Stereo-types are funny things, a fine measure of truth and fiction that can be easily understood by the uninitiated. There are several that do the rounds in Britain whenever it comes to talking about Germany and as ever some are scarily accurate and some…well…not so much. The basic stereo-type is the lederhosen wearing, thigh slapping, beer, swilling, sausage eating kind. There is a fair amount of truth in this image, especially during the summer, when many villages and cities celebrate different kinds of traditional festivals. These are basically mini-Oktoberfest style gatherings that seem to always feature a live traditional band, copious beer consumption (out of 1 litre Mass glasses!), gentlemen rocking their lederhosen or women swishing their Dirndels (tradtional dresses) and some kind of tent. Sadly I have yet to see any thigh slapping, I am reliably informed this is more of an Austrian peccadillo.
The size of the event differs considerably depending on where you are; Oktoberfest in Munich is obviously the daddy, with the whole city going all out. Although smaller the Nürnberg-Fest still featured three beer tents, or rather temporary beer halls and a full-blown fairground, while the smaller Dorf (village) Fest has maybe one tent or barn. The larger festivals are often organised by local government and/or a committee but the endearing quality of the smaller Feste is that often they are organised by the small clubs that are an ever present part of local village life, with the feeling of community very much to the fore. In other cases it might be a collective of local farmers or the volunteer fireman that set everything up, in all cases its seems to me to be a great chance for locals of all ages to party together at communal benches, eating, drinking and enjoying the music. Although the bigger feste get more attention the smaller events can still provide a fantastic party atmosphere.
Beer and Schnitzel are always a feature of large and small fests, but music is also of equal importance. Sure, there are the traditional songs, played by traditional bands that dominate the party through the day, but at night you will find an odd mix of musical styles. In nearly all cases there might be some traditional songs, which everyone knows the words to. Cut in-between are the drinking songs that I have yet to fully grasp, many of which involve toasting someone or something. This can become slightly more problematic the longer the night wares on as a room full of people hoist there litre of beer aloft, it’s important to remember that you might end up wearing your beer. Another danger is that despite the sturdy looking glasses, over doing the clinking of a Mass can leave you holding the handle while yours and your neighbour’s laps are left covered in glass and beer!
A certain level of acrobatic skill is involved as the party continues and you find yourself dragged onto a bench or table to dance and sing. Six people on a bench dancing may look like fun (and it is) but only one wobble or miss-step can see you crashing to the ground, or worse still an errant jump can see the bench snap in two, much to the enjoyment of everyone else. It’s generally at this point that the new traditional music begins, one minute you’re trying to dance to some lively German song and the next you find that everyone is belting out AC/DC’s ‘T.N.T’ or ‘Summer of 69’ by Bryan Adams. It’s often at this point that people begin to drift away, not to go home, but to continue the party in what can only be described as a makeshift club selling cocktails and ‘Jacky’ coke (J.D. and coke without all the formality). The next thing you know you’re waking up, bleary eyed, with a hangover that feels like a well slapped thigh.