Samstag, 11. Oktober 2014

I bin a Holledauer


Welcome to the gang - uniform's on the way.

“Du spielst doch auch Becken, oder?" (you DO play "Becken", DON'T you?”) says Basti, making quite clear this is not a polite enquiry but a firm command. Basti has been my mentor for the past few weeks while I’ve rehearsed drums with the Jugendkapelle, our local brass band. I was so looking forward to playing drums in public. And now he's relegating me to "Becken".

“Ahhm, yeeees”, I reply hesitantly, not wishing to sound unwilling.

To be honest, I’m not actually sure what’s on offer. When Germans talk about “Becken” it can mean a variety of things, including basin, bowl or pelvis. But it suddenly dawns on me that Bastian is talking about none of these at all. It seems they’ve had a committee meeting and decided I’m no good on drums. Bastian goes on to explain that their cymbals player has given up just two days before our public appearance. They've searched high and low for a replacement and couldn't find one. He doesn't say so directly, but the message is clear: I'm their very last choice.

Just to fill you in, if you're new to the blog. I'm on a mission to find out what it's REALLY like to be a Bavarian. I'm essentially trying to become a Bavarian - and a very special type too - a Holledau Bavarian. That doesn't just mean putting on a lederhosen and swaying from side to side with a beer-fuelled grin on my face. No no, I've gone the whole hog. From helping grannies pluck hops at a public viewing to fluttering fingers to cheesey Neil Diamond songs (very Bavarian). My final challenge, before I can call myself a die-hard Bavarian, is to play in a brass band.

Which brings me back to the cymbals. The only member of the percussion family I’ve ever played is the triangle, and not since school. Cymbals typically weigh in at around 3.5 kg, and holding them up to my chest it feels like I’m auditioning for Iron Man at the local INJOY.

We haven’t even finished rehearsing “Weiß Blauer” and my hands are already feeling like they’re about to disconnect from my limbs and slide off.

The Gallimarkt is the region’s biggest beerfest and one of the oldest in Bavaria. On the opening night we’ll play for an hour near the Town Hall and then head the procession of clubs and associations towards the beer tents. Marching time: approx. one hour. I seriously contemplate thanking the band for the nice experience and pulling out gracefully, before I make a complete muppet of myself.

On the big day, however, I decide to go after all. I arrive at the meeting place just after five, as instructed. But absolutely no one is there. Neither band nor spectators. So much for German punctuality. I panic. Maybe I’ve got the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong day even? Pulling out my mobile, I step into a shop doorway and pretend to look busy, checking my social media accounts, like an embarrassed teenager being stood up on a first date. No messages, no status updates. Nothing. Just as I'm about to leave, the band suddenly all appear, as if from nowhere. Soon Christian is handing me cymbals, along with a very smart hat and jacket. “When we march off, start on your left foot and just count one-two, one-two”, he instructs.

Proud performers, And don't we look great, dressed up as Mennonites.

The concert goes quite well, actually. At least I manage not to drop the cymbals. I’m obviously much louder than anyone else in the band, because people are soon starting to clasp hands to their ears and move away from me. Band members and spectators alike.

Finally we start marching and it feels great, moving down streets lined with onlookers clapping and cheering us all on. Unfortunately, all I can remember from the march is the ear-splitting noise of my cymbals.

Our destination is "Dausinger" – an enormous beer tent, where the Bürgermeister is getting ready to do the "Anstich", the ceremonial tapping of the keg. Before we've even sat down the band are ordering mountain-size servings of Schweinshax’n and Halbes Hendl. I'm always amazed how Germans can wolf down XXL portions with every liter Bier. I’m far too excited after marching to eat anything at all. Soon we’re all clinking Mass mug and swapping stories. I start talking to trumpeter Maria, and ask if she’s still fit after blowing two hours non stop. “That’s nothing”, she says, “tomorrow we’ll play six hours”. I say how much I’ve enjoyed being their guest cymbalist and, laughing, she suggests I come to more rehearsals. Nice to hear they want to see me again. But Maria, it seems, has different ideas: “Du sollst a bisserl mehr üben – you really ought to practise a bit more”, she adds.

Looking for the loo, I spot the Hallertau Beer Queen coming towards me. After the long drawn-out official proceedings, the evening is only just starting for 17-year old Anna, who I met recently at the hop-plucking ceremony. She tells me they’re all going to the After-Show at "Almhüttn", an alpine-style log hut behind the big tent. Will she be dancing on the tables too? No, Anna laughs, that’s for the younger ones.

By now I’m a little hoarse from trying to make myself heard over the sound of “Froschhaxn-Express" playing up on stage. My arms have almost gone dead after marching with two 3.5 kilo weights. Deciding to call it a day, I hand in my band hat and jacket and head off home.

What an amazing finale to all those rehearsals. Performing in public – albeit “only” cymbals – was far more fun than I could ever imagine, and I loved every moment of the concert and the ceremonial march. Thank you to everyone in the Jugendkappelle for letting me join your ranks and share the thrill of being part of a Bavarian brass band for a little bit.

So then, home and dry! My mission to be Bavarian - a Holledau Bavarian - is accomplished! And evidence below, that the whole process was more than worth it....

Burgers of the Holledau, you're the greatest – Ihr seid die Besten!

Good to go anywhere you like!

Weekly Telegraph 30.10 - 05.11.2014