Oktoberfest – Remember the funfair before the steins…
If I was to say Oktoberfest to you, would your first thoughts be of funfair rides and shooting galleries, fine wine and views of historic cathedrals?
Would you even bring to mind the scores of school parties dressed in traditional clothing that flock to the event?
Probably not, but all those things are part of this extraordinary festival of beer and Bavaria.
If someone suggested today that it would be a good idea to start a celebration of strong beer, featuring plenty of dancing on tables, downing of lager and the eating of a steady diet of meat, followed by meat and for ‘dessert’ a nice salty pretzel, they would almost certainly be directed to the nearest Health & Safety briefing.
But such a problem did not arise when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese on October 12, 1810. The people of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city, known as Wies’n or grass.
Within Germany, Wiesn still remains the nickname for Oktoberfest.
And so a festival of bawdy grandeur and liver busting intensity has grown up to become a hugely popular international event.
In all there are 14 beer tents of varying size at Oktoberfest. During the week people can generally rock up to any table within these tents in the day time, and enjoy steins of beer and plates of (somewhat expensive, but hugely necessary) food – most popularly a half chicken, accompanied by potato and red cabbage or sauerkraut.
But by 4pm, they will be stuffed full of revellers who have pre-booked their places. And by all accounts, these tables can be rammed by 9am or 10am at the weekend.
This is important, as the Bavarian dirndl wearing waitresses – and occasional leiderhosen sporting waiters – won’t serve you unless you’re at a table.
But don’t panic. Booking in advance may be best if you are part of a large party, but if your group is just two or three strong it is well worth taking the risk on blagging your way on to the end of a table.
The vast majority of people at Oktoberfest are hugely welcoming and will have no problem with another couple of drinkers joining their number. On top of this, groups will move on or simply flake out after too many steins, leaving spaces at tables that were previously full.
If all else fails, make your way to the huge Hofbrau tent, which holds an ample standing area in its midst.
Once you’ve found your place it is time to enjoy the music – whether it be blasting chart music, traditional German oompah tunes or even a dangerous looking whip cracking song, tuck into your beer and chat to whoever you find yourself lucky enough to be standing next to.
My Oktoberfest experience saw me clash steins and scream ‘prost’ (German for cheers) with a variety of characters of all ages and nationalities. From memory – and it does get a little foggy after a few – I met fellow drinkers from Germany, England, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, America and South Africa.
The atmosphere is one of huge conviviality and great fun. If the world leaders could all be assembled in one Oktoberfest tent for just a few hours, all our problems would be solved.
Other things to marvel at include the ability of the waitresses to carry as many as nine – the most I counted anyway – steins at a time (I tried two and that was quite heavy), and the various successes and failures of those brave and/or stupid enough to take to a table-top in an attempt to chug an entire stein.
Your head might be woozy by the next day – and, for me, two days of Oktoberfest was about right – but you’ll probably find yourself making travel plans for the next one.
Just don’t forget the funfair and families when recounting the revelry of this unique beer festival.