The noise in the Hofbrau-Festzelt tent is phenomenal. Just the sound of people talking, shouting actually, because the acoustics aren’t great and they can’t hear each other. Not that it matters because many of them won’t remember what was said in the morning.
Tent is not quite the right word for the massive covered halls that seat 7,000 people, more or less, but tents are what the drinking halls at Oktoberfest are called. There are 14 large ‘tents’ and a bunch of smaller ones. Fifty thousand people all drinking together, at the worlds’ largest beer festival, is an intense spectacle worth attending…at least once.
Hofbrau-Festzelt is where most of the colonials (New Zealand, Australians, South Africans, Canadians) gather and though there is seating for everyone many of the patrons stand on the tables and wave their mass, a one litre stein of beer, around as they gesticulate or clutch it to their chests, trying not to wobble off the slippery, beer-covered table tops.
The barmaids, who should have arms like Mike Tyson considering they carry five full, foaming mass in each hand, wear running shoes and blow shrill whistles to help them navigate through the throng of inattentive, (semi) inebriated people so they can get more beer to thirsty customers.
The tables, besides being stood on, are littered with empty plates and half-consumed meals soaking in beer, empty beer mugs and the occasional discarded cell phone. Others are busy with their phones, taking pictures of each other, posing with many mass chinked together, the girls leaning forward to show off their bosoms and their dirndl costumes.
The Hacker-Festzelt tent, a similar size and capacity to Hofbrau, is more subdued, though this will change as the day turns into night. It’s funky in a Bavarian-cliché way. The roof is painted with blue sky and white fluffy clouds and the walls are vast murals of stereotypical mountain villages. A central bandstand, shaped like a crown and decorated with fake flowers, has a brass (Oompah) band playing traditional music and, from time to time, a yodeller stands, throws back his head and does a long, loud many-pitched yodel.
Part of the Hacker-Festzelt’s attraction is that it’s popular with Bavarians and, if there are outsiders, they’re not conspicuous. The locals have been attending the annual Oktoberfest since they were tots so, for them, it’s about socialising, eating, music and Bavarian tradition, as well as drinking beer.
In Hacker-Festzelt almost everyone is dressed in traditional Bavarian costume. The men wear lederhosen, leather shorts that come down to just above the knees, embroidered with flowers, with a button-up flap in the front rather than a fly, and braces. This is teamed with checked shirts, often a bright waistcoat, and sometimes a felt hat with a tuft of goat fur or a pheasant’s feather tucked into the rim. The women look marvellous in loose blouses under tight bodices both designed to thrust up and show-off their breasts. Their skirts are checked, long and full and they are worn with matching aprons.
Catering, in each tent, is on a vast scale. Traditional food is on offer, with roast pork or half a roast chicken, both golden and dripping fat, bread dumplings, sauerkraut and the classic beer pretzel, circular knotted bread, is ever-present. It’s sensible food for soaking up alcohol, but not great for those counting calories.
I had thought that Oktoberfest was a young persons thing but in the daylight hours, on the weekends, it’s community and family-focussed. I attend the second day of the festival, a Sunday, and arrive in time for the parade which features colourful displays of Bavarian history, culture, and tradition.
There are groups of people in their regional costumes, troops in historical uniforms, marching bands, riflemen and teams of carthorses hauling wagons loaded with barrels of beer. The procession starts in the centre of Munich, is four kilometres long, and when it finally finishes, in the Oktoberfest fairgrounds, the 7,000 people in it join the crowds in the tents adding colour and culture.
Oktoberfest began in 1811 as a Bavarian agricultural show and, in 1913, the festival dates were changed to September, because the days were longer and sunnier, but it kept its October name. Over 200 years it has become less
agricultural, more fairground and more a beer-drinking festival but it’s nice to see the horses there, standing patiently while people pat them and pose for photos next to them. These days the only cattle that attend are on spits. 114 cattle beasts are consumed in 16 days in the Ochjsenbraterei (Oxen) tent and 500,000 chickens are roasted.
Whilst talking numbers, in 2013, 6.4 million people attended Oktoberfest and, at the end of it, the lost-and -found department had 520 wallets, 400 keys, 320 phones, 50 cameras, 35 umbrellas and one set of false teeth. Ha, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how the false teeth left the mouth they belonged in.
During that time the Red Cross treated 638 people for alcohol poisoning, which is reasonable considering 6.7 million litres of beer were consumed.
Families and sensible older folk leave in the late afternoon. The children have become fractious, having eaten too much candy floss and drunk too much lemonade. But the young folk stay on and drink until midnight. After dark the traditional brass bands depart and the rock bands take centre stage. The music out-amps the shouting and the tables rock with thousands of people dancing on them. Others have a reviving nap, head on arms, arms on beery table, and some people have completely passed out. Bierleichen, the Germans call them…beer corpses.
The beer corpses eventually come-too and, in 2013, everyone survived though hangovers were legendary and stories of Oktoberfest will be told in OE tales for decades.