Category Archives: Culture

Superdude, ein bayerischer Bub

Much to my amazement, Superdude will be one at the end of September. How time quickly flies! As an early birthday present (and as a souvenir of our time here in Bavaria), we bought him a pair of Lederhose, the famous Bavarian/Austrian leather pants. I still need to purchase a shirt to go with the Lederhose, so he borrowed one of Rosebud’s.

Isn’t he sweet in his Lederhose? The word “Bub” by the way is a Bavarian/Austrian word for boy; one Bavarian variant of Bub is Bua which sounds an awful lot like our English word boy.

Lederhosen are tasty!

He certainly looks like a Bavarian, with his fair hair and blue eyes.

Superdude as pleased as can be

Sweetest guy ever

How to buy a Dirndl

It’s been a busy summer for the Bowmans in Bavaria. Superdude is crawling after his sister Rosebud; for her part, Rosebud is speaking more and more German (simple phrases, mostly). She’s also quite the little conversationalist in English. I’m really enjoying these two kids and feel extraordinarily lucky to have them.

A week ago Saturday, I had the opportunity to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: I went to a Trachten shop to buy myself a Dirndl.

Feeling like a proper Dirndl-clad Bavarian woman

Tracht is the word for costume (plural: Trachten). When most Americans think of Germany, they usually think of Bavaria and the traditional costume that is worn in this region of the world.

From when we first moved to Upper Bavaria, I always admired the Dirndl dresses. One of my friends asked me how often people here wear them. Not everyone wears the traditional clothing, but of those who do, I most often see it on the weekend, especially Sunday and on festival days. There are some Bavarians who also wear their traditional clothing during the week, and even some who will only wear the traditional clothing (though this seems to be mostly older people). There’s an elderly gentleman I see from time to time when we go on walks. He doesn’t wear the full Lederhosen (leather pants) outfit but he usually has on a Bavarian shirt and hat at the very least.

If you visit Munich, you will certainly see people of all ages wearing Trachten, and not just the Biergarten servers! I think wearing the traditional costume is a little more common where we live, in Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria) as well as in parts of Austria which shares a similar style of traditional dress.

Believe it or not, Trachten has its own fashion industry and from what I understand, one of the design centers is Salzburg, Austria. Each season has its colors and patterns for that year, with there being a special emphasis on Oktoberfest. I couldn’t tell you what the Dirndl trends are for this year, mind you! Traditionally, each locale has its own variant of the costume, including fabric colors and hat designs. I don’t know a lot about that, however.

I decided I wanted to get good advice and customer service in my Dirndl purchase, so I went to a shop called Trachtenstube Inge which came highly recommended to me. All of the sale associates were beautifully dressed in Trachten. I was very well attended to by a woman who took the time to explain the different types of Dirndl.

I learned that for festivals the skirts tend to be black or at least dark in color. You can even buy a special bridal Dirndl, often in ivory or white, but sometimes in different colors and made of luxurious fabrics. As I wanted a more everyday Dirndl, she directed me toward what she called the “Wasch-Dirndl” – a “wash” Dirndl, or something you can easily launder yourself. The colors tend to be brighter in these everyday dresses. The more traditional Dirndl has a long skirt, but the short skirt is especially popular for the summer and also for Oktoberfest.

The most important thing about wearing a Dirndl, I discovered, is that the bodice must be very snug. The bodice reminded me of a corset in terms of the fit, and I think that’s the secret of why a Dirndl looks and feels so nice. A lady cannot slouch very easily in a Dirndl and must keep her posture straight which, in turn, creates an elegant and poised look. As you might imagine, a Dirndl also keeps a lady’s bustline held well into place, and I quickly learned that a supportive BH is essential (that is, a Bustenhalter, or a bust-holder, if you know what I mean – yes, a bra. Bustenhalter is a German word I particularly like!)

The Dirndlbluse, or Dirndl blouse, is not a full blouse, but rather a half-blouse that is snug around the bust area. The sleeves and neckline can be lacy, plain or everything in between; the ones I tried all had three-quarter sleeves. I don’t know if that is the traditional sleeve length or if that is a modern twist on the Dirndl blouse.

I found seven or eight long-skirted Dirndl that I wanted to try on, and as the prices were better than what I had anticipated, I thought maybe I would be able to buy two for myself.

