Author Archives: David Amberg

Stollen – Traditional German Sweet Bread

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

My brother commented on a food tradition he picked up on.

Julian: “Every Christmas our Mom makes the same dish every year. It’s called Stollen, and it’s a traditional German sweet bread. It’s tastes like a crunchy fruitcake, but it’s not bad. Mom’s been making it for as long as I can remember. I’ve helped her make it before, so I think I can tell you what goes into it.”

“Stollen is made out of dried fruit, cake mix, marzipan, nuts, and gets powdered sugar thrown on top.”

“From what other people tell me, it’s sort of an acquired taste. I can imagine why, but I just like it a lot so I don’t really care what other people think. My mom got the recipe from her mother and so on so forth.”

Summary:

Stollen is a traditional German Sweetbread eaten as an alternative to fruitcake.

I one-hundred percent agree with my brother here. Stollen is a delicious food. Everybody’s always got that one thing they like that’s traditional. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it has that familiar flavor that just keeps you coming back. 

 

Chado

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

My subject, Yuki was willing to tell me about a folkloric tradition in her family. 

Yuki: “My dad performs Chado for work. In English, it means “Tea Ceremony”. Chado is the art of making exquisite tea, but it is also very difficult. You have to train for a long time to do it properly. Chado requires absolute [specific] steps. You can’t make mistakes. People pay a lot of money to watch Chado because it’s traditional.”

I ask Yuki if she can explain what a “Chado” performance looks like.

Yuki: “I can’t do [demonstrate?] it. It’s too hard. My dad studied for a very long time. I’m sorry. I can explain it though. You take a bowl, and you carefully clean it. Then you prepare the tea in a very special way. Chado is history. People used to make tea for Kings using the Chado style.”

I carefully ask if Chado is more about technique, or if the Tea is just that good.

Yuki: “(laughs) The technique is more important. But the Tea is better than most. Chado is about watching tradition.”

I ask what Chado has meant to Yuki.

Yuki: “I think it’s interesting. I just can’t do it. (laughs)”

Summary:

Chado, or Tea Ceremony, is a traditional art performance that has deep historical roots. It involves making tea using a highly articulate technique that requires intense training to master. People pay to watch those who know the technique perform their craft.

Yuki was unable to perform the tea ceremony for me, but independent research has shown me that there are a large number of materials required to make the ceremony “work”. It has a lot to do with the concept of “authenticity” in folklore. People want to engage in a culture that is as close to its original counterpart as possible.

Kitty Wants A Corner!

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

Julian, my younger brother, was showing me a game he used to play when he was little.

Julian: “This game is called, ‘Kitty Wants a Corner’. To play you have to get a bunch of people, it has to be like, ten, in order to be fun.”

“First you have to get in a circle, and one person gets to be in the middle. That person is The Kitty. What The Kitty wants, is to get back into the circle. In order to do that, The Kitty has to replace somebody. But they can’t just walk back in. As The Kitty, they have to go around the circle and tell people they want a space. They do it like this.”

Julian gets up and begins to mime a conversation.

“Kitty wants a corner!”, says The Kitty.

“Not here. Try my neighbor!”, says the Corner (anyone in the circle).

Julian: “The Kitty just has to keep doing this.”

“How does the Kitty get back into the circle?”, I ask.

Julian: “This is the fun part. The people in the circle, the people around the Kitty, they have to switch places with each other. That’s their job. If nobody moves for 10 seconds, then the Kitty wins. The Kitty also has to do his job too, if he stops asking for a space for more than three seconds, then the circle wins. It’s sort of like a balance.”

“Anyway, when the people in the circle switch places, they have to walk across the circle. When they do that, if the Kitty is fast enough, he can take one of their places. The person in the middle becomes the new Kitty.”

I ask Julian where he learned how to play this game.

Julian: “I played it in elementary school. It was really popular then.”

Summary:

My younger brother played a game called “Kitty Wants A Corner” when he was little. The game’s objective is to not get caught in the circle. If you do, you become “The Kitty”, and then you have to get out of the circle.

