Ger­many

Let's Travel - - CONTENTS - Words and im­ages by Liz Light

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.

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