Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oktoberfest is both savage and beautiful

I'm surprised. Oktoberfest is not just about drunk men passing out in ditches. Of course, that's there too - but there are many other really lovely things about the festival. Even if you don't like beer.

Top of my list are the costumes. The costumes, the costumes, the costumes. Besides the fact that Bavarians love to dress up in Medieval outfits for festivals, the Oktoberfest is probably best known for the 'tracht' or traditional dress.

For women this is the dirndl, a corset-like dress worn over a short blouse and accessorised with an apron. Older ladies from the Bavarian countryside often still wear this as an everyday outfit - and it is especially popular at formal occasions such as weddings or the church on Sunday.

During the Oktoberfest and other traditional festivals in the area, young girls also embrace the tradition and start planning their outfits months in advance.

Men wear lederhosen, which is simple raw leather shorts with suspenders (in the picture on the left two savages in their lederhosen are taking part in the hunters' parade). Bavarian men especially like to wear their traditional dress as a habit and it has become somewhat trendy, even amongst youngsters.

Guys often wear their lederhosen around town, at beer gardens - and to watch Bayern Munich play footie. As much as I'd like to be able to make fun of it, there's no denying that these pants really do look quite good on a sporty male figure.

Bavarians are very proud of their history and traditions. It simply takes a walk around Munich city centre to see the selection of designer dirndl shops, Bavarian food markets and, well, beer gardens. This deep love for their culture is also reflected in the popular parades during the launch weekend of Oktoberfest, where various traditional outfits are showcased.

What fascinates me even more than the outfits, are the hair styles, hats and hair accessories. There are plaits in all colours, shapes and sizes, a lot of silk and velvet ribbons, flowers, feathers, shiny beaded headdresses and even pom-poms. Unless Bavarian ladies learn special hair styling skills from a young age, the hairdressers in Munich must be really busy over the Oktoberfest time.

Since Bavaria is a strict catholic society, a lot of locals are not really fond of the tourist perception of Oktoberfest. Though it brings in a lot of money for the city, the Wiesn (as Oktoberfest is known amongst the locals) is a proud celebration of traditional culture.

It is originally meant to be a family occasion and you can still find activities for young and old around the festival grounds. From merry-go-rounds to scary rides, a host of delicious food options, sweet snacks and trinkets - as well as a large agricultural exhibition with a host of farm animals which is very popular with children.

"During Oktoberfest things happen in this city that never normally happen in this city," people like to say, with an annoyed shake of the head.

So, you can tart up the dirndl and pass out in a ditch if you like, but it will make you one of those less than favourable 'things'. Not that the locals don't do sexy. There are so many different dirndl styles, shapes and accessories that it allows just about any woman to channel her inner goddess.

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