I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about driving for an hour and a half to a German Renaissance festival. I’ve been to these things in the US and in Germany before and usually they are commercialized dusty affairs with bad food, terrible cliches, and too many people dressed up as half Goths, a third “mid-evil” something or other, and a little bit “I had this in my closet and I thought it would look good” hodgepodges. You go with great hopes at seeing something at least a little bit authentic and come away feeling sick from the giant undercooked turkey legs and poor acting.
So when Dominik called on Saturday and suggested that a big group of us go to the “Burgfest” in Burghausen…well…I said “no, no thank you. those things are kinda terrible.” BUT. He explained that he had actually grown up in this town in far eastern Bavaria, that he goes every year, and that this one was kind of great. It takes place right on the castle grounds, apparently the LONGEST castle in Europe – stretching over a kilometer long. And he swore that this was the real deal, and that I wouldn’t be disappointed.
So I ditched the workout on Sunday morning, waved goodbye to Munich, and jumped into the cars with Dom and Alexandra, Fred and Mallorie, Ranjith, Kate and Maya, and Arnab and Rohini. An hour and a half later we were there and I was only a little bit green from car-sickness. 🙂 But as soon as we started walking around, it became very clear that the day would be pretty great.
We got extremely lucky with the weather. Ten minutes before we had arrived, there was a vicious downpour. But as soon as we pulled up into the parking lot, the rain was gone and the sun was beating down. We paid the fee and walked in and started exploring right away. Of course there were booths selling all kinds of stuff – jewelery, weapons, clothes of the times, herbs and incense, liquors and brandies, food and drink. The nice thing about it was that most things really did have a feel of authenticity about it. The replicas being sold were at least high quality. The knives were really being forged right there – we saw it happening. The clothes, if you wanted to buy them and dress up and walk around with the others, certainly were beautiful and well-designed and not mass produced in a way that made you want to walk away immediately.
In the end, we were all happy to stay in our cool t-shirts and shorts rather than putting on heavy dresses and capes. But it was lots of fun to see all the costumes. We walked around for a few minutes, settling quickly at some tables to get some lunch before moving in further. Maya – Ranjith and Kate’s baby daughter – probably never had so much attention in her life. Most of the day was a “pass the baby, I want to hold her” kind of day.
After having a bite to eat, we proceeded to tour the castle. Lake views met us on all sides.
The castle is right on the Austrian border. And according to one website: “Originally built as a Gothic fortification, Burghausen Castle bears witness to an exciting chapter in Bavarian history. It has stood sentinel over the surrounding countryside for more than a thousand years.”
On one side of the fortress we could see across the river to Austria. These kinds of key-hole views were everywhere. You would stop for a moment every few minutes just to stare.
Every few meters there would be something new to have a look at. Old women spinning thread, bands marching and playing, little plays re-enacting old scenes. We had arrived around 1 pm and it was past 3 by the time we got to the end of the castle.
Dominik clearly felt at home – he would go up to all the private tables set up along the way, where you could watch the people who were doing all the acting and setting the scene in the castle eat their lunch – generally something being cooked in a big pot set over a wood fire. At one table, he made fast friends with one family that was eating a venison stew. He called me over to have a look. I laughed as the man who was presenting the food asked if I wanted to try it. At first I refused, but then it became clear he was really serious, so I said “sure, why not?” and he ladled out a spoonful of the stew onto his plate. One by one, we all took a bite and it was probably the best thing I have eaten in a while. Rich and creamy, full of bits of meat and bites of “knödel” dumplings, I almost asked for the recipe but figured it might take too long to capture it on my iphone. They all spoke with a broad Bavarian accent as well, and I was a little worried about understanding all the words.
We walked further and at one point there was a huge tub with two men and a woman sitting in it. From just in front of it, one couldn’t see inside the tub. I think they must have been sitting in cool water, not hot, because it was so warm out.
I asked them if I could take a photo, and the guys said, “yes, go ahead, thanks for asking.”
As a joke then, I smiled and said, “Ok, Aufstehen, bitte!” (“Ok, stand up please!”) obviously forgetting that I was in Germany and there is no false modesty here. I had to crack up then as the guys STOOD UP and then they roared with laughter as I quickly turned my back and ran away.
Finally, we stopped on a grassy slope to listen to a band play for a bit, followed shortly thereafter by swordfighting (a little too slow and choreographed but better that then real blood).
At 5 we took off to head for a nearby lake, where everyone swam (I waded, can’t swim for another week because of my surgery last week), to cool off and relax. On the way home, we stopped for pizza/pasta for dinner.
Finally the day came to an end with a spectacular sunset.
I got dropped off at Münchener Freiheit, where my bike waited to be taken home. And that was that. I’ll go again next year. But for now I’ll look forward to next weekend – hoping to go rafting or biking somewhere beautiful.