For the second time, the Oktoberfest has been canceled due to corona. But Munich refuses to skip the occasion and is celebrating in restaurants anyway. And Berlin, which knows no greater joy than poking fun at Bavaria, is nevertheless full of Lederhosen and Dirndl-sporting Oktoberfest fans.
Any self-respecting Dirndl, the corset-style traditional dress, is very tight-fitting. Mine is no exception. But since there is no Oktoberfest this year, it is no matter that I’ve gained a few corona kilos. After all, I’ve got a whole year to shed them.
“Take their books! They’re useless propaganda. Get rid of them!”
This actually happened. “Duh,” you’re thinking, “everybody knows how the Third Reich banned books.”
Not so fast. This did take place in Germany, but I’m not talking about the book burning of the Nazis. They didn’t invent openly regressive politics. This event occurred during the secularization of 1802/1803, a historical development that had drastic consequences. Including for books.
They told me in college that marketing was invented in the U.S. The industrial revolution had produced a surplus of goods. Suddenly, stuff needed to be made more attractive to find buyers. Marketed.
The whole idea of marketing is associated with modern times. Medieval shoemakers weren’t worried about customers, nor were blacksmiths concerned about not selling their horseshoes. Unless there was a famine and nobody in the village had any money to buy anything, in which case they had bigger problems anyway.
A strange thing has set upon us. Suddenly, we’re all doctors. Better yet, we’re virologists. At least you’d think so listening to the conversations around you.
Small talk used to revolve around topics such as “How are the kids?” or “How’s work?” Ha! Those were the days. Little did we know how good we had it, having the luxury of discussing such mundane things as your offspring, work and the latest annoying construction site on the beltway and how your commute is stressing you out.
Many people have been using their downtime from the pandemic to tackle long-delayed projects like sort through closets. After years of accumulating, the clothes have become packed to the point of being barely extractable. You have to fight to pull out that blouse and when you do manage to free it from the morass, it bears the imprint of the buttons from the neighboring jacket. Little by little, the clothing has gotten swallowed up in the quicksand of overabundance, sometimes disappearing for years.
The Alter Südfriedhof dates to the 14th century, but most of its graves tell the tale of Munich’s movers and shakers from the 1800s, a time when the city’s population doubled. More people meant more buildings, streets and institutions. But this was also an era that saw one of Munich’s most famous scandals involving its king, one which left traces here in this cemetery.
Small German towns have monuments to the dead of the two world wars, sometimes combined into one, with all the names of the locals who died. The Alter Südfriedhof has no such monuments or graves. But war left its impact nonetheless, beginning with one that came centuries before.
World Wars – the prequel
Long before the twentieth century, another conflict raged across Europe so deadly that it too is sometimes referred to as a “world war”: The Thirty Years’ War.
To take a stroll through the Alter Südfriedhof cemetery in Munich is to revisit its history. Pestilence and death, war, aristocratic scandals – even the Oktoberfest are all written into the epitaphs of people who shaped the city. It feels like the who’s who of Bavaria are all buried in this one spot (though by no means all of them are). In this four-part series – yes, four – I will reveal some of the most intriguing stories behind the stones. The history of the cemetery, as you will see, reflects the history of both the city and society at large.
One of my best friends in the U.S. has a son in Philadelphia. After it became clear that Philly voters were going to tip Pennsylvania for Biden, his son texted him these two words: “You’re welcome.”
His father knew precisely what his son was referring to, a reflection of how intensely Americans experienced this election, one like no other in living memory. Many Americans like me may live abroad, but we experienced it just as vividly from afar.