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Stumbling across a “Fingerhakeln Meisterschaftsbankett” is one of my favorite finds while traveling.
It was around 1978, and my spouse at the time and I were on a long weekend to the Armed Forces Recreation Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. For pennies on the dollar, active duty soldiers could stay in the Edelweiss hotel and take in the numerous attractions of the area including a tram ride up to a chalet/restaurant high in the Alps, a swim in a gigantic pool complex left over from the 1936 Winter Olympics, and tour places like Oberammergau, famous for its woodworkers and Passion Play.
One evening we opted to drive in the country and see where the road would take us. Somewhere outside the town of Mittenwald, we noticed people parking their cars and walking on a path that lead into the woods. What made the activity so noticeable was the fact that everyone was dressed in the traditional garb of old Germany. The men wore lederhosen held up with suspenders and felt hats tufted with goat whiskers. The women dressed in dirndls, tightly synched dresses at the waste and bust meant to show off the smallness of one body part and the ampleness of another.
We parked the car and joined in the crowd. If you travel with me you best not be shy, as my current spouse will attest. I love poking my nose into everything and everyone’s business. Occasionally, I get in trouble but mostly have fun adventures.
After a short walk we came to a clearing with a gigantic tent surrounded by more cars. It covered a hundred or more picnic tables, each holding ten or more people. Along one side of the tent, a semi-trailer was parked, featuring a long row of beer spigots pulled back to constant flow. A small army of workers filled steins and then delivered them to the tables of revelers. At the front of the tent a stage held a dozen musicians playing oom-pah-pah music.
My German is limited; often just enough to get me in trouble like the time I tried ordering a beer at the equivalent of the county assessor’s office. Luckily most Germans can, and like to, speak English. Through them I learned that the event was a banquet for the winners of a traditional sporting contest of the region: finger pulling. You can look it up on the Internet: contestants insert their middle finger on either side of a short, stout loop and then try to pull each other over a table. Losers either let go or fly across the bench between them. Contestants compete in divisions according to size and sex.
Sure enough, we looked around and noticed that a large percentage of the people present had abnormally large and somewhat misshaped middle fingers. Participants also seemed extra jolly and displayed an extreme love of drinking beer, even by German standards. Enjoying a few quaffs myself; I was soon in need of the toilette. Using my best German, I followed directions out of the tent and across the grassy parking lot. As I walked I noticed that the ground became squishier and squishier. Somewhere along the way I must of mixed up my “Rechts” with my “Links” as I came out the other side of a row cars a dozen startled “fraus” and “frauleins” jumped up from their squatting position, pulled up their girdles and began yelling at me.
The highlight of the evening came during the presentation of awards. Participants were called to the stage one by one to get their trophy, a bronzed hand with an extended middle finger. One man’s obscene gesture is another’s mantle piece. The final prize of the night, however, was a piglet given to the winner of the lady’s open division. The champ, a rotund young women with bright eyes, wide smile and rosy cheeks ran to the stage and picked up her squealing trophy much to the delight of the crowd. When she tried to say thank you her voice failed in all the excitement, but the pig’s didn’t. It was a hilarious moment I’ll never forget.
If you ever get to go, remember the men’s room is the grassy area on the left, not right. Or is it the other way around?