Yesterday was one of the most “German” things I’ve done on my trip so far: I went to the Spring Fest in Stuttgart! (That website is in German, but even if you can’t read it, it gives you good pictures. The “Trachten zum Fest” tab on the left is my favorite.) Everyone I talked to said that it’s Stuttgart’s equivalent of Oktoberfest in Munich, so I took a Mitfahrgelegenheit (carpool arranged online) and planned to meet up with some Tübingen friends at the fest. How do you get excited for the Frühlingsfest in Swabia? If you are like me, you do it by listening to this song.

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Well, it turned out to be more and less than what I had expected. There were lots of lederhosen, dirndls, gingerbread heart necklaces, carnival rides, food, and drinks. It was very much like a county fair in the US, although drifting more towards PG-13 on account of the ubiquitous alcohol.

There were some downsides. The weather wasn’t great, and I expected that that would shorten the lines, but I waited a long, long time in a dense crowd to get into a Festzelt. While I was in line, separated from the other Tübingers (since we arrived separately), I met some hip young Germans, some even wearing dirndls. I had no choice but to meet them, because everyone stood so close together, and on top of that, I had an umbrella and was in high demand during the cloudbursts. They told me I looked like German Formula 1 racer Sebastian Vettel and kept asking for pictures with me doing the “Vettel Finger.” They were nice enough to invite me to stay with them when I couldn’t find my Tübingen friends. We had a good time.

The Festzelt or beer tent is really the centerpiece of the American view of this kind of event, and in fact it was probably the most attended attraction at the festival. Instead of an oompah band, which I was picturing, there was a DJ with pop music. Still, the essential qualities of the Festzelt are being loud, rowdy, fattening, and intoxicating. This one fit the bill!

At this point I should point out that I have been committing the sin of not properly distinguishing Bavarian and Swabian culture. Saying things like “Stuttgart’s Oktoberfest” blurs the reality that these two groups are very conscious of the differences between each other. In American culture there are two images of Germany: the standoffish, humorless, efficient northern Germans (a heritage of the “Prussian virtues”), and the jolly, lederhosen-wearing southern Germans. Well, geographically Swabians and Bavarians both fit into the latter category. But the American image is definitely Bavarian-centric, probably in part because Bavaria was occupied by American GIs after the war.

This is, in a nutshell, what Germans in general, as well as the Bavarians and Swabians themselves, say about these two cultures. Each stereotype really comes in two flavors: one charitable, one less so.

Bavarians are:

  • Hospitable (intemperate)
  • Folksy (uncultured)
  • Affluent (greedy)
  • Patriotic (stubborn)
While Swabians are:
  • Inventive (neurotic)
  • Frugal (cheap)
  • Hard-working (boorish)
  • Proud of their language (incomprehensible)
I think of Bavaria as the Texas of Germany, which makes Baden-Württemberg (home of many Swabians)… the California of Germany? That one doesn’t fit so well, but you can get the idea (high-tech industry, lots of universities, but not many hippies or surfers). Of course, any given person you meet, from Swabia, Germany, or elsewhere, is likely to prove you wrong on a majority of stereotypical expectations, and the fun of meeting new people is having your expectations shattered. That’s why the Spring Fest was a lot of fun, even though it didn’t go quite like I expected.

6 Responses to “At the Frühlingsfest”

  1. Mom says:

    Hmmm, maybe you could have scared up an oomph band if you had your tuba with you! BTW, Grandpa’s people are from the north. Combine that with Grandma’s Norwegian pedigree, it’s a wonder you got a mom who’s such a card! Glad to hear things are going so well.

  2. Tom says:

    I really am glad I read his book before I left. In my European history course the professor mentioned “the last big wave of German emigration” in the second half of the 1800s, and I thought of those hardy masons who moved to Minnesota.

  3. Mom says:

    Ha! Ha! I’ll be sure to tell him you said that! You do sort of look like that guy, BTW, especially if you’ve been standing out in the rain. But I’m curious if his chin is really that big ….

  4. Mary says:

    He does have a very square chin–not a bad person to be likened to.

    Love how you are reposting the Miracel Whip ad–makes me feel relevant!

    Enjoy your last half of the experience-I look forward to reading your adventures.

  5. Ricki says:

    I came across your blog by accident while searching for a German song. I completely agree with you. I was born and raised in Michigan and moved to San Diego for 5 years for my career, I’ve recently transferred out to Stuttgart. I actually laughed out loud about the Swabish language comment. The Bavarians and Swabians are definitely adament about their differences. “dirndls aren’t German” or “you need to learn Swabish” or “spaetzle is Bavarian”
    Anyway, it’s nice to see that others have the same experiences I do. Massive culture shock at first. Feel free to peruse my blog and laugh at my misfortunes! Tschuess!

  6. Tom says:

    Great to hear my blog is out there! And it’s also good to get a comment from someone new who turns out not to be a computer. Vielen Dank!

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