So living in Bavaria and not too far from Munich it was somewhat inevitable that I would end up at Oktoberfest. Controversial statement- I would not go back.
Beer fests here are a part of the culture, or so I keep telling myself, and therefore a must-do on my Year Abroad checklist; in all honesty it’s impossible to escape beer here in some shape or form. And getting caught up in the magic of it is easy, and really fun. That’s why I find myself rushing home midweek to rip open an Amazon parcel containing my very own Dirndl. I really like it, it’s nicely fitted although I’m beginning to see why everyone looks so voluptuous wearing them and I wish I’d bought the special Dirndl Push-Up Bra- however I think I’ve spent enough money for one year on something that will effectively be fancy dress hereafter.
To get to Munich is problematic- too close to justify staying over, too far to be an easy hop. I wake up at five am. Urgh. So if you’re in south Germany in Oktober, who’s that young woman waiting on a street corner, in the dark, at some stupid-o-clock in the morning and she’s wearing a short skirt, and probably no tights? Hooker? No, she’s heading for Oktoberfest. Even the train from our little town is crowded, the platform speckled with brown leather and blue and red gingham like a confused school outing in the dark, and there are no seats as we crawl out of the station; but this is nothing to what we find in Nürnberg. Shortly before 7am we arrive on a packed platform from which the ‘Oktoberfest train’, laid on by the rain company especially to cope with the extra numbers, is due to be leaving. It isn’t just a ‘mix’ of people stood on the platform, it is most of the inhabitants of this region as far as I can tell, and a few others besides- some have clearly been drinking since before I was even conscious. There are sensible late twenties couples cuddling and sharing a beer, there are older couples and families, the women wearing the longer style Dirndl, who are munching on their breakfast pretzels and looking around with mild amusement but not an ounce of surprise. There is the obligatory group of ‘lads’ late teens early twenties, hauling crates of beer onto the train and already looking green about the gills as they slur to one another, rather loudly for the time of day. Then there are the even younger teenagers, drinking fast to be drunk when they get there and probably unaware of how this is going to end for them I sense, as I watch a girl in a pink Dirndl slug Sangria from a carton. Somehow we all fit on the train, and it takes it’s time to get to Munich (it is delayed because too many people keep hopping off at small stations for smoking breaks) using what I’m sure is usually a very pretty route but I don’t see much because I’m too tired to pay any attention.
After following the multicoloured stream of pure noise out of the station and being carried along to the venue I am disappointed that I won’t see the nice bits of Munich today, just the grey concrete trek from the station to the grey, concrete jungle (not helped by the overcast sky which remained stubbornly one colour for a full twelve hours) that surrounds the festivities. It’s instantly overwhelming. A volume of people I hadn’t even comprehended- this is now a European event, and globally famous, so people from all kinds of corners of the earth have rocked up to pay €11 a beer today and the chances of finding a seat anywhere look slim. Fact: at least 80% of people are already drunk. The tents are vast, I’d like to lobby to rename them Drinking Exhibition Halls, but on the outside they can be quite pretty. The stalls were pretty too, although I was bemused to come face to face with a fish and chip shop within seconds- I suddenly got a huge craving before I realised, Oi! Where’s my Curry Wurst? Fairground rides always have a comforting glow, the muffled scream you can hear emanating from above, the glaring colours always reaching you in half light and becoming blurred, there was a sufficiently tangy cold around too to feel like autumn, like we might be at firework night, surrounded by throbbing crowds and hot chestnut smell, the stands decked in pastels gilded with faux gold. Getting into the tents is problematic. More so if you have a bag of any sort, or food of any sort- just don’t try it. We end up queuing in front of a looming white shape labelled Schottenhamel, there are four queues barely moving and I get a sinking feeling that we should have booked. We even tried to squeeze in the heated outdoors area, thinking it would be easier, but no one is budging. As we wait a young man gets forcibly removed from the tent, I notice beer droplets dripping from his fringe, and then much to my surprise out of his mouth tumbles, in a broad North West English accent “Don’t try downing your drink in there alright? They doon’t fooking laike it.” He stumbles off, much aggrieved. I see one other man try it that day and I can kind of understand why the security don’t fooking laike it when you try and swallow a litre of beer in one fell gulp.
Finally we’re ushered/dragged in and hit by a wave of noise and heat, but it’s friendly noise for sure. I’m instantly accosted by two men, about my age, they say hi and one gives me a hug. I’m currently very good at just saying hi to everyone while flicking furiously through my bank of German names trying to work out if this is a friend of a friend- it isn’t, he just wants a photo with a girl in a Dirndl, this sets the tone for the rest of the day. The tables are set out like livestock pens at the county show, rectangular fenced in blocks that are either reserviert or nicht reserviert, regardless, they are all packed. Along one long side is the food and beer factory belt, churning out both at a rate of substantially more than knots, and on the other side are several raised seating areas- one labelled student area- but these are definitely reserviert and the discerning Oktoberfest customers have clearly been bedded down up there for hours. Food and beer navigate the crowd in straight channels, like irrigation, policed by security and pushed along by long-suffering waiters and waitresses. The food looks very good too, elegantly prepared, not too small a portion, smells fantastic- just don’t look at the prices. We flirt our way into sharing a table, I’m told this is common practice, and we are hoiked up into standing position on the bench so we can see the bandstand, raised in the centre of the crowd, floating up there with the ornate blue and gold decoration and the swathes of flowers dangling like a rainforest canopy. The band is really good, playing lively songs and stopping between almost every one to rouse all voices in the hall into the Prost Song, I haven’t quite figured out the words but I know the tune and that it’s rude to not drink after everyone’s gone to the effort of singing and smashing their Krugs against yours. If you squint you could be fooled into thinking this was a classy affair. Don’t be- fun it may be, classy it is not, I realise as I glance to the floor and see that somebody has thrown up at our feet.
Oktoberfest is…big. It’s tiring, what I’ve just described gets you to about 3 or 4pm, drinking beer by the litre in a sweltering, noisy tent. Then after that you can leave and…find another tent, go on a fair ground ride so you can be sick, eat something, or go in another tent. We proceeded in this manner until 8pm when, suddenly blinking and realizing it was dark and there were even more people here than at 9.30am, and they’re all still drunk, we decided we could call it a night. We eventually made it back home at 00.30. So yes, tiring and draining. It’s also expensive, don’t go expecting it to be otherwise, and if anything it is a little bit of an anti climax. It is fundamentally just industrialized drinking modelled on a battery farm, with a bit of glitter sprinkled over the top. I am glad I went but honestly, I doubt I would ever go back. That’s the thing about Bucket List Items though, they aren’t always quite what you’ve read in the papers.