The summer is almost over here in Germany. The weather is still warm but lacks the intensity of mid summer, sun kissed families are returning from their adventures abroad, small businesses are reopening and pumpkins are already ripening in the fields. Autumn is most certainly just around the corner. The shops are filled with back to school products and small children trying on enormous Schulranzen (school backpacks) for size, one bag and all its accessories will see him or her through for the next few years, a most important decision for one so small.
Behind the fountain pens and neon highlighters though are some other seasonal items that you might want to pick up if you are attending a festival, particularly one held in Southern Germany. A Volksfest (Peoples’ Festival) is a common event in most German towns. The most famous Volksfest in Germany is Oktoberfest which takes place in September in München (Munich), Bavaria. Both Spring and Autumn are filled with festivals, historically many were (and still are) in celebration of a new season of growth (in the fields) and the consequent harvest.
Whilst there is no rule for what one can and can’t wear to a Volksfest, my husband and I are very much a ‘when in rome..’ kind of people, so before we stepped foot on a Bavarian Festplatz (festival area) we had to do a little shopping. Thankfully we stumbled on a gem of a Tracht (traditional wear) shop, which housed a brisk and uncompromising woman in her sixties named Sabine and her meek young assistant, Anja, who was there to do what she was told and nothing more. With limited German and a lovely game of charades both the husband and I found ourselves in changing cubicles, hooks heaving with unfamiliar clothes and an overwhelming feeling of being in over our heads.
No need to worry, after about sixteen seconds Sabine was already pulling open the curtain and was visibly disappointed that I had, as yet, only taken off my shoes. Much sighing followed and she motioned for me to hurry up. My husband received the same seconds later; luckily besides the four of us the shop was empty as his high pitched scream informed me that he was already down to his underwear. A strict lesson in just how tight lederhosen should be when purchased followed (hint very) since they loosen due to wear and are never ever to be cleaned. Trachtenhemd (traditional shirt, usually white or checked) socks and shoes came along with his lederhosen, in less than twenty minutes he was fest ready. I took a little longer.
The Five Dirndl (traditional dresses) I’d picked, in various colours with coordinating Dirndlschürze (apron) and a Dirndlbluse (blouse), a white blousy crop top with frilled sleeves and collar hung in front of me. At this point I realised that there was no mirror in the cubicle, I was going to have to use the mirror in the middle of the shop. First dress on, I felt like an extra from the Sound of Music and managed one step outside the cubicle before hearing Sabine cry ‘Nein, Nein’ and Anja was instructed to get me some different sizes. Whilst a Dirndl can look very much the same as the next one there are subtle variations in style that mean some work better for certain body types. My advice is to try on plenty before you decide.
It is not only Lederhosen that need to be tight, the Dirndl Mieder (bodice) should also be close fitted to produce that famous Dirndl cleavage. A well-fitted blouse will ensure that you can dress as modestly as you desire. Once I was happy in my Dirndl, even happy enough to stand in a now bustling shop in front of the mirror came the one important lesson that goes along with the outfit.
Where you tie your apron Schleife (knot) says a lot about you. Typically you wrap the ties around you and make a bow that sits at your waist. Tied to the left means that you are available, tied on the right means you are unavailable. Tied front and centre indicates a virgin or child and the back indicated a widow or waitress. Getting this right will mean that you don’t stick out as a tourist, ‘When in Southern Germany..’.
Some Volksfest happening in Autumn are huge events with multiple beer tents and a funfair to match. These include the Augsburger Plärrer, Nürnberger Volksfest, Bremen Freimarkt and my local, the Canstatter Volksfest. Whilst Oktoberfest is undoubtedly the biggest of all the Volksfest, the others maintain their authenticity and offer a less touristy experience of Germany. Always an opportunity to put on your Lederhosen or Dirndl and dance away the evening in a beer tent, surrounded by a few thousand of your closest friends.
If you want something altogether more intimate keep an eye out for various smaller scale Volksfest. These are sometimes a celebration of a local produce like the Baiersdorfer Krenmarkt (horseradish market), Filderkrautfest (pointy cabbage festival), Weimar Zwiebelmarkt (Weimar onion market) and bring with them an extensive market of more than just horseradish, cabbage or onions. You are unlikely to find any large beer tents at these smaller scale events but the centre of town is usually closed off for the festival, there also may be a parade, at any size of Volksfest.
I’ll be getting out my Dirndl again soon for the Canstatter Volksfest or Wasen as its known around here, I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone should have a Volksfest experience at least once in their lifetime.