Happy Yodeling!

There are some cities called Leavenworth around: One in Kansas, one in Indiana and one in Washington. In Kansas they have also a Leavenworth-county and the two prisons, a civil and a military one. Because Proxima in her last comment brought it up, I had a look at the Washington-Leavenworth: It grew with the railroad and when it relocated the small community had difficulties. In the sixties they decided to become Bavarian. Later they would have Oktoberfest: And they were saved. Well, I also believed in the healing powers of beer for a long time, but doubt remains. And a high blood pressure. As I learned they started their annual festivity at the end of the 90s – what were they doing for more than thirty years? – and it is said to be one of the biggest and most attended events of this kind besides the Canadian one in Kitchener and Waterloo.

As Proxima put it:
As someone who lives in the real Bavaria, what do you think about this recreation of it in a place far far away? Flattering? Annoying? or just plain silly?

Hell no! People do make something new from old forms – it is an American fest or a Canadian one with European – in this case German – origins and forms, and everytime it stages it is something new. Old form, new content, that slowly but surely changes the (external) form – in a way that is the blueprint for cultural development in any given surroundings, where traditional forms are not totally ignored or skipped. There are not too many really new forms … So it is absolutely not silly to have a Oktoberfest outside Munich. You can have a Greek fest in Franconia with Greek music, food, dance and song – naturally you do not create new Greeks as you do not bake new Germans on the location of the festivity.

The reason I mention this “nation-thing” is rooted in the beginning of the original Oktoberfest, or better it’s later instrumentalization. On the beginning there is a wedding: Prince Ludwig marries Princess Therese on a meadow outside Munich on the 12th of October 1810. Since that time the area is called “Therese’s meadows” (Theresienwiese), or just “die Wies’n” (the meadow). They had a horse race and a large fest for the people. The people liked it. Maybe they already had at the first fest a special beer for this occasion: The “Wies’n-Bier” should have more malt in it and be a little more red and tasty; today it resembles a type that is no longer around, the “Wiener Export” (Vienna-export, Eng Ger), that was made with malt from Vienna. More malt not necessarily means more alcohol. It just “goes” better, has more “gulp” to it. But “Festbier” is made a little stronger too …

The Oktoberfest is a Bavarian fest. The kingdom of Bavaria in 1810 was new and shiny, it still squeaked a little … The Wittelsbach-family became “king” in 1806 courtesy of Napoleon Buonaparte, the first. Before that time they were Herzöge (dukes) of Bavaria, what actually forms the southern part of the modern “Freistaat” (free-state). The northern part is formed from the areas of the once independent dukedoms of Franconia: The bishops of Würzburg, Bamberg and Eichstätt were independent worldly rulers; the cities of Nürnberg, Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl (and many others) were independent Reichsstädte (cities of the “rike”); sprinkled in between were some independent areas ruled by knights. Maybe independence is a little overstressed here, but there simply was not one bloody king, but minor (bloody) rulers.
All this ended 1803/1806 and Napoleon’s friends, the bastards who betrayed the Reich as one could say, were rewarded and honored – in other words, the prey was divided: New kingdoms emerged, among others, “Bavaria”.
The Wittelsbacher were not dumb, you do not win a new kingdom by sheer stupidity. They very fast understood that there is the need of a new and connecting force of unity, a national consciousness: They created the Bavarian. I exaggerate of course, but I am a Bavarian Volkskundler / ethnologist – my science came into being in the years from 1800 to 1830 out of romantic national spirit; and besides Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Protestants born in Hassia, later in Berlin) there were people like Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl and others, who willingly propagated this new unified Bavarian nation. The big wedding of 1810 was used for propagating the new unity and in it’s succession fests in the land: In Franconia the fest of 1842 has left a lasting impression. The blueprint for all these following events was the Oktoberfest from 1810.

As I said above: The new Oktoberfests will follow the old form, but there is new content, new symbolism, new life in it. Have a good beer, listen to the music, simply enjoy! The original of 1810 had a special task, served a political purpose. I hope the new fest simply serves the folk.

