Monday, September 26, 2011

Heidelberger Herbst

Last Saturday I took part in Heidelberger Herbst, which is the fall festival and one of the biggest events Heidelberg hosts in the year. It was an all-day affair, starting with flea markets in the early morning and going until late night when most of the drunken revelers would migrate into the bars or clubs. I've found that I enjoy tourist activities more when I try to direct my experiences toward a couple overarching themes. In the Heidelberger Herbst, I strived to explore as many different places and events as I could, while paying special attention to music performances. 

Flea market in the basement of the theater building. The best deals were to be found in little nooks like this one, not the main streets.
By far the most interesting items on sale (for me) were the books. Even though my understanding of German wasn't good enough for me to really take advantage of these deals, I did find a couple interesting ones that I'll save as incentives for improving my reading skills: a book of poems by Derek Walcott, with English and German versions side-by-side, a little book on Physics, and a collection of fictional letters written by a Chinese Mandarin from the year 1000 AD who travels through time and finds himself in modern-day Munich (a reminder that no matter how much one feels like a fish-out-of-water, there is someone else who, in comparison, feels like a fish-flying-through-the-air-among-birds).
These guys are old school, just like the general atmosphere at Uni-Platz, where all the vendors are dressed in Medieval garb.


There were probably about six different locations around the Altstadt in which music was constantly being performed throughout the afternoon and evening. Smaller acts in the streets varied from musicians jamming out on guitars to DJ's of both hip-hop and electronic styles.

Three different graffiti artists worked on each side of this billboard stand while skateboarders flipped tricks on the street nearby.
Up until the late afternoon, I was just an observer, making my circuit around the streets, ingesting, imbibing, listening and photographing like a true traveler-consumer. Then, at Friedrich-Ebert Platz I came across a DJ performing an interesting mix of songs, and I decided to dance along. A crowd started to gather around to watch me, and I realized that I had become part of the show, a notion further reinforced when the DJ himself approached me to offer a can of Red Bull, gratis. "Don't stop dancing!"

At one point during my dancing, a toddler who had been bouncing to the beat stepped forth from the crowd and gave me a curious look, but alas, he shortly ran back to mom and dad. Fortunately, there was another person who was willing to dance alongside me. Here's the video:

I'm a little embarrassed by this video because I misunderstood what the girl (Lorena) was saying. She complimented me on my dancing and said something about dancing together with me, while pointing to a group of people (cameraman included). I thought she was asking if I wanted to go along with a group of friends to dance somewhere else (maybe a club or something?) and asked her, "Where?" which must've sounded totally ridiculous but anyway, I'm really glad she kept insisting instead of giving up, and eventually we got around to a wonderful "duet."

Later that night I went to a concert and discovered that I had become a minor local celebrity of sorts. At the club entrance, the ticket seller recognized me immediately. "You danced wonderfully!" she said. "Thanks!" I replied, pulling out my wallet. "How much does a ticket cost?" She shook her head and waved me in. After a moment of confusion, I understood and said again, "Ah, thanks!"

At the concert, I met another student, Sven, who saw me dance earlier; we talked and introduced ourselves over the music and noise (which means talking loudly into the other person's ear and then tilting your head to hear what their response is, which is done out of necessity so often in clubs that it no longer seems weird, a fact which is pretty weird if you think about it.) We talked about the best places in Europe to travel to, and what living in Heidelberg is like. A couple hours into the concert, I had finally exhausted myself, and decided to return to my dorm.

So those were the highlights of my day at the Heidelberger Herbst. It was the first bona fide adventure I've had since arriving in Germany: great food, interesting music and new friends. I couldn't ask for anything more.

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