The Germans and the Oktoberfest

Every Year: Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit! A Visit to Munich’s Oktoberfest

Das Logo des Oktoberfests. Foto/Copyright: BenassiIf you see ten thousand people standing in line in Munich at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning, what is going on is neither a new game console hitting the market nor the start of ticket sales for a hot band. The reason is much, much more important: The Oktoberfest has begun.


On September 20th, 2008 at 9:00 in the morning, the gates of the fourteen largest beer tents opened. Their roughly 100,000 seats were snapped up in practically no time at all, but even so many were still left waiting outside. Anyone who comes too late or lacks “connections” simply has to wait until the first visitors leave. That takes time. VIP or VEP? That is the question that decides everything – are you a very important person, or a very early person? Those who managed to get into a tent could now wind down, because the official opening of “the greatest and most delightful festival in the world,” as Bavaria’s Prime Minister Günther Beckstein aptly puts it, would not take place until three hours later.

 In a beer tent. Photo/Copyright: Benassi As tradition demands, Munich’s mayor Christian Ude opened the wooden barrel with the first beer at twelve noon on the dot. This year, he needed only two blows of the hammer, thus repeating his 2006 record. Twelve fireworks explosions roared above the Theresienwiese, signaling the beer-tent hosts that they could now begin serving beer. Shortly thereafter, waitresses were scurrying through the aisles with their arms full of beer mugs, to finally quench their guests’ thirst.

Remarkably peaceful

The Oktoberfest enjoys a legendary status world-wide. After all, as Germany’s central administration for tourism determined in 1999, it is as “typically German” as Adolf Hitler and the Berlin Wall. And this year as well, during the Oktoberfest’s sixteen days, about 7 million people will flock to the festival area on the edge of Munich’s city center and consume slightly more than a Maß (one liter) of beer on average. They will get hungry, too, obviously. In 2007 6.7 million visitors packed away 104 bullocks, 58,446 pork knuckles and 521,872 roast chickens. And mountains of fish, roast sausage and sweets of all kinds were also consumed.

 The traditional costume parade at the start of the Oktoberfest. Photo/Copyright: BenassiBut numbers are more of a hindrance than a help in understanding the Oktoberfest phenomenon. During the runup phase, intense discussions about high beer prices (between 7,80 and 8,30 Euro per liter) are also tradition, but most visitors stop caring about the prices no later than their second Maß. In the end, the atmosphere is more important than money: things are remarkably peaceful considering the masses of people milling about inside and outside the tents. Violence and passed-out drunks are the exception, even though the heavy beer consumption does take its toll on one or the other visitor.

Originally a horse-race

 A waiter with beer mugs. Photo/Copyright: BenassiBut beer played no part at the event’s beginnings. The festival first took place in 1810, to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. A horse-race was held on a field – named the Theresienwiese in honor of the bride - at what was then the city limit. The spectacle on the Wies’n was such a success that it was repeated in the years that followed and it developed into a community festival offering a huge amusement park and countless food stands in addition to the beer tents – that are in fact large-scale buildings that are set up and taken down every year. A memorable experience for adults, children, and visitors from around the world.

And not surprisingly, on each one of the three Oktoberfest weekends the access roads from the south are hopelessly jammed with mobile homes coming in from Italy. Japanese wearing Bavaria’s traditional Lederhosen and Dirndls take part in the costume and sharpshooter parades on the festival’s first Sunday. People from India, America, Australia, Africa and China come in droves to the Wies’n, all of them clearly enjoying the lively atmosphere and the colorful doings.

A gigantic influx of money

 Oktoberfest visitors. Photo/Copyright: Benassi.For this reason, it is no wonder that about 3000 Oktoberfests happen each year all over the world – the largest is in Kitchener, Canada, near Toronto. But the Oktoberfest is also celebrated in Dubai and Pakistan – with no alcohol or pork allowed! The City of Munich, which has the rights to the brand name “Oktoberfest München” need have no fear: the spectacle brings in over a billion euros in sales volume, and the festival area alone provides jobs for 12,000 people. In addition to this come overnight accomodations, shopping tours, taxi rides and public transportation use. A gigantic influx of money every year.

Or almost every year. Although the first Oktoberfest took place 198 years ago, 2008 was only the 175th festival. The reasons for the cancellations were always grave: wars, cholera, global economic crises. It has taken place annually since 1949: neither a bomb attack at the main entrance in 1980 in which thirteen people died, nor the attacks of September 11, 2001 led to cancellation of the festival.

Fairground rides at the Oktoberfest. Photo/Copyright: BenassiSorrow and cares have no place at the Theresienwiese. Anyone who has ever danced on a bench with a beer mug in hand and prosted his neighbor while the brass band strikes up “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit. Eins zwei, drei – Gsuffa!” once again, will never want to pass up this atmosphere. No matter how early he has to get up or how long the waiting time at the entrance may be.

Giuliano Benassi
is an editor at the online music magazine, and an absolute fan of the Oktoberfest.

Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion

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Oktober 2008

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