Besides: Franconians do not yodel.

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14 thoughts on “Happy Yodeling!

  1. Thank you so much Mago!I too learned a lot from this post and it seems like maybe you invested quite a bit of time putting it together, so thank you again!I thought it was strange that the lederhosen competition was for Men, Women and Children. Most of them probably won’t even actually be “leder” either I suspect.I consider myself a traditionalist, so I have to say that I do get annoyed when modern society takes too many liberties with tradition.I am fine with the lack of traditions that involve animal and human sacrifices these days though. 🙂I’m feeling particularly festive this year. I think I will attend both the Maypole dancing and the Scottish Ceilidh this year (my fathers side are Ulster Scots.)I have a friend who has been trying to conceive for two years now and it has not been possible. She’s devastated and I hate to see her so. I don’t think bloodletting a chicken will do any good, but modern medicine has already failed her. Maybe I can pick up a fertility fetish to work with at one of these spring/summer festivals.-P

  2. I used to enjoy going to the Greek festival every summer but haven’t been in about 15 years. I think an Oktoberfest might be fun, but it would probably be more fun if I drank beer the way I used to!

  3. I am struck by that point about new forms evolving when the celebrations are in a new place. The festivals of India in distant lands, in London and NY used to irritate me, so plastic somehow, but yes, perhaps you have a point, cheers and nod your head to the drum-beat.Links- will follow later.

  4. I think any fest that encourages people to familiarize themselves with another culture is a very good thing.Yes, the party was a total success…superficially there is definitely one Bavaria now. Drive down to Munich and you discover another. 😉

  5. All this talk of celebrations in October makes me very excited for my very favorite month of the year. It is the GREATEST! It is full of festivities and celebration and the weather is so beautiful and perfect here. It is probably a decible or more lower and quite a bit more dim, so that these celebrations can reach even to those NOT on the wavelength of the happy, skipping, summer loving people of the planet. Great post Mago. It should be in a magazine.

  6. Lone Grey SquirrelThank you. 🙂savannahHehe … I am no “franconian nationalist” (there are some who really want an independent Franconia!) but 200 years ago a lot changed and I want to stress that. The “Volksfest” was a very good instrument to spread a political message, to create “unity”.ProximaI will look for some exampels of “Lederhosen”. This “Tracht”-idea goes in the same direction as the Oktoberfest.Dancing round the “Maibaum” is sure a happy thing! “Ceilidh” is the Scottish maypole? I will look for it too.I hope some joy, fun and relaxation can help your friend.Lily StrangeOne liter Festbier, a slow ride on the big wheel, maybe some shooting at the shooting booth, something to eat and that’s it – boring, not? Downing the Export is for the younger.austereThe form of the festivity, the things that happen from “Einzug der Wiesenwirte” – that is when the innkeepers come in with horses and big barrels – with humtata and all until the end – these parts are kept. They had a function in their original connection, which is not more given in the strict sense. 200 years later the audience attending the festivity is totally different, the country is totally different, the society changed – all these working contexts the historical acting was embedded into are gone, just the acting, the forms survived. It became something new, new content.AmandaBussi! 🙂knightandbabyGlad you liked it!

  7. I had a look over the “Lederhosen”-sites and found it a little disappointing. The wikipedia-articles were not too good; there is (of course!) a Lederhosen-Museum, but it sadly seems to be dead since 2005. And lots of tailors and leather-processing manufacturers can be found. I will have a look in a book and later write a little about this trouser.

  8. Having grown up in Milwaukee with all breweriesI knowOctober fest. We had brewers that sponsered the fest. Now that was long ago and they arn’t around anymore. There were parts of Milwaukee that had such an odor from the hops.

  9. joyce🙂 There surely were a lot of independent brewers.mjThank you. That is all I ever wanted. You are always giving …You are an incarnation of Grace Slick?

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