Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!

In my last blog post, I had a little go at the lack of German beer culture and the fact that whilst most people may regard the Oktoberfest in Munich as a beer festival, this is exactly what it emphatically is not. It is a festival of fun and drunkenness fuelled by beer, as I experienced myself last week together with three of my best friends from Norway. Since I survided to tell the tale, even if I can't remember all of it, I will try to give you an impression of what it was like to drink part in the mayhem.

Although the Oktoberfest in Munich has spawned countless copycat events around the world, the original remains by far the biggest, the maddest and the most frustrating/fun party in the world. The festival area, known locally as the “Wies’n”, is massive and so are the 15 or so festival “tents”, each of which can keep several thousand drinkers dry, warm and lubricated. Arriving on the Saturday when the event opened, we were immediately struck by two things: rain, and the overwhelming number of people trying to get into one of these tents. There where queues everywhere, though none of them seemed to lead anywhere, at least not somewhere dry, warm and beery. In the end, all four of us tried to find some shelter under a disintegrating umbrella and a piece of wood, and before anyone could say “brrrr” a waiter came over and offered us a litre glass of ice-cold beer each, as long as we were prepared to fork out almost 10 euros for each of them – ridiculously expensive by German standards, but still a bargain seen with our blue-ish Norwegian eyes. Any sensible person would have left the area and headed for an uncrowded and cozy bar somewhere else, but the Oktoberfest is not the place for such clever thoughts so we gratefully accepted and started drinking.
The entrance to the Wies'n

This was hardly an auspicious start to the fun, so things could only improve. Unfortunately, they didn’t. We had another litre, got lost, lost each other, discovered that mobile phones don't necessarily work all the time, accidentally found each other again, drank too many wheat beers whilst still being rained on and, finally, gave up and left. At no point did we even get a sniff of being inside one of these hallowed tents. Rejected and wet, we cursed in several languages and headed for the suburbs where we successfully located both our hotel and a nice brewery.

We hadn’t travelled for hundreds and thousands of kilometres to give up so easily, though, so the next day we turned up bright and early at 10am, expecting to yet again be rejected at the door. However, to our immense surprise we found that not only were we allowed in, we also found a table without any problems. With such startling early success, we decided to simply settle down for the day – and finally, the spirit of the Oktoberfest descended upon us. One litre was magically replaced by another as soon as it had mysteriously disappeared, we were joined by one jolly crowd of people after another, we made several sets of lifelong friends that were immediately forgotten when they left, and in the end we got thrown out for tipping the waitress too much. Well, that’s the only thing we could remember doing wrong, anyway.

Opening parade - with one of the "tents" in the background
The tent we were in was the amusingly fish-themed tent known as “Fischer Vroni”, and the beer we enjoyed was from the only remaining independent, privately owned brewery in Munich, namely Augustiner. The beer was good, both in terms of taste and in terms of generating Gemütlichkeit – a German word that encapsulates nicely the feeling of immense happiness combined with an urge to sing jolly songs in German and dance on the benches together with a few thousand newly found friends of all ages. Generally, Oktoberfest beer is quite strong – just shy of 6% is the norm –and quite malty. Naturally, the breweries put emphasis on drinkability, so the taste isn’t exactly memorable, but it certainly isn’t bland either.

Now having been to the Oktoberfest twice, I consider myself somewhat of a veteran. I will therefore issue the following survival tips. First and foremost, do not bother turning up on the opening day of the festival unless you have tremendous amounts of luck or a very cunning plan indeed. Instead, aim for a weekday or at least a Sunday, and get there early – unless you prefer rollercoasters to beer, it is best to be inside one of the tents. Once at a table, have a beer or five, sing along even if you don’t know the songs and make some friends. You won’t regret it, at least not until you try to leave and find that your muscles for some strange reason don’t work the way they usually do anymore. In fact, it is not a bad idea to leave a bit before closing time anyway, since the crowds tend to thin out a bit towards the end, leaving only those who are too drunk to realize that they should have left long ago.

In conclusion – unless you hate beer or people or both, you should probably try the Oktoberfest at least once. I realize it’s not everyone’s pint of beer, but one of the lasting impressions is just how many different nationalities and age groups find their way to this event. It is not unusual to see young people drinking beer with their grandparents, or Japanese tourists dancing on the benches with Australians whilst singing German drinking songs. So head for Munich, it’s still a few days left of this year’s festival and just over 50 weeks until the next one. Have a great time!