The Meadow

Bayerische Oktoberfestbreze mit Bier

It’s the world’s most famous beerfest. And it used to be strictly Munich. In recent years, though, in the first weeks of autumn, shop windows all over Germany have been displaying an increasingly higher number of traditional Bavarian costumes. What is this Oktoberfestisation?

I must admit I’m writing as something of an outsider, as I’ve personally never attended the jolly celebration which calls itself die Wies’n (‘the meadow’). It sounds very similar to Cologne Carnival: throngs of people dress up and get drunk, and there’s music and dancing and fun and everybody is BFF with everybody else. And the media only ever show you the Schnapsleichen, those who overdid it and passed out in the street.

In fact, the two festivals are rather compatible. I became BFF for a day with many a Bavarian during carnival. Bavarians think our Kölsch glasses are cute. (Yes, they really do drink out of one-litre [or Maß] glasses!) And we Cologners take quite a fancy to wearing Dirndls and Lederhosen. Be warned, though, fellow citizens of Köln! It may offend Bavarians if their traditional outfits are misappropriated for use as silly carnival costumes. (Yes, I’ve been told off in the past. Shame on me!)

When I asked him if he was planning to visit this year’s Oktoberfest, a colleague based in Munich told me that he would probably end up going perhaps just one night because he was so busy. And what is more, he explained, one had to avoid the Italian weekend (one specific Oktoberfest weekend notorious for having half of Italy visit). Sounds just like carnival. When you live in Cologne (also the name of an excellent micro blog making spot-on contributions to the subject, by the way), you tend to take the big crazy celebrations for granted and not go out every single night like you used to as a student.

What we don’t get about Oktoberfest is that it starts in September. I’m sure there’s a good reason to do with tradition and that the people of Munich are tired of responding to this remark – so let’s leave it at that.

However, as you may or may not know, the perfect symbiosis of Cologne and Munich partying tradition has for a while now been distilled into the 1. Kölner Oktoberfest by one of the city’s large breweries Gaffel (with the tag line ‘… but with real beer!’, meaning Kölsch as opposed to Bavarian beer). What more can you wish for?

And speaking of Köln, if you native speakers of non-German and non-Scandinavian languages think the Umlaut is difficult, hear more about another type of dots next week.

Finally, allow me a personal remark: unbelievably, this blog/podcast will be one year old on 1st October! Thank you to all you lovely and devoted readers and listeners for your support, comments, suggestions and encouragement. It’s been an exciting year, and I look forward to many more!

The Pommes Buddha says: Party on, Wayne! Party on, Garth!

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Out of humour

Clownskopf und Konfetti

As the end of the carnival season is drawing near, Cologne is preparing for six days of celebration. Visitors from all over the world will flock in and be merry. Many foreigners think that Germans love carnival for the sole reason that it gives them permission to shed their otherwise serious face and let their hair down just for a few days a year. But is that really so?

Germans are known throughout the world for many good things. A sense of humour isn’t one of them. I’ve come across this prejudice several times – in Great Britain and Australia. While it may be true that it is not a forte of the German soul to laugh about oneself as systematically as the British do, it would be wrong to say that all Germans ‘go to the basement to laugh’, as a German saying goes.

It is true that, even in laid-back Cologne, people generally seem to have a certain sense of self-righteous entitlement, which I call Anspruchshaltung. For example, complete strangers will pass judgment on anything and everything, from the way you raise your child to the way you ride your bike – not to your face but loud enough to make sure you hear. The concept of queuing in Germany is replaced by the concept of ‘If I cheat my way in front of you, I’m first and you’re stuffed. Hard cheese’! This is just as annoying to many Germans as it is to foreigners.

And yet, humour, in my opinion, is the one thing that unites the world. A (German) friend of mine who recently spent the better part of two years on an aid mission in Afghanistan told me how he ditched all the official advice about treading on eggshells with topics such as sex, religion and politics. Despite being a non-smoker, he decided he’d use cigarette breaks to befriend his Afghan colleagues and just have a good laugh with them. They came to deeply respect him for being the only person to show a true interest in their lives. In the end, they all took the micky out of each other. He was the only German sitting with Afghans during lunch. And the only one who ever got invited to an Afghan house.

So, if you dare, try out your humour with your German colleagues next time. And invite them to pancakes on Veilchendienstag. Read more next week …

The Pommes Buddha says: Humour is the key.

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