Do you hear that? The ominous thumping? Sounds like an Oompah band mixing with the bass line of German Schlager music, aka DJ Ötzi and company? (Side note: if you don’t know what that is, Google. 🙂 I’m not linking to the silliness.)
If you hear that, it means that you are somewhere in Bavaria and there is a fest nearby. Don’t see anything? It’s easy to find one, just turn around. Summer around here is pretty much a non-stop traveling parade of giant pretzels, people in Dirndl und Lederhosen, giant beers, and brightly lit rides. In the mail the other week, we got a complete guide to all of the village fests in our area, so if we want to, we can pretty much hit one a weekend from now until September. At least we can’t say there’s nothing to do on the weekends, right? Almost every village has it’s own separate Kirchweih, which just lasts a weekend. The bigger towns and cities will party for a longer time though.
A note: according to most people, a Kirchweih is officially a celebration to mark the anniversary of a town’s church. Somewhat suspiciously though, all of these seem to take place in summer. Kirch (church), is still in the name, but at this point the religious aspect is as elusive as a Wolpertinger. Today, it’s just a fun town celebration, an excuse to put on your Dirndl and do a little ridiculous dancing. Some traditional aspects remain, and many villages still put up their Maibaum at this time. According to the poster for our village fest in a few weeks, this will happen so I’m hoping I can get there in time. I still haven’t seen one go up, and I want to see this!
Since our fest isn’t for a few weeks though, today I’d like to share with you the Mother of All Franconian Fests: the Erlangen Bergkirchweih. Around the area, it’s affectionately known as the Berg (or Berch), or the much-less clear Kerwa. To be honest, that might be spelled wrong but that’s how it sounds in the Franconian accent. Except less clear. I’ve been hearing about this from my students since I arrived here, and was assured that this was Franconia’s (our region of Bavaria) answer to Oktoberfest. In fact they said, it’s better, because Germans actually GO to this one. I said that I hadn’t gone to Oktoberfest and not run into any Germans yet, but I would take their word for it.
Now, I don’t think I got the full experience, as we were there early in the afternoon on Saturday, but it was enough time for a beer and a few pictures. I was very happy that I had convinced BV to go along with this, as he was convinced that it would be packed and horrible. Which is exactly what all my students had been saying for the last three years as well.
“Germans go! It’s better than Oktoberfest! But so many people! I don’t go!”
I’m paraphrasing three years worth of conversations here, but you get the idea.
Granted, Saturday was hotter than bejeezus, so perhaps it wasn’t as crowded as it could have been, but I thought it was totally fine. But, once you’ve survived The Pit, aka, the standing-room only area in the middle of the Hofbräuhaus tent at Oktoberfest, no other fest looks crowded in comparison. A word of advice? If you’re at Oktoberfest, do not go in The Pit. It’s horrible. Just don’t.
We walked up the hill- hence the Berg in Bergkirchweih, bypassing all the food goodies, until we reached the row of Keller. This was a pretty cool thing, I thought. At Oktoberfest, each brewery has it’s own huge tent, or Zelt. There aren’t any windows, so you have no idea what’s going on inside until you get in, and that’s if you get in! Once you’re in, you have to get a seat at a table in order to get a beer. If you try to flag down a waitress while lurking in the walkways, they will knock you over with the ten empty Maß (liter glasses) that they’re carrying. Or worse, the ten full ones. Those ladies do not mess around. Get out of their way. At the EBK (I’m lazy, sorry), there are different Keller, which are large seating sections, stepping up along the hillside. Underneath the seating area was a place to walk up and buy beer, and some had stages at the top. Most of them served Tucher (the beer from Nürnberg), or Kitzmann from Erlangen.
After taking a look down the row, we found a place in the front row at one of the Keller. This was easy to do as that was the only place exposed to the sun, and as I said before, it was hot. Our table was reserved later in the day, but that was no problem as we weren’t planning on staying too long. BV drove, so his fun was limited. We weren’t sure if there was service, as we didn’t see any waiters or waitresses, so BV consulted with the next table. They assured us that there was service, but said it may be faster to just go get the beer ourselves. This is a definite advantage over Oktoberfest… waiting for a beer there could be an Olympic sport. We were thirsty as could be by this point and waiting was not going to happen.
BV ran to go get us beer, and I baked a bit in the sun. While he was gone, I realized while he was gone that we were sitting in a Keller that served Tucher beer! The brewery had another name, but was owned by Tucher…. uhoh. It’s the biggest brewery in Nbg, and they’ve bought up a lot of smaller breweries, but usually it’s still their beer in the glass. Neither of us are fans of it, and there are just so many better beers around here! Luckily he caught our mistake too, and returned with liters from the Steinbach brewery, a small brewery right down the hill in town. Yes, we sat in an area with the incorrect beers. For shame! To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s a big no-no, but better safe than sorry. When a waiter finally did pass our table, we turned our glasses just in case. I’m not big on scoldings from harried waitstaff, sorry. I would normally show you a sweet beer picture here, but the only one is of me looking very warm, so we’re skipping that today. BV needs to work on his portrait skillz. As far as cost goes, a beer this year was 8€ everywhere we saw, plus of course the 5€ deposit fee on the mugs.
The seating areas were pretty full, but as I said before, it was early so things were still fairly tame. There was the usual array of bachelor/bachelorette parties, people in weird costumes, and of course, plenty of people in Tracht (traditional clothing, aka Dirndl and Lederhosen). We enjoyed our delightfully cold beers, and watched the show. These adorable ladies were selling shots, presumably part of a bachelorette shindig, and I’m not sure what’s holding the attention of the gentlemen better. The girls, or the shots… what do you all think?
Not a great picture, but you can kind of get an idea of how the terraced seating looks. I absolutely loved being under the trees and in the open air! I will say though, that if you’re clumsy, you may want to consider drinking as close to the main thoroughfare as possible. The steps up were a bit steep and tall. A few Maß and I could see people tumbling down faster than Humpty Dumpty! And once the table dancing starts later in the evening…. look out. There were a fair amount of warning signs but who knows how effective they are. Drink with caution, kids.
We headed out in search of lunch after our beer, as we wanted something more substantial than fest food. But there was of course time for a few more pictures. The next one I’m including for a few reasons: 1) it shows part of the edibles area, 2) it includes the terrifying ear of corn that appears at all fests and sometimes haunts my nightmares, and 3) there are children in Tracht. Kids in Tracht are pretty much the cutest damn things in the world, but no, I will not be producing any in the near future. Sorry not sorry.
But since I don’t want to give you all nightmares too, I won’t let that be the last picture. Instead, here are some pretzels and the Erlangen Schlossgarten, on our way back to the car. Not a bad place to lay in the grass and people watch, right?
Have no fear, we absolutely had a pretzel. On our way to lunch. Fest!
So if this post has at all convinced you to head to the Bergkirchweih, you’ve got a few more days to do it. The fest ends on the 16th this year, so strap on your traditional finery, hop a train, and get on over here!
Have you been to the Berg? What are the best fests where you live?