Monday, 7 November 2011

In Defense of Oktoberfest

Before we went to Oktoberfest we were warned by numerous people that Munich was ruined by the yearly influx of raucous, drunken tourists. Well it's one of our favourite cities in the world and we love a nice German beer, so we decided to risk it. Someone has to take hits like this for the greater good of travel writing. Luckily, you all have me.

As you know, we showed up, felt silly and out of place and so went to purchase some leather shorts and a traditional Bavarian purple checkered dress, which we wore with our running and hiking shoes. That should solve the feeling daft issue. Day two was dynamite, the whole experience was, including the inappropriate footwear. That, in particular, endeared us to several Germans over the following days.

Paulaner tent, shockingly early on Friday
 Oktoberfest, or (as you all now know) Wiesn, is a massive festival that has a lot in common with the county fairs you find in the US. It has rides and food stalls and a plethora of junky toys for sale. Of course Oktoberfest also has enormous "tents" that serve copious amounts of beer. Now I know many of you will be sceptical that I have put the word tents in quotation marks, because, really, not much is more irritating than those people who go around putting air quotation marks around words that really don't require or need them. However, Oktoberfest tents are unlike any tents I've ever encountered. And that includes the tents at Namtso Lake in Tibet, which housed cafes and restaurants. Oktoberfest tents are the granpappies of all tents. instead of your standard two-man tent or wedding marquis, these tents hold hundreds upon hundreds of people and have second story balconies. The vastness of these tents probably contributes to Oktoberfest's bad reputation, as they can feel overwhelming and finding a spot at a table takes a willingness to be rejected by people from around the world. When we did find places to squeeze in, though, we met people from all around the world and had a great time.

Having been to Germany twice now, I can say confidently that we met more Germans, had longer conversations with them and learned more about Germany and German culture during one week of Oktoberfest, than we did in the 2 weeks we had previously spent there. A liter of beer takes a while to drink so there's plenty of time for chat. Or, at least it ought to take a while. Especially as Oktoberfest beer is brewed to have a higher alcohol content. There's a price to be paid by those who don't take care and the walking dead were all over the streets every morning and evening, for that matter.

The tents open early in the morning and on the weekends there are few seats left by lunchtime. this can make for some very tipsy people by early afternoon. However, it's worth noting these folks as they tend to make a dash for the exits and an early beds around 5pm, leaving some spaces at the tables for those who don't start drinking at 11am.
And that's not even the most we saw someone carrying!
Now, before everyone gets the idea that Oktoberfest really is just weeks of gratuitous drinking, let me assure you that it's actually a family event. That being said, I'm not sure I can honestly recommend bringing kids into the tents. Each tent is run by one individual brewery and they do have different atmospheres. The most internationally well-known, Hoffbrauhaus, naturally draws tourists almost exclusively, while the smaller tents tend to have more Germans and, during the day, cater to the lunch and one beer crowd.

All the tents have rousing Bavarian bands, servers (both male and female, contrary to popular belief) toting up to 12 or 14 enormous glass steins holding a full litre of beer, and vast kitchens to feed the thousands of hungry party-goers. The sheer amount of food and drink is staggering, but, still, they churn out cold beers and surprisingly good eats for the mass production approach.

Brilliant view of most of Weisn from the Ferris Wheel
The Ferris wheel provides amazing views over the fairgrounds and all the way to the soaring spires of the old city. There are kid areas, beautiful outdoor bier gardens and lots of games with crappy prizes. There are also lots of places for food without having to brave the tents.

All in all, we're giving Oktoberfest two steins up! To say that it ruins Munich and that you can't see Munich is like saying your can't see the real New Orleans during Mardis Gras. Oh, you've heard that, have you? Well, that's another defence for another day!

Prost!

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