom Pah-pah music in Bavaria, or a more modern version led by Helene Fischer. Pretzels are everywhere. Wagner’s music confounds, excites and is controversial. It’s played regularly. Festivals of planting, harvesting and moon phases abound and held weekly in Summer. A few extra kilos on the frame is still considered attractive-and normal. Bavarians drive south for fun-many have never been to Berlin or any other more northern German city.

Northern Germany has most of the vice. Photo: wikipedia

Northern Germany has most of the vice. Photo: wikipedia

If anyone wants to see a real German city, send them to Hamburg. Or Cologne. Berlin is in the midst of major transitions, it needs a few years. Maybe Dortmund, or Düsseldorf, or Hannover, those cities are real German.

Ruhrgebiet. This is Germany. Photo: wikipediaGermans have an edge, a strong affinity for industry, gray, rain and melancholy. Germans like hard rock, a bit of graffiti, wayward souls sleeping in the streets. Germans are accustomed to a bit of broken glass. Bavarians want (and have) little of that. Only the Swiss can call the Bavarians untidy. Germans eat more than pork and the trimmings-Bavarians can survive on only pigs and potatoes. Germans drink beer with strange names like Kolsch or Altbier, Bavarians drink the champagne of beers-lager, less bitter. Bavarian beer comes in big mugs, not flute glasses. Germans drink at night, Bavarians might have a beer for breakfast. Young Bavarians go to bed before midnight; Germans are in the shower preparing for the night’s festivities.

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For many years Germans were united in their basic political desires, win the Cold War (another war fought almost entirely over the idea of what to do with Germany), the World Cup and dominate Formula One. Now that they have them won, they are beginning to divide on ideas about the EU, integration, etc. Many Bavarians wouldn’t mind a separate country. The possibility of a chancellor for all of Germany being Bavarian is slim. Not impossible, but very slim.

If one is to get the EU’s support, it must be able to win the support of Germans (and Bavarians) from north to south. This is a more difficult task than winning that support from east to west. The Berlin Wall may be no more, but there still exists one that runs from east to west. But, regardless of the geographical location of native German speakers in Germany, one thing is certain. They all make jokes about the Austrians.

So maybe a recent report of a union of Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria and its neighbor to the west, Baden-Württemberg, was simply a silly season (Sommerloch) story, to tide us over till school starts. School does start later in Bavaria than the rest of Germany. Oh, Bavaria has more bank holidays than the rest of Europe. Go figure.