One of the joys of exploring Germany’s Bavaria region is witnessing the people’s penchant for preserving tradition. In the village of Oberammergau, where we’ve spent much time visiting my parents, it’s not uncommon to spot an older gentleman wearing a loden green, woolen hat, with feather, during a grocery-shopping trip. On holidays, ladies often don vibrant Dirndls (dresses with poofy sleeves and aprons finished off with a pretty bow). And, during festivals, dancers of all ages take to the stage to show off their dancing skills, looked on by revelers with mugs of beer, a lively brass band, and an occasional yodeler.
Over one hundred years ago, folk clubs in Germany, called Vereine, were established to help preserve fading aspects of culture, such as singing, dancing, and traditional music performance. Several of my parents’ neighbors are even Verein members, and so we’ll sometimes see a middle-aged father, and his teenage son – dressed in Lederhosen (leather shorts and suspenders), woolen jackets, even a feather-adorned hat – hopping in their car with instrument cases in hand to attend weekly music practice. Horse-blessing ceremonies and May Pole celebrations are also held in neighboring villages.
Each summer, Oberammergau’s folk club holds Gartenfests (garden festivals – as you probably guessed) replete with dancing, polka performances, and stands selling homemade cakes, fresh pretzels, Bratwürste, and of course, beer.
If the vignettes I’ve described bring to mind scenes from the 1980s classic film European Vacation (when actor Chevy Chase hops on stage to have some knee-slapping fun with German dancers), perhaps that’s a fitting comparison. Indeed, Oberammergau’s well-coordinated male dancers also do the Schuhplattler, slapping their knees, thighs and soles of their feet, throwing in occasional hops. Now that’s a good way to burn off all that fest food! :) It is said that the Schuhplattler was originally performed so that young men could impress single young ladies, a courtship dance of sorts.
To get you in the mood for summer festivals, which are just around the corner, here are some vignettes from one of Oberammergau’s past Gartenfests.
Where in the World?
- The Gartenfest festival is typically held in Oberammergau in June, but there are several special events throughout the year. For the current year’s schedule, refer to the Oberammergau Folk / Costume Club (Volkstrachtenverein d’Ammertaler e.V. Oberammergau) website or the Ammergauer Alpen site.
- To get to Oberammergau via the German rail or by bus, consider getting the Bayern or Regio Ticket (website in German, but you can use Google Translate). These special tickets start at €20/25 for one passenger, and cost €6 for each additional passenger. You can use them to travel via bus and train throughout much of the region, making them a better deal if you want to make a few stops in a day. You can purchase tickets online, via a ticket machine, or in person.
- Need more inspiration as you plan your travels through Germany? This link contains a guide and index of all my posts from Germany.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.