I remember playing a lot of games like this when I was younger. I’m not sure where “Kitty” originates from, but if Julian can still remember how to play it after so long, then it must be impacting.

 

Oktoberfest

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

I asked Julian about Oktoberfest and our family history of celebrating it.

Julian: “I like Oktoberfest. It’s fun. It’s not a day like most people think – it’s like two and a half weeks. In Germany, people celebrate for a long time.”

I ask Julian if he remembers what Oktoberfest is about.

Julian: “It’s just a festival – I think. It was the marriage festival for German King [King Ludwig I] in the early 1800’s. It was so fun that people never stopped celebrating it. There’s a lot of music and dancing. And beer. (laughs)”

I ask Julian what Oktoberfest means to him.

Julian: “It means booze! (laughs) I’m joking, I’m kidding. It’s when grandma and grandpa [our mom’s side] and all of Dad’s friends come over here. We have a party. And I get a glass.”

Since we both turned thirteen, our parents give us a glass each year so that we don’t feel left out during the annual party. It’s not a lot of beer, but it’s meant to keep us cheerful.

I ask Julian why our family celebrates Oktoberfest like we do.

Julian: “Well, it’s more like a get-together. Our grandparents all came from Germany, so it’s a fun way to celebrate our heritage. Yeah it’s just fun, I guess. It’s about celebrating family and friends. I mean, it’s the only time other than Christmas when we’re all here together.”

“We only celebrate it for a day, but it’s a unique sorta celebration.”

Summary

My family celebrates the German Festival of Oktoberfest once a year by throwing an annual house party. Though it’s not celebrated in the *authentic* German way, it’s meant to be a fun way of touching our heritage.

Oktoberfest isn’t that complex of a festival; it’s not steeped in religious tradition, but it carries a sort of nationalistic pride. My parents are both second-generation German folk, meaning their parents came from the motherland. My parents were raised observing Germanic traditions and to them, this is a way of giving back. My family celebrates Oktoberfest the same way others celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or Mardi Gras, but we do it with the idea of uniting both family and friends.

 

Skanking

About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.

When I was a student at the George Washington University, my friend Spencer got really into Ska music.

Spencer: “Ska is a genre of music best described as a combo of Jamaican Reggae and [Western] rock music.” Spencer tells me. “It involves a combination of electric guitar and jazz instruments. It’s pretty uptempo.”

Spencer then tells me about a type of dancing unique to a “Ska” performance.

Spencer: “When you listen to Ska, you’ve gotta Skank. That’s just how you do it. When you Skank you’ve gotta just move to the music. You’ve gotta move to the beat.”

Spencer then gets up and gives me a small demonstration. He performs a sort-of hopping motion accompanied by a fist pump. He hops and jerks to the rhythm of a song I’m playing  on my ipod. As the music grows more uptempo, he begins to hop in a running-man pose. It’s important to note that his Skanking embodies a sort of lock-step movement. It’s a quick transition, and then a freeze; almost like a kind of rhythmic freeze-tag.

I ask him if he’s seen Skanking performed in other ways.

Spencer: “Yeah, people just go crazy. Ska is really loud so people just sort of let themselves go. Sometimes people shake around, they kick and stuff. I’ve seen crazy-ass stuff go down. I’ve seen people get hurt – they Skank so hard.”

Summary:

Skanking is a form of dance closely associated with Ska music. It is accomapnied most often by Ska music, and it consists of bopping and/or running in place to the beat of a song.

Like Ska music itself, Skanking embodies something wild and free. Not unlike “moshing”, Skanking allows an audience to participate in the culture of the music they are receiving. Essentially, they’re taking the positive energy they receive from the music, and sending it right back to the performers in an epic loop of positive feedback.

Regrettably, by his request, I was unable to record Spencer’s Skanking demo, but I’ve found some videos that seems to capture the spirit of the dance pretty well.