As I tried on the various Dirndl I had selected, the saleslady and I decided that the stronger colors suited me very well. The first one I tried had a green bodice and a purple skirt, a combination which I liked. Soon after that, I discovered one with a purple bodice and green skirt, with a pink and white apron, which fit me very well indeed. I immediately knew that this was my Dirndl. It reminded me of when I bought my wedding dress, actually, in that I had no doubt whatsoever that it was the Dirndl meant for me.

Side view, fuschia and olive green Dirndl

Front view, fuschia and olive green Dirndl

Front view, fuschia and olive green Dirndl

I tried on a few more dresses, just to be sure. One of the next ones I tried had a dark blue bodice, red checked skirt and a red flowered apron. All of a sudden, I realized this was the perfect Dirndl for an Amerikanerin – it reminds me of our flag, the stars and stripes; the red, white and blue:

My "American" Dirndl, red, white and blue!

It really was too perfect to pass up. Once I determined to buy both of these Dirndl, another beautifully dressed woman scurried over to me, with her pincushion, so she could do the fitting and pinning for a few minor alterations. She said it would take a few days before she could get to the alterations for me. All week long I was eager to get my dresses back so I could try them on again.

When I did finally pick up my Dirndl, I decided to show my neighbors the purple and green one. They were charmed by their American neighbor dressing up and looking like one of their own. I even wore my Dirndl out to dinner at the local pizza restaurant. My husband kept commenting on how cute I looked, so I think I’ll wear my Dirndl somewhat regularly since he appreciated what it did for my figure. I think that Dirndl dresses are flattering on pretty much any woman and not only that, I just feel so magically transformed when I put it on.

Code-switching and Bavarian

The other day, when I went to my Frauengymnastikkurs (Women’s Fitness class), the other women who arrived before me were chatting about when their babies were born. It took me about a minute to figure out what they were discussing, however, because they were speaking a mixture of Hochdeutsch and Boarisch. In other words, they were code-switching between German and Bavarian.

What does code-switching mean? It’s a phenomenon that occurs when someone is fluent in more than one language; basically, someone who speaks two languages or more will switch between the languages as appropriate. As a person who is fluent in German, French and English, I code-switch all the time. When I’m shopping with my children, I’ll speak to them in English but once I am in a situation where I need to talk to a German, I switch to using the German language. Sometimes if I need to tell Rosebud something, I use both German and English, switching back and forth between the languages because I don’t want to alienate a German speaker who may not understand English. Here at home, we mostly speak English but we throw in German words and expressions because there’s either not a good English translation or we simply can’t think of the English word. For some reason, we say “Wasserkocher” instead of “Electric kettle”, maybe because “Wasserkocher” (“Water cooker”) is more fun to say. Truthfully, code-switching is not even something I think about doing, for the code-switching simply happens.

One of the women in my Women’s Fitness class mostly speaks Bavarian, and although I miss some of the vocabulary she uses, I’ve been living here in Bavaria long enough that I’m generally familiar with the dialect to understand the gist of the conversation but only sometimes. Other times, I’m completely at a loss. I, however, can’t speak Bavarian at all. I haven’t even really tried (apart from using simple words like “pfiati”, which means “bye bye”). I think that if I were to try speaking Boarisch, my friends would probably tease me and be highly amused, although if they were to ply me with a beer or glass of Grüner Veltliner, perhaps I’d be more willing to give it a go. Most of the Bavarians born and raised here who I’ve encountered will either speak to me in a mixture of German and Bavarian, or they will immediately switch to standard German once they realize that I’m not a native speaker.

One of my neighbors always speaks a mixture of Bavarian and standard German to me (there’s that code-switching again!). I suspect her usage of both with me is partially generational, in that I’m sure she grew up only speaking Bavarian at home, but a mix of Bavarian and standard German at school. When we first moved in to our house back in February 2009, I couldn’t understand her at all, apart from one or two words here and there. But as I’ve listened to Bavarian and have talked with my neighbor and others while out and about, I’ve become a little more adept at understanding individual words and overall ideas when the Bavarian words are used.

Here are a few examples: the German word “gut” becomes “guat” in Bavarian. One interesting Bavarian word is “Bua” which means “Junge” in standard German, and “boy” in English. I think it’s fascinating that “Bua” sounds a lot like “boy”. From my perspective as a non-native speaker, Bavarian sort of sounds like German with a strong shift in the vowels with consonant-dropping along with its own set of vocabulary. Bavarian also feels a little less formal to me than standard German, maybe because it’s especially used between family members who would otherwise speak standard German when they’re with non-Bavarians. Some other phrases: “i mog di” means “ich mag dich” in standard German, or, “I like/love you”. Another expression I hear all the time is “gell?” which means “nicht wahr?” or “right?”. If you want to sound like a local, or at least make the locals smile when they know you’re not a native, you can always toss in a “gell?” at the end of your conversation.

