If you say “Germany” to most Americans and then ask them to list everything they know about the culture, you’ll probably get a response that starts with two words: Lederhosen and Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is just one of many, many festivals here. I posted a gallery back at the beginning of April from a smaller festival when Palmator was tapped for the first time, back on Palm Sunday. There’s one coming up here in Regensburg called Dult. Mai Dult, in this case, because it’s in May. There’s another Dult in September. This has all the trappings of an Oktoberfest, though, including rides, crowds, tents with live music, people in traditional outfits, and, of course, beer.
As for the traditional clothing, there are many different types of tracht. While the word tracht translates to costume, this isn’t just a costume for those who wear it, it’s a part of their cultural heritage and tradition. However, tracht is not traditional for all of Germany- it’s regional. It is mostly found in Austria and here in Bavaria. Tracht is often worn for festivals, but it’s not at all uncommon to see it worn here for bachelor and bachelorette parties and other festive occasions.
Just before the end of January, I was in the grocery store with a friend when we passed an aisle filled with costumes- the exact same sorts of costume gear that you would normally see in a Target or a Walgreens just before Halloween. Naturally, I asked what the deal was.
It turns out that there’s another holiday here that involves dressing up. It’s called Fasching, and it’s this month. Fasching is Carnival, a.k.a. the local version of Mardi Gras, and it happens roughly seven weeks before Easter. It spans several different days, with a variety of different events.
The Thursday before Ash Wednesday is known as “Weiberfastnacht”, or “Women’s carnival night”. On this day tradition dictates that women are allowed to cut off the tie of any man within reach. The women are also allowed to kiss any man they like, according to some versions of tradition. (Not one to waste an opportunity, I bought four cheap neckties. And some ChapStick.)
The following Monday is known as Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). On Rosenmontag there are various street processions involving lots of costumes and carnival floats. Faschingsdienstag (Carnival Tuesday) is the last day of Fasching and when most of the festivities happen. Faschingsdienstag is not an official public holiday in Bavaria, but it’s still celebrated.
The traditional food of Carnival season is Krapfen, or donuts. They’re available in every bakery, in all sorts of different flavors. I’ve heard of varieties containing sweets such as vanilla, marmelade, or chocolate.
According to legend, it used to be customary to choose a man to be the “sacred king” of the tribe for a year. The method of choosing the sacred king was the King’s Cake. A coin or bean would be placed in the cake before baking and whoever got the slice with the coin was the chosen one. Another version of the King’s Cake story says that it’s just a king for a day scenario. I haven’t found any reference works that I trust to be completely authoritative so far, but I’ve seen numerous references indicating that the King’s Cake idea has evolved into the donuts that we’re familiar with today.
My favorite part of this, so far,is the costumes though. So far today, I’ve only seen three people dressed in costume so far, and two of them worked in the bakery where I get my morning pretzel. I’ve also seen posters for Kinder-Fasching, which is basically for the kids. (Kinder = children.) I suspect I’ll see a bunch more costumes after work, but I expect to see more when I go out this evening for my usual bi-weekly Stammtisch. The word doesn’t translate easily to English, but a stammtisch is just a meeting group. This particular stammtisch is the Regensburg English Stammtisch, which is a group that meets every other Thursday to drink and chat in English. I try not to miss it because it’s a heap of fun.
Naturally, I’ll have another tie on for that part of my evening.
One of the questions that my friends and family back home have asked me frequently is “Steven, how are you doing with the cold?” To my friends in Chicago, New York, New Hampshire- this is a silly question, because I haven’t seen temperatures here that are colder than what they’re used to seeing.
However, it is important to remember that I’ve lived in South Florida for my entire life until now. Here’s a helpful comparison: Right now, it’s 37 degrees fahrenheit and sunny (yes, sunny!) in Regensburg. Back in my former home of Delray Beach, it’s 66 degrees. For South Florida, 66 degrees is chilly. When I left, it was closer to 80 degrees there.
Editor’s note: I’m talking about the temperature in Farenheit instead of Celcius because nearly of my readers are back in the United States.
Since I arrived, it has been pretty comfortable- the temperature has only rarely dropped below freezing. We’ve had some days that are considered unseasonably warm by the locals with temperatures climbing up into the forties. Although I’ve seen some snow here, it’s never been on the ground. I’ve needed an umbrella more often than I expected for November and December. The Internet says that the weather is pretty moderate here, with temperatures seldom dropping below freezing when the sun is up. Last year was a bad winter, the locals all say, and there was a great deal of snow.
The record lows here in the past have gone to twenty or thirty below 0, but those are extremes. The averages are much more moderate- although it will drop below freezing here, it probably won’t drop below 0 on the fahrenheit scale.
