Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ode to the Dirndl

This past weekend marked the beginning of the Oktoberfest.  

Let me take a moment to celebrate a dress of yore: the dirndl.  It is a traditional dress worn in southern Germany and the Alpine region consisting of a bodice, a blouse, full skirt, and an apron.  Sounds awesome right?  Maybe not to everyone but I am a newfound fan.

I had never been one to outwardly celebrate my heritage with spontaneous old world dressing, or dual flags flown over my house.  Not that I dislike that or was ashamed, not at all, but being something like fifth generation in the US, when asked where my family is from “Kentucky, and Southern Ohio,” came to mind.  But when the opportunity arose to travel to Belgium to visit a friend living abroad, to make a stop in Holland, and then go to the Oktoberfest in Germany I felt a strong pull to go.  My Grandmother had talked often about her desire to visit the place from which her ancestors came but unfortunately didn’t make it before she died.  Partly for her and partly for me I felt it important to learn more about my heritage first hand. 

The trip was awesome!  My travel companions were adventurous, easy to get along with, and share a great love of life.  Antwerp and Amsterdam were beautiful and I learned an appreciation for cobblestone streets, architecture, and beer of many varieties.  I could go on for pages about the awesomeness of the trip, but this is a post dedicated to my heritage and the dirndl.

I awoke in the mountains.  The beautiful town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen nestled before me in the creases of the mountains.  The air was crisp in the early morning with wisps of fog dusting the cobblestone streets.  The white stucco houses were decorated with dark wood cutouts and flourishing flowers.  Immediately I was relaxed.  The people were friendly and everywhere, for no particular reason, people wearing traditional dress of dirndl and lederhosen looked natural.  Something about the tailored soft leather pants seemed flattering for all male figures, and the dirndl flattered the most feminine of the female features.  It was here in the mountains that my travel companions and I spent the afternoon walking through the woods and around castles, hit the spa, and relaxed from the travel of the trip so far. 

It was here, amidst the roots of my family tree, that I noticed the pieces of culture that I was accustomed to and barely noticed at home.  My grandparents decorated their basement with stucco and dark wood paneling half way up the wall.  Each year they cut pussy willow sprigs and tucked them in vases around the house in the fall.  I saw these same decorations in Bavaria.  We ate spatzle, and chickens, pretzels, and pressed meats.  The tastes of my heritage unrealized to me were already familiar.

In Munich I learned Cincinnati, my hometown, is the sister city to Munich.  This made perfect sense!  Why else would Cincinnati have the second largest Oktoberfest in the world?  Why else would we be the first place to get a Hofbrauhaus outside of Munich?  Everywhere I looked I saw people with familiar features.  That beauty mark, that nose, that guy looks like Uncle Carl and so does his son!  After a day of tented, jovial drinking, dancing, eating, overall merriment, and feeling at home I felt it essential to embrace the dress. 

Somewhere on a side street, near a Laundromat, on the outskirts of Munich there is a little shop dedicated to lederhosen and dirndl.  The walls are lined with stacks of soft leather pants, and in between there are racks of every length, style, and color of dress.  It was here that I gingerly picked out a few attractive options and worked to determine which one to buy?  I tried them on unfamiliar with the best fit.  I was the only customer this early in the morning during the start of the Oktoberfest so luckily I had the full attention of the sales person.  “Specken ze English?” I ventured.  She indicated a little with an inch of air between two fingers and a nod. 

“I am not sure how this fits.”  I started, “Do I need a bigger size?”  I motioned toward my chest, busty but modestly covered, loosely laced in the bodice, looking kind of frumpy, but slightly comfortable.  “Needs to be tight here,” she touched her ribs and paused thoughtfully as I looked at myself discouraged and disappointed thinking I would not be able to find the perfect one in a cut that would fit.  “I’ll fix,” she motioned.  I nodded, and she promptly loosened the laces, pulled the drawstring on the white top to reveal two inches of cleavage, and laced up the bodice tighter than before.  She tied the apron on the left, the sign of a single lady, smiled and gave a thumb up, “Much better.”  I couldn’t help but smile myself.  I thought, “Well, if this is the way it works, she would know.”

The dirndl then
the boots
That night, thrilled with my new Euro boots, and Dirndl chosen for me, I felt perfect.  “We would love you less if you were not wearing the dirndl,” from the group of drunken German college men.  At the nightclub a complimentary woman offered, “Your body was made for the dirndl” So nice but not true.  It does highlight some of my favorite features: the cleavage, the clavicle bone I love so much, and a tightened waste (thank you laces and full skirt), and I feel good.  But it is not me.  It was the dress made for the ancestors that I resemble.  Ode to the Dirndl: you put an oom-pah in my step, a twinkle in my eye, and a warmth in my heart with thoughts of family, history, great times, and good friends!

the dirndl now

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