AN ACCOUNT OF THE 174th WIES'N
22.09.2007 - 07.10.2007 18 °C
What can I say about Oktoberfest? My head spins as I recall the events of this two week party that has trancended its ancient beginnings and is much more than just a celebration of beer as most erroneously assume. It started as a wedding celebration almost 200 years ago and no beer was drunk at the festival until its eigth year! It now draws crowds of people that swell Munich's usual population of 1.4 million to a staggering 6.5 to 7million!
The crowds? Yeah, Im used to crowds from living in Japan but these people are no way near as harmonious as the throngs of the hoi polloi that flow in the narrow streets of Japan like water in a stream. But I was glad to see so many people make the effort to don the traditional lederhosen and dirndl for the occasion.
The grounds are huge, covering 42hec. and unlike what I imagined they are not surrounded by a huge fence like the Brisbane Ekka that is my main basis of comparison. So anyone can walk through and enjoy Oktoberfest without paying to get in. The same applies with the beer tents. They call them tents but they are actually aircraft hanger size structures that house up to 10, 000 people! There are 14 in all and each one is owned by one of the six major breweries here in Munich.
These breweries still adhere to the 'Beer Purity Law' passed in 1516 stating that only four things should ever go into beer (water, hops, yeast and malt (barley or wheat)). They produce a staggering 123 million gallons of beer per year and 30% of their annual production of beer in consumed during the two weeks of Oktoberfest alone! These tents despite there size are still only temporary structures and assembled over the few weeks prior to Oktoberfest then deconstructed after.
They sell beer by the maß (pron. muss) which is a one litre glass and costs around €7.80. It is customary to tip so you really pay about €8 or €8.50 and the more you tip the faster and friendlier service you get. Though, by the end of the evenings the waitresses would often not give you any change from a €10 note (especially if you are drunk, or a foreigner, or both).
The smell of food wafts through the air and on my first day there I was driven to seek out the promised half meter long sausages that were a first time feature this year.
In the beer tents the food is more expensive and everything is doused liberally in salt, thus making you more thirsty, thus making you drink more beer. The best dish I savoured was a suckling pig marinated in a beer malt sauce, but it was a bit exe, so I shared it. Other food includes Ox meat, chicken and then there is the classic pork knuckle, a big chunk of meat eaten right off the bone!
Over the two weeks of Oktoberfest 102 whole Oxen are eaten, 43 492 pork knuckles, 494 135 roast chickens and
219 443 pairs of sausages! And of course, I ate my fair share.
Every tent has its own stage with bands that play Oktoberfest classics for most of the day, though I was surprised by the selection of songs that was a standard regardless of which tent one inhabits. An example are such classics as Country Road, New York New York, Sweet Home Alabama, Que Sera Sera, and my personal favorite (how does one 'write' sarcasm?), Alice who the F! is Alice?
I must admit, I was disappointed in the proliferation of English music as I was looking forward to the Oompa bands, but as a friend pointed out, Oompa bands all day and night for two weeks would be a bit much. And I enjoyed the fact that all my ideas of what Oktoberfest would be like have made it constantly surprising and unpreditably unique.
On the second sunday I enjoyed some traditional Bavarian music played on the steps infront of the 90 tonne statue called 'Bavaria' that represents the strength and glory of Bavaria. The band were great and managed to create an atmosphere that made me and probably most of the crowd feel to urge to wrap our hands around a one litre mug of beer and swing it to and fro in time to the music while cooling our throats with the cold draught.
They had a different conductor for each song and it was interesting to see their different baton waving techniques. When a beautiful yodeller got up to sing with the band I was enraptured and found myself wiping tears from my cheeks by the end of her performance. The last song came after some official words the only thing I understood was when they asked how many people had come from different countries and I called out a loud cheer when Auatralia's name came round. Then, the releasing of balloons which filled the sky like 'hundreds and thousands'.
The sun sets over the 174th Oktoberfest after a week of deconstruction this field will be empty and the Weis'n will look like it was never there.
The news in the following days proudly boasted that this year was a record amount of beer drunk at Oktoberfest and I'd like to think that I contributed my fair share of the 6.7 million litres drunk!