Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Selling Culture

After a few months of aimlessness, I landed a position that takes me to Germany's lovely Neuschwanstein Castle several times a week. But before we get to the castle, there's a stop in the nearby town of Tegelberg for a bike ride and lunch. 

Having decided to stay in the restaurant to catch up on some work instead of joining the group on the bike ride, I noticed something. When the guests are eating lunch, the radio plays German pop music staples. But today, Recking Ball was on. The tour guide told me that he asked them to play German music during lunch to provide the visiting tourists with a "true German experience".

When we travel as tourists, we often think the things we see are representative of the culture we are visiting. At least I do. But the music switch made me question how much of what we see is simply provided for the tourist's gaze versus practices in which the residents engage in as part of their everyday activities. 

When I took the preceding picture in Vietnam, I assumed that the dance was performed solely for the benefit of the visiting backpackers who decided to go a little off the beaten trail. But I failed to make the same assumption concerning the music the restaurant decided to play. I guess the menu, which consists of spaghetti bolognese and club sandwiches, should have been a clue. 

If you decide to move to a country, you have a greater possibility of gaining access to the "authentic" experience of the location. But that's no guarantee since the definition of authentic is so hard to pin down. I.e., when discussing my love of dirndls with my friend, she argued that real Germans don't wear them. And the ones that do are most likely people that I'm far too cool to associate with, e.g., dude bros and the equivalent of sorority girls. However, my tatted & pierced roommate with a hot pink stripe in her hair has several and she is as far from a sorority girl that you can get. 

Perhaps the idea is not to look for the authentic, but to understand what authentic means to the culture you are visiting. This approach allows room for several definitions of authentic and provides a richer picture. 

Or maybe I'm just over analyzing the whole thing and trying to put my ethnology degree to good use.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cultural Assimilation at the Frühlingsfest

I keep saying that I will post at least once a week, but I never seem to keep that promise. Oh well, sometimes life doesn't always goes as planned. Any hoo, I've been making myself comfortable in my new home of Bavaria and finding all sorts of hijinks to keep myself entertained.

This past week, I had the great pleasure of attending a maibaum fest as well as the Frühlingsfest on May Day (for those of you in the US, that is Labor Day for everyone else in the world). 

A maibaum is the german translation for maypole, and yes, there is a party dedicated to its raising on the first day of May. I had no idea to expect, yet happily accepted the invitation to hang out with cool Germans and begin my drinking at 11 in the morning. The square at Hans Mielich Platz was transformed into a beer garden, complete with a dance floor, and people in the neighborhood gathered to drink and dance. 

Even though we were in the heart of Munich, it felt like we were in a small village. You could tell the dances the men and women performed were things they have practiced since childhood. 

And the clothes were beautiful. Richly embroidered suspenders, hand tooled leather belts, and skirt covers in mirrored flowers; the outfits made me swoon. 


Not to be outshined, I put my best foot forward and modeled my lovely new dirndl. After an exhaustive search, I found this lovely gem at the second hand store across the street from KVR, the immigration office in Munich. And I only spent a total of 50 euros for the entire outfit, which is a much better deal than the 100 euros most places charge for things that are much lower quality. 

The highlight of the day was the performance by the schuhplattler dancers. The schuhplattler is also called slap dancing and can be best described at Bavaria's answer to the step shows that are popular with Black fraternities. 

I am a total geek and squealed when I saw them take the floor. I've been watching YouTube videos of schuhplattlers for months and was so excited to finally see one in person.

After several dances, many compliments on my outfit, and too much beer, my friend and I made our way towards the Frühlingsfest, which is spring's version of Oktoberfest, and takes place at the same location at Theresienwiese. 

Having never been to the actual Oktoberfest and only managed a bastardized version of it in several countries, I was mildly disappointed when we arrived and saw a giant amusement park. Complete with rides and carnival games, I felt like I was at Coney Island. But never one to give up the chance for a new adventure, my friend and I made our way to to the beer tent and continued our love affair with liter glasses. 

Shortly after grabbing a table, we were quickly joined by a two German guys and then two Finnish ones. The Finns were really cool AND sociable, so I took their picture as evidence to present to my Finnish friend who swears her people have no social skills. 

One of our German neighbors, who was only mildly attractive when he was sober, turned into a royal ass once he was intoxicated. He foolishly tried to pull up my dress while I was dancing, and I screamed, "I'll fucking slit your throat if you touch me again you son of a bitch!" My new Finnish friends made it known that they would happily deal with him should he decide to touch me again. 

So all in all, I had a great time, but after seeing what the festival is in the spring, I think I will be avoiding it in the fall. There are far too many beer halls in the city to choose from than to subject yourself to the commercialism and drunken debauchery that is on display at the Oktoberfest. But if I do decide to go, I already have an outfit picked out.