Many people from outside of Germany think Oktoberfest is the real Germany. The lederhosen (leather pants or shorts with decorated suspenders) and dirndls (women’s dresses made famous by the St. Pauli girl–and the way they show off a women’s…endowments) along with giant mugs of beer are a German stereotype. When I lived in Munich I could be forgiven for thinking the same–it’s what I actually saw.
Munich is the capital of the province of Bavaria and, unlike the rest of Germany, tracht (traditional clothing) isn’t just something for Oktoberfest. Most everyone on his or her way to work on the Munich underground is wearing a business suit or hose and pumps, but it’s hardly uncommon to see some fellow sporting lederhosen and loden hat topped with decorative gams bart (a tuft of chamois goat fur). It’s just this willingness to cling to their traditional ways that seems to embarrass the rest of Germany.
Elsewhere, lederhosen and suspenders are strictly low class. Bavarians are snickered at by the rest of Germany. They are stereotyped as more religious, more conservative, and often seen as hick farmers. This is the province where Hitler rose to power, after all. If a Hollywood film containing an equally stereotypical ignorant, southern hick is dubbed into German, that character will have a thick Bavarian accent. While the folks from Munich proudly call their city the “world village,” to show that it’s a cosmopolitan city with a small town feel, the rest of Germany thinks that Bavaria is a backwater province with beautiful ski slopes. Just as U.S. Americans are sometimes are suprised when, asked to do an American accent, most everyone sounds like a Texan, the rest of Germany is worried that, we all think that Oktoberfest is all there is.
What I didn’t know is that they all secretly want to be Bavarians, at least for a couple of weeks out of the year. I’d only ever experienced the Oktoberfest season right in the epicenter. This year, I was in Germany for Oktoberfest, but far away from Bavaria. Many restaurants decorated with weiss blau bunting, (the blue and white checked pattern on the shield of Bavaria and signifying the scattered clouds on a deep blue sky–you can see it in the blue and white checker of the BMW logo.) Bars were offering giant soft pretzels, white sausage, and Bavarian beer. Suit and tie wearing bankers in Frankfurt had dug out their one pair of lederhosen to wear out. The car rental company, Sixt, had their hostesses wearing orange and black (Sixt’s colors) dirndls…add fangs and it could be some crazy German/halloween costume. TV commercials selling everything from cleaning materials to cell phones were suddenly in Bavarian accents.
Sophisticated city people may blush from the hokey German tracht, seeing it as something they left behind along with outdoor plumbing, and they may wish people would recognize that Germany isn’t just for guzzling giant beers and waking up on a bench in Munich’s Englischergarten. And yet Bavarians are preserving a part of German culture for them without the rest of country having to go through the indignity.
Me? I loved Bavaria. Normally, I am just as bad as the elitest northern Germans, sneering at steer horns on Cadillacs and the confederate flags in the back of truck. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rest of Germany isn’t so snobby that they can appreciate the almost too German behavior of Okotberfest. I’ve been rather lucky with where I’ve wound up living. While in Munich I found myself picking up the accent, wearing my green felt hat, and becoming what the locals fondly call zugaroahst, a dialect word that captures a similar expression you can see on bumper stickers in Colorado. There’s one sticker that looks like a Colorado license plate and say “Native.” A similar one, like the Bavarian zugaroahst, says “Not native, but I got here as fast as I could.” Denver even has a pretty happening Oktoberfest!