eyes on the U.S.

Oktoberfest In July: USA, You're Doing It Wrong

A German reporter has the curiosity -- and courage -- to see how the traditional Oktoberfest celebration looks and tastes in the American state of Maryland. A decidedly mixed review.

An authentic Bavarian Oktoberfest ... in Michigan (wolfworld)
An authentic Bavarian Oktoberfest ... in Michigan (wolfworld)
Henryk M. Broder

INDIAN HEAD - Oktoberfest in July -- only Americans could come up with that idea.

The American per se is guileless, friendly, good-natured, uncomplicated -- and always ready to party, whatever the occasion. Two things are crucial to him or her, however: one has to be able to drive to the party, and there better be plenty to eat.

And so one hundred or so Americans made their way to Indian Head, Maryland, a small town about 30 miles south of Washington D.C. on the eastern shore of the Potomac River, to celebrate "Oktoberfest in July" -- featuring a "beer garden," "authentic Bavarian food," and two bands: the Southern Maryland Concert Band, and the Musikkapelle Prutz from Prutz in the Austrian state of Tyrol.

The Prutz is actually Austria's oldest orchestra. It was founded in 1694: the year Voltaire was born in Paris; the year the Bank of England -- the first European central bank -- was founded in London; when Johann Sebastian Bach, who was just nine years old at the time, was learning to play the organ in Eisenach, Germany.

This was when "America" was still one of King William III's colonies, inhabited by a mere 250,000 souls. So much so that one might think, à propos the Musikkapelle Prutz, that this European institution has come to the States to show Americans what culture is all about.

"Not at all," says Rudolf Pascher, who has been conducting the orchestra since 1988. Pascher, 57, has a doctorate in music studies and wrote his thesis on 17th and 18th century manuscripts. He teaches music and mathematics at the secondary school in Prutz, and all 64 musicians in the orchestra were his students.

Pascher has been to the States several times, but for most of his "kids', it's the first trip to the New World.

"We in Europe live in a paradise; we have everything others can only dream of, and yet many people are dissatisfied," says Pascher. So he decided to take the orchestra to America so that members might be confronted with another reality -- that of a young country still in the making, a country where 30-year-old furniture and lamps are considered "antiques."

Bugs Bunny and the Habsburgs

So maybe some Americans don't know where Austria is, or think that the small Alpine republic is part of Germany -- that doesn't change the fact that they love music, particularly when the beat is good and it's played loud. And anyway they love anything in a costume, be it Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, Batman, Barbarella -- or General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who fought at George Washington's side during the War of Independence.

"We're all learning so much," says Pascher, first and foremost that Americans don't really make a distinction between "serious' music and pop music -- as long as they like it and it's fun to listen to. Now the Southern Maryland Concert Band finishes playing, ending with the unofficial American anthem "God Bless America," and clears the stage for the Austrians, who lead in with Johann Strauss Senior's "Radetzky March," the unofficial anthem of the Habsburgs. Does this work? About as much as hot dogs served with Kaiserschmarrn (sweet pancakes) instead of buns, but somehow, yes, it does.

Americans are extremely adaptable. Without realizing it, they are actually practicing Marxists in the way they adapt to reality rather than chase some sort of fiction. To paraphrase Marx, "their being determines consciousness." Take Tyran Foster, for example. Every day, the 43-year-old drives her converted AMC truck to a different fair and serves up the Louisiana-style country cooking that, she says, Northerners just love.

But for Indian Head's Oktoberfest, she changed the menu: instead of Cajun Chicken and Jambalaya, she's doing "German cuisine:" Wiener Schnitzel, Currywurst and Bratwurst. And of course her home-made German Potato Salad. Tyran's father was a career army man, and as a child she lived with her parents for 12 years in Germany, in Kaiserslautern and Schweinfurt. She says that if she could, she'd move back there right now "because the beer is so good."

Quentin and his wife Emiko like -- no, love -- beer, too. They met over 20 years ago in Nagasaki where Quentin was studying Japanese language and culture. Emiko worked in the photo shop where Quentin had his film developed. Now they're married and live in Washington on a boat.

Quentin works for the Environmental Protection Agency and Emiko teaches Japanese. Both of them sport T-shirts emblazoned with a quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Quentin swears Franklin really said this, and he's disappointed to discover that at the Oktoberfest in Indian Head there actually isn't any German beer -- instead, they have Coors, Blue Moon, Samuel Adams and Murphy's.

There was no Leberkäse (sausage loaf), no Steckerlfisch (fish grilled on skewers), no Backhendl (fried chicken), no Haxen (braised or roasted pork shank), no Radi (salty radish side dish), and no Dampfnudeln (pan bread made from yeast dough and served with various toppings).

Nobody linked arms and swayed back and forth singing "In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus: eins, zwei, g'suffa," and instead of a Bavarian brass band, an Austrian orchestra from Tyrol played light classical music by Johann Strauss Senior and Junior, Franz Lehar and Franz von Suppé.

There was no roughhousing, nobody got drunk, and when the fest was over the grass on the Village Green didn't look as if it were going to need much recovery time.

So it wasn't really a proper Oktoberfest. But it was plenty of fun nonetheless -- if for nothing else, then to watching Americans having so much fun.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - wolfworld

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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