One American friend of mine, who is married to a German and lives in the northern part of Germany, said that she and her husband both have difficulty understanding Bavarians. Germans from other parts of Germany have told me the same thing and, in fact, often say something like, “Bavarian is like a different language”.

I really am fascinated by how people switch back and forth between Bavarian and German, just as I do between German and English (or French and English, when in a French-speaking situation). I suppose it’s a bit different, because for Bavarians, they have grown up as native speakers of both their local Bavarian dialect and standard German whereas in my case, I’m fluent in German but not a native speaker.

Amusingly, I found this tongue-in-cheek web page claiming to give German-speakers a list of important “Business” Bavarian phrases: http://www.lankuttis.net/bavarian.html
For the translation of “Schmarrn” (“nonsense” or something a bit stronger than that, if you catch my drift) the German phrase given is “da bin ich anderer Meinung” (“I’ve got a different opinion” or “I don’t agree”). Schmarrn, by the way, is a pretty common expression here in Bavaria. It’s not a word I heard much, if at all, when I was an exchange student up in Köln.

A lovely Easter weekend

This spring, we’ve had exceptionally nice weather. It’s been unusually warm for Bavaria in April, but I am not complaining. We had a four-day weekend for Easter and we profited from the gorgeous weather. One thing I’ve learned about living here is that if the weather is nice, you should jump at the chance to go outside because you can’t always know how long the weather will stay nice.

Saturday, the 23rd, was the nicest day of the entire weekend. For Bavarian standards, it felt like summer had arrived, as we had temperatures in the seventies and clear skies. We visited our friends Honi and Lilly in the town of Murnau am Staffelsee.

Along the path to Ähndl

The train from Oberammergau to Munich, via Murnau and Tutzing

Murnau is a picturesque town, which exemplifies upper Bavaria in my opinion.

View south from Murnau

We took a walk from Murnau to Ähndl Gastsätte and back:

A Gaststätte, by the way, is usually a restaurant that can have a Biergarten (or the Gastsätte might simply be a Biergarten) or it might be like a pub. I believe there are regulations in place for what constitutes a Gaststätte, but I’ll have to ask someone about that. After having had our luncheon at the Ähndl Gastsätte, I can highly recommend this locale for anyone who visits upper Bavaria. We found the prices to be very reasonable and the menu offered many typical dishes, expertly prepared. Not only that, the Gaststätte had a playground. As you can imagine, this made it ideal for us. Rosebud was too excited by the slide, swings and sand pit to eat anything.

Rosebud at the playground

It was a really lovely walk, and so nice to sit down in the middle of our walk and have a leisurely lunch while the girls played. And, of course, it was especially nice for Rosebud and Lilly to spend some time together.

The Alps and the Murnau moor

Lilly and Rosebud, visiting a tree

We went to an Easter breakfast and church on Sunday morning, which gave me the chance to dress Rosebud up in her Dirndl. She really loves getting dressed up in her Dirndl. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I’ll have to remember to take some photos of her in her Dirndl the next time she wears it.

On Sunday afternoon, I planned to do our Easter egg hunt with Rosebud, but instead we had the first thunderstorm of the season complete with pea-sized hail. We needed the rain, and the air smelled and felt so wonderful during the short-lived storm. Rosebud got to have her Easter egg hunt on Easter Monday, instead. Following her egg hunt, we went for a walk in the forest behind our house. It was cooler than Saturday, but still gorgeous weather and perfect for spending the day together as a family.

We hope everyone had an excellent weekend with their families, whether you were celebrating Easter, Passover or simply the springtime.

Rosebud's Easter egg hunt

Rosebud spots an egg

Mom, I have a blue egg!

Lilacs are blooming, at the end of April!

Daddy and Rosebud throw sticks into the stream

Superdude is happy to be out for a stroll

Springtime walk near our house

Another picture of the stream by our house

Rosebud in the woods

Making Easter Eggs with Rosebud

For weeks now, Rosebud has been asking when we could color Easter eggs. This is the first year she’s been able to understand the idea; it’s been several years since I’ve colored Easter eggs myself, so I was pretty eager to color eggs, too. I’ve always enjoyed making them from when I was little, and my sisters and I would get fairly elaborate with all kinds of patterns.

