Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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October 1999


Bavarians have many colorful expressions concerning food and farming.

A friend once told me, Man muss die Feste feiern, wie sie fallen — or, one must seize every opportunity to celebrate. It is welcome advice at this time of year, when the season of thanksgiving officially begins. Why wait until the fourth Thursday of November (U.S.) or the second Monday of October (Canada) to give thanks? Gott sei Dank, or Gott sei Lob und Dank (thank God/ praise and thank God — both exclamations of relief), we live in Bavaria, where we can start counting our blessings on the first Sunday of October, Erntedankfest, and continue the tally into the third Sunday of the month, Allerweltskirchweih — also known as Kirchweih. There are no Pilgrims and Indians associated with Bavaria’s thanksgiving traditions, but the occasions are similarly linked to the end of the farming season and to showing gratitude for the year’s harvest. A reference to a farmer’s skills, is not what is meant by the saying Die dümmsten Bauern haben/ernten die dicksten/grössten Kartoffeln (the dumbest farmers have/harvest the fattest/biggest potatoes). This colorful commentary is given when someone’s success is deemed effortless and totally undeserved. The phrase Jemandem ist die ganze Ernte verhagelt (someone’s entire harvest has been destroyed by hail) refers to someone, who is disappointed by failure — such as when my sister tried to impress us with her first homemade pumpkin pie and used the wrong part of the pumpkin! In Bavaria, a festive thanksgiving meal traditionally includes roast goose, red cabbage and dumplings, with a doughnut-like Ausgezogene for dessert. But the meaning behind the saying “Es ist mir ein Festessen” (for me, it is a festive meal) has nothing to do with the food on the table. Someone utters this when they wish to express satisfaction that something, anything, has made them very happy. The comment Es wird nicht so heiss gegessen, wie es gekocht wird (it won’t be eaten as hot as it was cooked) is not a reference to meal temperature, but to something that turned out better than anticipated. Sitting down to a big thanksgiving dinner with people who eat like a bird, or essen wie ein Spatz (eat like a sparrow), is never much fun, so I usually say, “Essen und Trinken hält Leib und Seele zusammen” (eating and drinking hold body and soul together). The other extreme, of course, are those who eat you out of house and home. Germans describe such mammoth appetites as “die Haare vom Kopf fressen” (to eat the hair from one’s head). The seemingly religious ritual of cooking a goose in Bavaria usually entails saving and chilling the fat drippings so that later this “delicacy” — called Gänseschmalz, or goose lard — can be spread on bread and sprinkled with salt. Given this treat’s “luxury” status, it is no wonder that the comment “Oh, aase nicht so mit dem Gänseschmalz!” (Oh, don’t be so wasteful with the goose lard!) is a light-hearted request to use something sparingly. Was der Bauer nicht kennt, das frisst er auch nicht (what the farmer doesn’t know, he also doesn’t eat) could well be said of some Bavarians, who won’t soon be seen noshing such exotic edibles as grilled octopus, beef vindaloo, enchiladas de pollo verdes, sushi or, eegads, shrimp! So, let’s put on our Sunday best and find a cozy Gasthaus where we can observe a Bavarian thanksgiving. It’s good practice for the Turkey Day ahead. <<<

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