Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

German Beerfest Celebrates Bavaria

Mugs of beer were downed and liederhosen were the proper attire for the kickoff to a five-day Oktoberfest celebration at the Renaissance Hotel last week.

While the '70s-era Odessa Room could not have been mistaken for a Munich beer garden, the hotel management hauled out wooden tables and benches, organized traditional Oktoberfest games and dance competitions and offered a festive menu. In addition to the essential draft beer, there were such delicacies as pork knuckle with sauerkraut, Nuernberger sausage with sauerkraut and the cross-cultural platter of Bavarian zakuski, or snacks, again with sauerkraut.

Thomas Hatzelmann, the hotel's assistant food and beverage manager, was hoping everyone in Moscow's 10,000-strong German community would shake a leg and enjoy a surrogate Oktoberfest.

Hatzelmann looked sharp in his brand-new liederhosen, which at $450 represent "a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I'll either be buried in them or pass them on to my kids."

The embroidered trousers also possess a more practical function: "They go out a little bit when you drink, and you feel quite comfortable," he said.

While Finn Rosmussen, Renaissance's general manager, hails from Denmark, he has become an unabashed fan of Bavarian music. "The thing that amazes me is that it's only the Germans themselves who are embarrassed by it," he said.

Certainly the Japanese aren't shy of German-style hoopla. The Munich ensemble Die Englschaulinger that was blasting out the tunes last Wednesday -- including an unorthodox "Rock Around the Clock" -- has the title of house band at the Hoffbrau House in Tokyo.

One guest who was slightly embarrassed by her fellow Germans was Lenka Kruse of Hameln. Having taken a leave of absence from her administrative job at the Art Sport Hotel, Kruse decided to drop in for her first Oktoberfest before she returns to the fatherland to study in Heidelberg. "I give the apple strudel my approval," she said, "but I can't say the same for the beer; I don't drink it."

Asked if this was grounds for expulsion from Germany, she admitted, "It is very unusual."

Givenchy Designs for Bolshoi

A simple dance studio on the sixth floor of the Bolshoi Theater served as a suitable backdrop last Friday for a peek at some new ballet costumes that weren't designed by just anybody.

They were the creations of semi-retired French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy for the theater's January production of Adolf Adam's classic, "Giselle."

"I saw the ballet for the first time many years ago, and when the proposal to design the costumes arose, I made the decision to come to Moscow," Givenchy said.

The invitation came from Bolshoi director Vladimir Vasilyev, who looked mighty pleased at the fitting session as he admired the costumes, modeled by four Bolshoi dancers.

Givenchy, 70, dressed in casual gray trousers, a light-blue shirt and a navy jacket, appeared relaxed and amused. At 1.9 meters tall, the Frenchman towered over the assembly and, with his white hair and blue eyes, made a striking figure.

Having sold his business in 1982, Givenchy was residing in Paris when he became intrigued by the Bolshoi project and decided to lend his services free of charge.

"I know that it has been a difficult time in Russia, and that they have not had the ability to make use of French designs," Givenchy said, "so it was necessary to come here."

For this first fitting session, Givenchy asked along an old colleague, designer Philip Venet, who explained the artistic influence behind the costume designs. "Vladimir told us he wanted something classic, and so we went along to the Paris Opera to view the original costumes used in the 1843 production of 'Giselle,'" Venet said.

While Venet could not say whether Givenchy will become involved in designing more ballet costumes, Vasilyev may have other ideas. Asked whether he wants a second ballet graced with such splendid costumes, Vasilyev replied with an unabashed "oui, oui."

Black Belt Bonanza

Russian combatants outnumbered the Japanese, but it was the masters from Tokyo who held the floor last Sunday at a karate demonstration organized by the Japanese Embassy's Japan Foundation.

Presiding over the karatefest and the traditional "breaking of the wood" was a seven-dan black belt, Takashi Shebia, 58, who used his feet, fists and forehead to shatter plank upon plank in an exhibition of lightning-quick reflexes.

Short and stocky, and possessing a benign smile, Shebia also had a bandaged right hand, the result of blocking a kick that struck the screws in the previously bolted limb. Asked if the injury or his age might mean he's making plans for his retirement, the steely eyed Shebia said, "Only with my death."

The crowd at the Krylia Sovietov sports center applauded Shebia's efforts, as well as the synchronized exercise and mock-combat drills performed by the other four visiting Japanese karate artists and the contingent from the Russian Karate Federation, which ranged from pint-size yellow belts right up to the formidable black belts.

Discipline was what the demonstration was all about, participants said.

"It's only a sport, and I've never had to put my karate to use on the streets," said Svetlana Andreyevna, 24, of Moscow. She could if she wanted to, however, having gained her black belt in just five years.

Keiji Ide, cultural director at the embassy, said he's not a karate practitioner, having since childhood been involved in another Japanese martial art, kendo, in which fighters fence with bamboo swords.

Who would emerge victorious in a fight between a karate master and a kendo master? "Well, if he could keep his sticks, the kendo expert," Ide said.

Radio Station Turns 7 in Style

It's only 7 years old, but Europa Plus has already had to weather some big storms. In October 1993, the pop-rock station was silenced for three days when troops occupied the Ostankino transmission tower. But ...

"Rock lives," Yury Akhuta, Europa Plus' program director, proclaimed at Metelitsa nightclub Friday in celebration of the station's seventh year of operation and the release of deejay Ivan Suvorov's compilation album based on his weekly countdown "Hit Parade."

Several of the featured Russian pop artists were on hand, including pop star Alyona Apina, who was seated cozily on a couch with Murat Nasirov -- singer of the disturbingly pervasive "Malchik Khochet v Tambov" with its unforgettable chorus of "chicky, chicky, chickita."

And whether you're a pop fan or not, the station makes a conscious effort to promote indigenous music.

"We're essentially a hit radio station with a big Russian part, playing four Russian songs every hour," Akhuta said.

Though deep down Suvorov is a fan of Pink Floyd and David Bowie, he makes his living spinning the hits -- "music for all occasions from romantic to rock," he said.

Monte Carlo Makes Debut

With his serious makeup, high, multicolored coif and sequined tuxedo, Jean-Pierre Barda, the lead singer of Sweden's Army of Lovers, looked quite theatrical Friday night.

"That's why we're popular in Russia," he said. "They appreciate theatrical performances."

The occasion for the dramatics was the glitzy debut of the Monte Carlo nightclub, which attracted a high-density, high-rolling crowd on both Monday, for the Russian opening, and Friday, when expatriates were invited for a glimpse of the new club.

A 20-year veteran of the club scene in Sweden and Russia, bar manager Carlos Matuszewski said he enjoys a challenge. Having opened up Enterada in Leningrad in 1990, the ponytailed Swede was also one of the forces behind Moscow's Night Flight.

While Matuszewski said Russians -- who "spend a lot more money than foreigners" -- will make up most of the clientele at Monte Carlo, the club is anticipating that up to 40 percent of its customers will be expatriates.

Making appearances on the opening nights were Dima Malikov and the rock band Nogu Svelo and other well-wishers, like sculptor Zurab Tsereteli.