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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Tales of the Rhine

Burg Maus über dem Rheintal

The other day on the bus I went past a stop called ‘Rheinsteinstraße’. That reminded me of the English word ‘rhinestone’, which is used primarily as a name for little fake gems that decorate clothing items (‘Strasssteine’), as in the (cheesy) song Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell. So what’s the connection with the big long river on which Cologne is situated?

According to the eponymous Wikipedia entry, rhinestones were originally indeed gathered from the river Rhine. This river, one of today’s most important waterways, has a great deal to offer. Not only does it run through (and lend part of its name to) Germany’s most populous Bundesland North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), passing its largest cities Bonn, Cologne and Duesseldorf, but it is also the setting of many a rambler’s wet dream, the Rheinsteig. This leisurely and beautiful hiking trail follows the course of the Rhine. It sets off in Bonn and soon passes the Siebengebirge mountains, whose Drachenfels (‘Dragon’s Rock’) is supposed to have been the stage of Siegfried’s famous battle with the beast, as purported in the Nibelungen saga. It continues its path along the Middle Rhine, an area of astounding beauty which has inspired scores of writers in the Romantic period, including Lord Byron. Eventually, it takes you through the lovely Rheingau region with its superb wines (don’t miss out on Kloster Eberbach, the very monastery where part of The Name of the Rose was shot) and finishes in picturesque Wiesbaden.

And then you have the whole saga thing involving the Rhine going on. If you’re an opera aficionado, you’ll know Wagner’s Ring, as the four-part Ring der Nibelungen is referred to. Really great stuff, if you can turn a blind eye to the composer’s dubitable qualities as a human being. Or, if you’re a bookworm like I am, you’ll devour Stephan Grundy’s Rhinegold, which compellingly retells the Scandinavian version of the famous legend.

Next week, let’s look at the British person’s paragon of romanticism.

The Pommes Buddha says: Roses are red, violets are blue, rhinestones are tacky and so are you.

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