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GSP 3: A Bavarian courtship ritual?

Since both my parents and my 87-year-old grandmother had come to Europe for my brother's wedding, I went from Switzerland to Germany for a little more family time before resuming research. Even there, though, I gained some perspective on singleness. After church on Sunday, my sister-in-law took us to a nearby town holding its annual "Kirwa" or Kirchweih.

 Top of the pole. Toward they base, they've hung some things that seemed to have significance later in the day, though I didn't get all the details.

Top of the pole. Toward they base, they've hung some things that seemed to have significance later in the day, though I didn't get all the details.

Due to the decorations, I thought it a kind of May pole dance, but according to Google's translation of a German Wikipedia page, the event is tied more to a local church anniversary ... with strong emphasis on activities for the town's young unmarried residents. In the center of a large open area next to a grassy field converted into parking, we found a tall, decorated wooden pole, several long tables (associated with picnics for Americans, beer for Germans) and a tent mostly covering the area where some musicians performed. I couldn't see all of those playing, but heard a tuba and probably an accordion.

We found an open table in partial shade and settled into a leisurely round of beer and traditional snacks: candied almonds, sweet popped corn similar to kettle corn, and a sticky marshmallow treat maybe called a "kiss" of some kind. Around us, families and other groups chatted and smoked, while some of the youngest children ran around in miniature dirndls or lederhosen - traditional leather trousers that I learned women sometimes wear, too.

While we relaxed and tried to avoid the shifting sun, my brother described how popular such weekend events are among the Germans with whom he plays soccer. While it sounds like only local residents partake in certain festivities (such as decorating and raising the tree, and possibly also the dancing), the broader associated fair often draws people from surrounding communities.

The dancing finally started around 5 p.m. A group of maybe a dozen couples in traditional dress paraded in, along with a small band. The dancers formed a circle of pairs on the wooden platform surrounding the wooden pole, then the band began the first song. I don't recall that their shoes seemed special, but the thumping of soles and heels on the wood floor provided a kind of rhythm section. Between songs, they marched around the platform to short chants I couldn't make out, clapping their hands and sometimes passing around one-liter steins of beer.

 Kirwa dancers with part of their band: A tube, two trumpets and the accordion player (mostly blocked by the horns at left).

Kirwa dancers with part of their band: A tube, two trumpets and the accordion player (mostly blocked by the horns at left).

As I expected, most of the girls seemed young -- 16-18, if I had to guestimate. Some of the guys, though, seemed middle twenties at least. I wondered, then, how they achieved such magically even numbers. Surely the towns didn't always have even numbers of young men and women; how did they choose who got to participate? (Same-sex pairs, regardless of orientation, didn't appear to be an option.) And how did they ensure a good match between the floor and number of dancers?

 I didn't watch as closely, but my relatives report that dancing expertise varied as much as seeming enjoyment by the dancers.

I didn't watch as closely, but my relatives report that dancing expertise varied as much as seeming enjoyment by the dancers.

I didn't get a chance to find out. After a brief taste of the dancing, we turned toward the cars and headed out to escape the sun and find our dinner.  As we were leaving, the dancers hoisted one of their number onto their shoulders, from which he made a grab at the center pole and retrieved something they had hung there.

Over the next few days, I had little time to further ponder the contrast between the Albanian and German styles of dancing I'd seen. Monday I resumed work on my still-unfinished raincoat. Tuesday the family drove into Munich to visit a famous beer hall and say goodbye to Mom, Dad and Grandma. Wednesday, a friend of my sister-in-law's arrived and I continued to work on the coat, along with some upgrades to my aging Macbook.

After a rainy run with my brother Thursday night, Friday morning I whipped together a new bag for my airplane "personal item" and packed bags that seemed no lighter, despite removal of the extra computer parts and a long-delayed gift I'd finally left for my brother. Raincoat in tow (now with sleeves and a collar, but still un-hemmed), I boarded the train for Bucharest, Romania, and a return to research.