For this former Florida resident, adjusting to the November and December temperatures has been largely about changing what I think of as “cold.” Before I left for Germany, I tried to outfit myself with a sort of Florida Resident Cold Weather Starter Kit. I went to Burlington Coat Factory and got a big heavy jacket with an inner shell that was removable, one that was moisture and wind resistant. I went to a ski store (after the shock of learning that there was a ski store in Florida) and got some smartwool socks, a scarf, a pair of heavy gloves, and a pair of boots that are designed for snow. I also picked up some thermal inner layers, high tech stuff that wicks moisture and so forth.
What I am learning is that most of the time, I don’t need the high tech polyester stuff on my torso- a regular long sleeved t-shirt handles the heavy lifting of layering for warmth quite nicely. The Hot & Chilly’s will come in handy when it gets colder, I imagine, but for now they’re not completely needed because it’s not that much colder here than it was in my Boca Raton office, which is always freezing.
After a full month here, I’ve finally sorted out that the whole point of a scarf is to keep your neck warm. I thought it was just to keep wind off the back of your neck, and I started out wearing it draped over the neck with the ends dangling. After watching how other people used them, I started to wrap it around my neck, which led to a few days where I looked truly silly. In the last few days, I finally realized that the closer the scarf is to my skin, the warmer my entire body feels. Don’t understimate the power of the wind to make you feel cold.
I’ve also noticed a lot of people here wear Converse. I decided to try my beloved Chuck Taylors today, and I can now say with certainty that they’re not ideal for this climate. I’ve worn them in New York, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, and many points in between, and they’re just not a cold weather shoe. This fully explains the fur-lined Converse I saw in the shoe store- I thought it was overkill, but I bet it really helps to keep the cold from creeping up into the soles of your feet.
The one thing that I wish I had packed more of before I left the US is long-sleeved cotton t-shirs. I have a half dozen of them, mostly with designs on them. I have a couple of simple cotton long-sleeved t-shirts though, and they’re worth their weight in gold for layering to handle movement between the office and the bus stop, and for walking in and out of buildings when the temperature is hovering around two degrees Celcius.
So about the fashion sensibilities here in Regensburg:
Skinny jeans are in fashion. So are Converse of all colors and materials. I’ve seen some really neat ones.
Among the younger set, the Justin Bieber haircut is very popular. I giggle quietly every time I see it.
Every so often, I’ll see someone wearing an outfit that would seem normal in New York or Miami and it makes me do a doubletake- track suits, New York Yankees ball caps on sideways, gold chains. You know the style. This made a lot more sense after I took a different route through the city one night last week and passed a “Thug Life” store. I can’t make anything that amusing up.
For the most part, people here tend to be pretty well dressed. So much so that I feel a little bit shabby every time I walk outside. I’m sure I’ll get used to it after a little while. Or maybe I’ll just start dressing better.
On the subject of clothing, and where to put it, I purchased a wardrobe yesterday at Ikea, the “Pax Lyngdal.” I paid a bunch of extra Euros to have it delivered and assembled here, but it will be worth it because that thing was heavy to even get up to the cash register- I don’t want to think about what a pain it would be to get it up a flight of stairs. And the front doors are frosted glass and aluminum- I’d much rather someone else do the heavy lifting and assembly on this one. The only down side to having them deliver and assemble is that I won’t have it here until the 22nd of December, but in my opinion, that’s totally worth the wait. My clothing can stay in boxes for another week and a half, no problem.
I went back to the Christmas markets last night with new friend Elena, and I wound up having bratwurst to counteract the alcohol in the Gluhwein. Blueberry this time, and it was delicious. I wanted to get the bratwurst with sour kraut, but I waited too long and they ran out, which was a shame because it smelled amazing. Instead, I had what the girl behind the counter called the traditional way. Spicy mustard, horseradish, and something else I can’t remember. I think she was just messing with me on the horseradish. It was damn tasty though.
I’m still not sure what to do with myself on Sundays here- it’s forbidden by law for businesses to be open on Sundays here. One of my friends told me that they’re challenging that law now, but I doubt it will change while I’m here. There are only a few exceptions. The business in the train station stay open because they’re ostensibly for travelers. The Arcade opens for a few hours in the afternoon- not the shops, just the restaurants. Lots of small business run on Sundays; call centers and the like. Emergency services like police and fire are on duty. And of course the bus system runs. It’s just the shops. If you need medicine on a Sunday, I’m pretty sure your only option is a hospital- the apothekes (sort of like a pharmacy, but not precisely the same) are never open on Sundays. My routine on Sundays now that I’m in an apartment with no Internet connection (Damn you Kabel Deutschland!) is to sleep in, then hop over to the Arcade for some tea and Internet time in the afternoon. I’ll probably wind up going over to the Cinemaxx today to see der König der Löwen, in 3D. I don’t know enough of the language yet to really follow everything, but I know the movie and the songs well enough to still enjoy it. Plus I really want to hear James Earl Jones dubbed in German.
A note on the Cinemaxx- they do some movies in originalfassung (original language) on Monday nights- I’m really hoping that the Muppet Movie makes it over here soon; I really want to see that one quite badly. Right now it’s Puss In Boots, which I have no interest in seeing. Come on, Muppets!