If I had a little more time, it would have been fun to experiment with making homemade natural dyes, but instead we used a kit. Next year, I’m going to try making natural dyes.

If you know me fairly well, you may have learned at some point that I really hate eating eggs. I always think eggs look appealing to eat, but both the scent and texture of eggs makes my stomach turn. And I’m honestly sad about that fact, because I think dishes like omelets look amazingly delicious. But due to the fact that I don’t eat eggs, they are one of the few foods I haven’t learned how to cook. I’ll readily admit that I had to look up directions on how the hard boil our two dozen eggs for dyeing. It was surprisingly easy (imagine that!), but the smell of the eggs still put me off.

Rosebud and I simply dyed our eggs solid colors. To give the eggs a bit of shine, I rubbed a smidgen of vegetable oil on them. I also found some mini Easter stickers for Rosebud to put on the eggs, but they didn’t stick too well because of the vegetable oil. No matter; Rosebud still greatly enjoyed looking at the stickers and deciding where to place the stickers. I briefly thought about using a white wax crayon to draw designs on the eggs before dying them, but since Rosebud was eager to get started (and Superdude was fussing and wanting to be snuggled with Mama), I tabled that idea for next year. Rosebud dropped one egg, which cracked, but that gave me the opportunity to see that I at least had correctly cooked the eggs. I offered Rosebud some of the hard boiled egg, but apparently she feels the same way I do about eating eggs. I can’t blame her in the slightest!

While we were working on our Easter egg project, I thought about how I once learned to make Ukrainian Easter eggs, or Pysanky; here’s another link about Pysanky. When I was about 12 or 13 years old, there was a Pysanky class offered at the public library in the town where I grew up. For awhile after that, I was really interested in making my own Ukrainian eggs. It’s a creative and fun process. The websites I linked describe making Pysanky really well, but here’s what I remember from when I did it. First, you take a stick of beeswax and melt it into a miniature funnel (using a candle), and draw your design by carefully dripping the wax onto the egg; the lines you draw should be delicate and of course you want to use as little wax as possible. Then, you dye the egg, starting with the lightest color you plan to use. Then repeat the process to add to your design and the colors you want. Finally, once you’re happy with all the patterns and colors on your egg, you melt the wax off, gently using the candle, and wipe the wax off which reveals your finished egg.

After I took the Pysanky class, I talked my mom into buying me several colors of Ukrainian egg dye. I believe that I proudly displayed several of my creations in Mom’s china cabinet, and the eggs are probably still there. They’re not at all authentic in terms of design, but it was really fun. Maybe when Rosebud and Superdude are a bit older, I can do this again and teach them, too.

Speaking of Easter eggs with intricate designs, we visited the Ostermarkt, or Easter market in Bad Tölz yesterday. We only had about half an hour to look, as we needed to catch a bus (great cheap thrill for Rosebud, taking the bus!). One of the artisans at the market had a stand of gorgeous painted Easter eggs. I let Rosebud pick out one for herself (a kitty) and I bought an owl one for Superdude. You see, when Superdude coos, he sometimes sounds like an owl. I had a nice chat with the artisan, who told me she studied fine art in Krakow, Poland. I plan to go back and buy a few more as gifts, because they were amazingly beautiful.

The Art of Skiing

The other day, I was watching some vintage Goofy cartoons with Rosebud. One of the cartoons we watched was The Art of Skiing, released in 1941. It’s a classic!

I laughed when in the beginning, you see a book titled The Art of Skiing and then underneath, it’s written: “pronounced SHEEing”. You see, in German, that is in fact how you pronounce Ski (originally, German never had an “sk” sound; the word ski likely came from Norwegian which does have the “sk” sound). Although this cartoon doesn’t necessarily take place in the Alps, I liked all the allusions to this part of the world: the yodeling, the Almglocken (alpine bells), some of the background music and also the alpine-looking mountains.

When I was growing up in upstate New York, I took some alpine (downhill) skiing classes and went skiing at a few ski resorts south of us (Swain, Bristol Mountain, also Cockaigne in the western part of New York State) and also in the Adirondacks once or twice. But I’ll be perfectly honest: although I had fun downhill skiing, I wasn’t ever very good and I’m actually a bit frightened of downhill skiing.

