I will be the first to admit that pursuing my (half) German heritage has never been high on my to-do list.
Not that I ignore it entirely, but I just grew up far more Irish- than German-identified.
After all, it was a lot easier to identify as Irish when, in the post-war era I was born into, German pretty much equaled Nazi.
So for every German author I’ve read, for every Heinrich Böll, there’s been a raft of Irish writers I’ve enjoyed: William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright… (Let’s face it, after Dubliners and Portrait, no one actually enjoys reading James Joyce…)
I have an extensive collection of Irish traditional music, but nary one CD of lieder.
Sure, I’ve been to Germany a handful of times, but I’ve made the pilgrimage to eretz Ireland about twenty times.
On my walls, I have at least a dozen framed something-of-others that came from or evoke Ireland, but only one poster – from the fall of The Wall – from Germany.
I would be inclined to say that this is in large part because I grew up with and around the Irish half of my family, in an area nearly devoid of German-Americans. But then I look at my also half-Irish, half-German Chicago cousins, who certainly grew up around plenty of landsmann. And I don’t see any of them joining oompah bands, becoming worst connoisseurs, or wearing dirndls and lederhosen, either.
But we are, after all, Americans.
So if we’re going to go native, it should really be in buckskin shirts and gingham bonnets, I suppose. Even if our ancestors weren’t yet here when that style of clothing was the norm.
But if we were full-time Germans, and if we were back in the old country – alten heimat, if my googling got it right – we might very well be decking ourselves out in traditional garb which is, apparently, all the rage.
In Munich, tracht (traditional clothing) is taking off:
For the men that means lavishly embroidered Lederhosen, short or knee-length breeches made of leather, and for the women a brightly coloured Dirndl consisting of a tight bodice, a blouse with puffy sleeves, a full skirt and an apron. Perhaps more surprisingly, most patrons wear it, too.
The many other beer gardens in the area present much the same sight. So do wedding parties, dinners, concerts and galas. Teenage boys have been spotted sporting their Lederhosen at the disco. (Source: The Economist.)
Personally, I think that lederhosen are cute on two-year olds, with the caveat that anyone who’d put leather shorts on a little boy who’s not yet toilet trained is out of his or her mind. And they’re cute on Hummels. But, seriously, it’s pretty much impossible for a grown man in lederhosen to look like anything but a Nazi or an extra in The Sound of Music. Ditto for teenage boys going to discos: Hitler Youth meets Euro-pop.
In my mind, dirndls have less an association with the Third Reich than they do with St. Pauli’s Girl, but I’m not about to run out and outfit myself. It’s like those women of a certain age and size whom I see sporting Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts. I’m too damned old, and too damned zaftig, to wear a skirt that accentuates my hips and shows the tops of my boobs. There are just some things that shouldn’t be done. (And, come to think of it, women of a certain age in dirndls do somewhat evoke Fuhrer worship. Another reason to avoid the look.)
But little girls in dirndls are cute. And I can appreciate that big girls in dirndls can be cute, and sexy in a boob-showing kind of way.
Anyway, not all Americans of German descent – even, I suspect, half-breeds like myself – have any problem celebrating their heritage. And its associated fashions.
It certainly didn’t take too long for me to find Erika Neumayer, a proud Chicago German American, who designs and sells tracht. Including some very hip and happening dirndls. Which do not in the least look like something that Heidi or a Fuhrer worshipper would wear. And which do not come cheap. Wild Spirit (to your right) goes for $375. Acid rain, there on the left, will set you back $478. While I could find only one pair of lederhosen on her site, Erika isn’t leaving the men out. She’s got plenty of shirts – trachtenhemd – for sale. I suspect that these sell very well among the Wicker Park hipsters.
Her spring collection was called “Down the Rabbit Hole.” The upcoming fall-winter edition will be called “Nevermore,” which sounds a tad too close to “Never Again” for my tastes.
In any case, good for Erika Neumayer for setting up shop, and for being a proud, hipster-ish German-American.
(Now I must away to see where I put my Aran Island sweater….)