Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reenactment European Style

Stephen and I are not too long back from our fabulous vacation. We toured quite a bit of Europe and had a smashing time. Since we are history buffs we did a number of history related things including two historical buildings that have been recently restored.

The first one we went to was The Residenz in Munich, the traditional seat of the Bavarian rulers. Much of the original building was destroyed in allied bombing during World War 2, but has since been restored, and filled with fancy furniture. I have to say, the whole tour was a disappointment. I knew we were touring an old building where hundreds of people had lived out their lives, but once we got past the massive medieval hall the ace felt pretty lifeless. We spent the next hour and a half touring tiny rooms covered in elaborate cloth, where a few pieces of fancy furniture had been set out. Every room was labeled with a different purpose, but the chairs and fancy side tables looked all the same to me. I could not imagine anyone living in those rooms. I could not picture the book tossed carelessly on the setee, or the bored servant sneaking a biscuit while they dusted. The whole thing felt sterile.

I had the complete opposite reaction at Castle Malesov in the Czech Repulic. While planning our trip I checked the calendars of the European reenactors whose blogs I follow, and lo, one of the most well respected groups that I have come across was taking part in a reenactment not too far off our scheduled path, in a medieval keep that was being restored. I emailed the owner of the keep and the blog admin and both assured me it would be a great time to visit. Stephen and I did not have room on the motorcycle to pack our own reenacting gear, but thought it would be fun to attend as members of the public. The GPS almost got us lost, but we did eventually find the town of Malesov. I thought I saw the big square keep to our left, and when we turned left encountered a marvelously dressed medieval lady hurrying down the street. We had arrived.

Stephen and I both take pride in our ability to sniff out anachronisms, and work hard in our own reenacting not only to be as historically accurate as possible, but to make sure it feels right. Starting at the ticket takers at the front gate the reenactment at Malesov felt right. Our hands were stamped with a carved wooden stamp, not a mass produced rubber thing. There were guards at attention at the gate. The few vendors were all selling out of hand hewn market stalls, and all the tables and goods storage containers were 13th Century in style, not a single cloth covered rubber tub in sight. The stairs did not have railings, the kids played along the wall where the drop was quite precipitous. I did see one cell phone pulled guiltily out of a pouch, one reenactor with a camera, and one pair of sneakers slipping out from a discarded rucksack, but all in all it was easy to imagine how the keep would have been 700 years ago.

The comparison is not exactly fair, Malesov was full of fascinating people, the Residenz was not representing a period in history that I am particularly interested in. But even just looking at the furniture in some of Malesov's unoccupied rooms felt more real, I could imagine butts on the seats, and a tired body leaning against the table, someone tripping on their way into the room spilling whatever they were carrying and cursing the mess. I'm not sure the reconstructed Rezidenz has ever imagined the touch of any individual, let alone a clumsy one.

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