Last weekend, for the second time in my life, I went to Oktoberfest. My mother-in-law lives in Munich and my own mom was visiting from the US, so we decided to take a little trip down there during this unique festival. I figure a blog themed around German culture really needs to see an entry if I go to this event, so here ya go. Because after all, if anything represents German culture, it's Oktoberfest, right? Actually, not really. Although most Americans, if asked what is "German", would recite a list of things typically seen at Oktoberfest: Lederhosen, Dirndls, big mugs of beer, pretzels, and the flags with the blue and white check design....actually these things are all typical of Bavarian culture, not exactly German culture. Well okay, the rest of Germany is also really into beer, it's true. And you can get pretzels just about anywhere. But the Lederhosen, Dirdls and all the rest of it is Bavarian. Bavaria is just one of 16 states in Germany. And it's got its very own culture. In fact, I'm not sure about this but I'd be willing to bet there's some sort of secessionist movement happening among the more deluded Bavarians out there. Bavarians tend to think Bavaria is superior to the rest of Germany and somehow special. In any case, no matter how important or dominating they try to be, it is still one of sixteen states and while its culture is quaint and unique, it is not representative of all German culture. I suppose because of the popularity of Oktoberfest and how many Americans come over just for that, that's how this image of Bavarian culture came to represent German culture to most Americans. So, just to be clear: the "German culture" seen at Oktoberfest is more "Bavarian culture" than anything. And many would argue by this point in time it's mostly just a big costume party, quite literally a song and dance production which is more about getting drunk and dancing on tables and then going on a roller coaster and throwing up, than anything truly Bavarian.
Oktoberfest lasts between 16-18 days, ends on the last Sunday of October, and has been an annual event for more than 200 years. It started out as public celebrations and horse races to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese in 1810 and soon became an annual event. Later an agricultural fair was added, as well as various other traditions. It is the world's largest fair and these days around 7 million people visit it each year (!!!!!).
Of course, we all know what it's really all about: drinking loads and loads of beer! There are, I believe, eight local breweries that each build their own huge beer tent (it takes about 4 months to build what is essentially the town of Oktoberfest) and serve specially brewed (and especially strong at about 6% alcohol) Oktoberfest beer in 1 liter beer mugs called Maß (remember that funny letter is like "ss", so effectively it's a Mass, which rhymes with das).
Now I'm someone who doesn't usually like beer. I'm a wino myself. But Oktoberfest beer is different. It really does taste better than regular beer (apparently they add extra sugar) and somehow the atmosphere just helps it go down easy. Maybe a little too easy....
I was there with my mom and my hubby, and we would order two at a time and sort of share them both between us. I have to say, I lost count after the second round. We started outside one of the tents in a little somewhat secluded area for our first round,
but soon moved into the tent. And then moved onto a different tent, as well as peeking our heads in a couple more besides that.
And what an amazing spectacle! The tents are varying sizes, but the larger ones hold up to 6000 people (!!!!). Each tent has a band playing in the center of the floor.
...and as the evening wares on, the dancing and singing get wilder and louder. Lots of people stand up on the benches and tables and dance, and some come crashing down ~you really do need to look out.
None of these pictures comes close to conveying the atmosphere and energy found in the beer tents at night. It's really really loud and vibrant and just crazy, in its very own Bavarian Oktoberfest sort of way. The people are all happy (an uncommon sight indeed in this country!) and friendly and it's easy to chat and dance and exchange smiles and share laughs with strangers.
After a few rounds we stumbled on over to an area where the rides are:
and rode a roller coaster called Höllenblitz, (Hell Flash). As scary as they tried to make it look from the outside, it was sure lame on the inside (I know some people like that, haha!). It was all in the dark, with some lasers and flashes going off. Oooooohhhh I'm scared!
But it was fun despite having no Flash of Hell whatsoever, as evidenced by the goofy look on my face.
On another note:
As you can imagine, Oktoberfest is no place for recovering alcoholics. Duh. Why am I bringing this up? Because, believe it or not, there is actually one place that does not serve alcohol:
You can see what a booming business they're doing. To be honest, it somehow made me sad to see that this was the most deserted corner of the whole place, not sure why as it just makes sense that people want to drink at Oktoberfest.
Notice in the first picture that they are also the only place that actually provided toys for children. We came into the Oktoberfest around 6pm, just as the day shift was heading home, and we saw plenty of kids among them. So I guess this non-alcohol place must be fuller during the day. And as a parent I am always happy to see there's somewhere that takes children into consideration and provides the likes of highchairs, crayons and paper, toys, and a kids' menu. For us, it was the ideal place to use the toilet ~no lines! Had we had Babu with us I'm sure this would've been a great place to stop for an apple juice. And actually we did consider bringing him during the day (not only are children banned from the beer tents after 8pm, but only a seriously confused parent would even think about bringing a child into that mess). But luckily my mother-in-law talked us out of it and graciously offered to babysit while we went to fill ourselves with beer at night. And as soon as we arrived it was obvious that, even during the day, this is no place for a young child. It's just too hectic and overwhelming ~a real assault on the senses. In fact we look forward to enjoying Oktoberfest with Babu someday. When he's still a kid we can go on rides together, and when he's older we can dance on tables to the worst hits of the 80s played by a Bavarian band while sucking down beer together. But until he's, I don't know, maybe three or four or maybe even older, we will steer him far clear of this event.