Lederhosen, leather trousers, are a type of traditional south-German legwear, sported in the first instance by Bavarian hunters in the 18th century, and now, following hundreds of history-laden years, by drunk, male, British, American, and Italian tourists with 150 euros to spare and an unshapely arse. Today, they are seen most commonly at Bavaria’s world-famous beer festival, Oktoberfest.
This much, broadly speaking, I knew. Sat on my bed at home one day before my departure for my year abroad in Munich, surrounded by books, pants, and plug adaptors, I mulled over my father’s offer that I take his lederhosen with me. Oktoberfest ridiculously, nay, infuriatingly, takes place almost entirely in September, and it was primarily for this reason that I was travelling to Munich one week before my student halls’ move-in date and living with the family of my former German exchange.
I had lived with David, my Gleichältrigerdeutscheraustauschpartner*, for a week in February 2018, two and a half years after my first German lesson. Needless to say, I could not speak German. David’s warm, generous, and patient parents did their best to eke German conversation out of me, but to no avail. I followed David to school, to play tennis, to BMW-Welt and the Olimpiaturm in almost complete silence, and we communicated primarily by means of a tennis ball which we threw relentlessly back and forth to one another. The ball was a bond of some sort, and we stayed in touch beyond the requisite ‘one-in-one-out’ of an exchange, out of no feeling of obligation or ulterior motive, though to this day I’m not quite sure exactly why.
I was looking forward to seeing David and his family, to having my first successful German conversation ever and, of course, to my first Maß* auf der Wiesn*. I have truly no idea why my father owns lederhosen; they seem to me to be the sort of item which one needs a good reason to own. In any case, after long consideration I rejected the lederhosen on the grounds that there was something uncomfortable about arriving in Bavaria and slipping straight into Tracht*, which to locals meant centuries of tradition but which was to me little more than a fancy dress costume. That, and also that they alone would have constituted roughly 10% of my luggage weight allowance.
My concern, however, that I would appear out of place as an Unbayerischenlederhosentrager* was wildly misplaced. In fact, I haven’t felt as awkward in denim since the ‘dress as your favourite member of S Club 7’ party at the bingo hall in Amersham (very different event). My Unbereitseinsgefühl* took hold when, ten minutes before we left for the beer fest, David was rummaging through my luggage and subsequently charging the height, length, and width of his house demanding in panicked ‘Allemanglish’ that I did not have a shirt that was ‘rustic enough’. My conscience only worsened upon arrival at the site. The central footpath is straddled by food carts serving sausage-six-ways, fairground stalls for broad-shouldered, sauce-staggering, rifle-toting man-babies, and, of course, the famed towering wood-and-canvas cradles of beery debauchery, the Bierzelten*. The flow of revellers to my left and right swept me along and dropped me with a jarring thud of clarity: I should have brought the lederhosen.
In fact, I haven’t felt as awkward in denim since the ‘dress as your favourite member of S Club 7’ party at the bingo hall in Amersham (very different event).
After half an hour of table-hunting, my head swimming with shame and trouser-envy (unexpectedly debilitating), we perched on the end of a table next to a group of 50-somethings, all customarily clad. Following introductions, we discovered that they were all from Munich and had lived there since birth; my heart sank at the realisation that my inevitable humiliation was not far away and would come at the hands of those who knew most furiously the sincerity of my legwear misdemeanour, my trouser transgression. Perhaps they would eat me.
Sheepishly, resignedly, bracing for impact, I could keep it in no longer.
“I’m sorry about my jeans”, I warbled into the ear of the stocky bald man next to me, the German words shattering in the space between us.
“I like them. You look nice.” I landed on his reply as if it were a heap of candy floss. My breath was up and out the door, and in my confused elation for a moment I thought that maybe, just maybe, I loved him. He read my perplexity and went on. “Your Tracht is your tradition; that is what it means. This is my Tracht, and that is yours.”
I sat back, stunned, a little disappointed that my Tracht is jeans and a Tommy Bahama shirt, but my guilt and shame turned to steam. In the end, it didn’t really matter; in fact, it never had. For the next four hours I stood on the benches next to my hairless guru, danced and mumbled the words to songs I’ve never heard before, and when I came to, I found I was in a sea of friends, of people just like me, brought together by a love of drunken merriment, and not by a pair of trousers.
So went the first day of a year. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, if only I could find it.
Gleichältrigerdeutscheraustauschpartner = German exchange partner of equivalent age.
Maß = a one-litre beer glass (a.k.a. ‘stein’), the principle beer receptacle at Oktoberfest.
Auf der Wiesn = Bayern expression meaning ‘at Oktoberfest’. The word ‘Wiesn’ (meadow) refers to a field where horse-racing took place at the first ever Oktoberfest celebration in 1810.
Tracht = literally ‘garb’, ‘livery’. In Bavaria, this means lederhosen with a plaid shirt, long socks and black shoes (hat optional, feather in hat mandatory).
Unbayerischerlederhosentrager = a man who is wearing lederhosen but is not from Bavaria.
Unbereitseinsgefühl = feelings of unpreparedness.
Bierzelten = literally ‘beer tent’ – think more beer hall with a canvas roof, filled with long tables, thronging with drinkers, and crowned by a central bandstand playing Bavarian classics interspersed at regular intervals with Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’.
N.B., I take no responsibility for these German words, nor do I claim that they are correct or even real.
Image credit: Yii-Jen Deng
Image description: A traditional Bavarian hat with legs, walking across an outline of the Munich skyline.