I absolutely adore cross-country skiing, however. Not only is it fantastic exercise as it’s both aerobic and great for all your muscle groups, I always feel so at peace when I’m cross-country skiing. It’s kind of too bad that I’m a stay-at-home-mom while we are living here in Bavaria, because there are lots of cross-country skiing trails around our house. My cousin tells me she went cross-country skiing with her twins when they were babies, but so far I haven’t had the courage to go out on skiis with Rosebud on my back, and now Superdude. I have thought about getting some toddler cross-country skis for Rosebud, because I think she would really enjoy doing a little skiing, but then I never get any further than thinking about it. Maybe that’s something for next year, if I can find toddler skis like that here (I’m sure I can, I just have to look!).

But back to the alpine skiing. Within half an hour of our house, we could go downhill skiing at Blombergbahn or at Lenggries, and of course, one of the most famous skiing areas in Germany is in Garmisch, which is also pretty close to us. In fact, you may have heard that the recent Skiing World Championship 2011 was held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I listened to some of it on the radio here. I didn’t watch it on the tv here at home, because our television isn’t actually connected to the German network. When I was visiting my neighbors next door one afternoon during the WM (Weltmeisterschaft, or World Championship), I enjoyed watching the Skispringen – the ski jumping with them. The first time I really thought about ski jumping was in 1988, when the Brit Eddie the Eagle competed in the Calgary Olympics.

Watching the above Goofy cartoon also made me think of a former student of mine, who is a fabulously talented competitive skiier, so here’s a little shout-out to her (she knows who she is – she’s amazing in all respects!). She could teach Goofy a thing or two!

Carnival Traditions in Germany

I wrote this for the blog Gen X Moms Blog and wanted to share it here.

Carnival Traditions in Germany
Or Why Bavarians Eat Donuts After the Christmas Season

In the United States, if someone mentions either Mardi Gras or Carnival, we’re likely to think of the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, Louisiana, or we might think of the carnival festivities in Brazil. Carnival is celebrated here in Germany and throughout Europe. In the Rhineland region of Germany, it’s called Karneval. Particularly famous is the Cologne Carnival, and most small towns in the region have their own festivities.

Here in Bavaria and Swabia, it’s more commonly called Fasching or Fastnacht. To be honest, I don’t know as much about the customs here in southern German as much as I do about the customs in the Rhine region, but just like Mardi Gras and Carnival, it has to do with preparing for the Lenten season.

Carnival celebrations start in early November but cease during Advent and the Christmas season. Then on Three Kings Day, January 6th and the twelfth day of Christmas, carnival celebrations begin again.

Throughout the rest of the winter, there are various parties and celebrations, culminating on the last Tuesday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. In southern regions of Germany, Mardi Gras is called Faschingsdienstag, which means the Tuesday before fasting. Other special days include Weiberfastnacht, a day for women to be in power, and Rosenmontag. On Weiberfastnacht, among other things, women get to cut men’s ties, symbolic of the women taking charge (men are advised to wear an old, unfashionable necktie). Rosenmontag is the most important parade day of the Cologne carnival.

One of my friends wryly commented to me that carnival is just an excuse for the young people to go out and party. As with most holidays here, the festivities are rooted in religious traditions, but likely originate from earlier customs.

When I was an exchange student near Cologne, Karneval was taken very seriously – nearly everybody in my little town participated, and we were given a few days off from school. Our town had its own parade, and I had the chance to dress up and take part. I distinctly remember getting to waltz in the streets with pretty much everyone in our group, even though I had never danced the waltz in my life! We also tossed candy to all the kids who lined up to watch the parade.

But what about the donuts? Why do Bavarians eat donuts before Lent begins?

The answer to this question goes back to the religious meaning behind Mardi Gras and Lent. The Tuesday before Lent is about getting ready to fast (which is why it is called Fasching or Fastnacht in Bavaria) and to give up meat and fatty foods, for example. The word carnival itself has to do with “carne” or “meat”, so the meaning is similar; Mardi Gras means “fat Tuesday” in French, also referring to fasting during Lent. Basically, the period leading up to Mardi Gras or Faschingsdienstag is an excuse to revel in excesses before giving them up. And that’s where the donuts come in.

In other words, a perfect food to enjoy before going on your Lenten fast would be donuts! Donuts are, after all, cooked in hot oil. In this part of Germany, they’re called Krapfen. Yes, go ahead and giggle – the word sounds funny in English. I must confess, whenever I go to our bakery and look at the donuts and ask for Krapfen, the eight-year-old inside me says, “She said Krapfen, tee hee.” Being non-natives living in Bavaria, I consider it our duty to try everything. Krapfen are no exception.

How about a glazed donut filled with… Nutella?

If you think this tastes as good as it looks, you would be right. Rosebud completely agreed, and this particular donut rapidly disappeared.