Many years ago, I was in the South of France in early October and I had the good idea of traveling to Munich for Oktoberfest. Sadly, the Germans were not as rational as I had assumed: and Oktoberfest is in September.
This time I knew better and planned to travel to Munich just in time for the festival’s opening, and to meet my friend Katja, who lives there. You might remember seeing her in Malawi, in the role of Angelina Jolie. I am obviously posting this with weeks of delay, but as they say, better late than never.
On opening day, the brewers who own the various tents of Oktoberfest parade down the streets with barrels on horse-drawn carriages. The weather was fine, but it started pouring hard just before the parade and the weather cleared-up right after. I took almost no pictures.
Luckily, the next day there was an even bigger parade, the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade, where more than 7,000 people march over 7 km dressed in costumes representing the history and traditions of Bavaria and neighbouring areas and countries.
It is a massive affair with dozens of bands.
People on horses.
People in carriages.
Happy people carrying crossbows.
Unhappy people carrying crazy weapons.
Old school artisans, I think.
Ladies with flowers.
Some of the historical costumes are very elaborate and differ quite a bit from the typical dirndl (what Katja was wearing).
This was one of the smallest beer tents! Going right after the parade was nice, as almost everyone was dressed in traditional costumes and apart from the cameras and cell phones, there was nothing to remind us of the 21st century (except the very high prices). Going with just one friend also helps getting a seat at a table, as getting a spot for you and your 12 buddies is almost impossible, unless you reserve a table, but I think you have to do so one year in advance! There are also more sneaky ways to get in. Every year the lost and found office receives crutches and wheelchairs from the tents. Miraculous healing through beer? No, actually people pretending to be handicapped or injured so security will let them cut the line. Once in, they just ditch the crutches!
Of course, with beer only served in 1 litre mugs, and Oktoberfest beer being of slightly higher alcohol content than the breweries’ normal production, it is no surprise that scenes like this are common in the evening. I deliberately chose a blurry picture to protect the guilty.
Paramedics even have these special stretchers to protect the remaining shreds of dignity of the drunks they pick-up here and there. I wonder where they bring them, actually.
To give you and idea of the amount of excess going on, I will tell you what I learned about the Australian Embassy in Berlin. Every year the Embassy borrows an office in the UK consulate in Munich and sets up a temporary, Oktoberfest-only Australian consular office to deal with the flow of Australians who loose their passport or get in trouble with the German police!
In all honesty, I will probably never return, although it was worth seeing once. It is simply too big, with the line-ups, pedestrian traffic jams and everything else that comes with it. There are dozens of tents and the largest one, belonging to the brewery Paulaner, has interior seating for 8450 people!This picture gives you an idea of the size, and it was taken from the top of one of the tents, so it only shows a portion of the grounds. I like a party with a lot of people, but with a daily visitor count well over half a million, Oktoberfest is a bit too much for me.
This is the guy we have to thank for Oktoberfest. He once threw a big wedding party where Oktoberfest takes place (Theresenwiese), and the next year, decided that even though he wasn’t getting married, there would be a party anyway. It took the form of an agricultural fair with beer. Over the years, beer became more and more prominent, until it completely displaced displays of champion cows and agricultural equipment.
Munich City Hall. Wanting to protect their beautiful city, the people of Munich built a big defensive wall, which they finished in 1634. Unfortunately for them, the wall wasn’t very high at all in 1632 when the Swedish army arrived. After stepping over the wall, the Swedes liked the place and agreed not to destroy it in exchange for 300,000 gold pieces. Munich couldn’t come up with enough gold and countered with an offer of 180,000 gold pieces and a lot of beer! The Swedes agreed and spared the city.
The city was almost spared in World War II as well, since it was too far south for UK-based bombers to easily reach it. However, when the Allies became able to operate from France and Northern Italy, Munich was added to the target list and in the last 10 months of the war, 82% of the city was destroyed or damaged.
Some reminders of the city’s darker days are very prominent. The massive Hofbräuhaus, built in 1589, has this smaller room on the third floor which can be rented for various occasions. In January 1919, a marginal political organization called the German Worker’s Party organized a meeting here. The Army sent a young man to spy on them, but instead of only spying, Corporal Hitler decided to become the party’s 55th member. And the rest is history.
Some historical signs would be impossible to understand without a guidebook or a guide. These golden pavement stones highlight the path some people would take to symbolically signify their opposition to the Nazis. It would take them through a narrow alley to avoid a main intersection where a nazi cenotaph stood to commemorate the dead of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The cenotaph was guarded and all had to salute it when they walked by. The detour allowed one to avoid doing this.
And finally, Leberkäse, which means “liver-cheese”. Just as Oktoberfest is in September, liver-cheese contains no liver and no cheese. It is simply a typical Bavarian meat loaf, here served with a cold cucumber-potato salad and sweet mustard. Somehow I had not tried it during my stay, but I managed to grab my last chance and had it at the airport.
Next time, I’ll tell you why it took me weeks to post this. (No, not Oktoberfest-related jail time!)