Friday, October 15, 2010
Munich, Germany's 200th Anniversary of Oktoberfest
Munich, Germany's 200th Anniversary of Oktoberfest
Oct 4th 2010
Ten thousand people, all enjoying liter mugs flowing with fresh Paulaner beer, swayed and clapped, hooted and hollered and joined together to sing that traditional German song, "Sweet Home Alabama." The lively Oom Pa Pa band churned it out in a way that Lynyrd Skynyrd would appreciate. Packed to the rafters, I spied an empty seat and grabbed it. Ah, now seated, I ordered a beer (there is only one kind – Oktoberfest) and watched the action.
Munich's Oktoberfest is celebrating its 200th Anniversary as throngs keep piling into the Munich's Theresienwiese, or festival grounds. Originally a wedding celebration for Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, nearly 7.5 million people will visit the sixteen-day festival this year. Of the crowds, about 50% are locals, from Munich and Bavaria, but the rest come from elsewhere around Germany, Europe, the UK, USA and beyond. "This is something special," said Thomas Klug, a Munich local, sitting with a few friends. "Oh yes, I come every year." Klug will ride his bicycle home after his third liter and plans on being at work at 7:30 the next morning.
I wouldn't bet on it; lots of habitually punctual Germans call in sick during Oktoberfest.
Open from 11 AM to 11 PM, the festival ground is a blast, like a Beer Disneyland (... or "Beers-ny-land") full of carnival attractions, thrill rides like a fair sized coaster and 13-story drop zone, food stalls, kiddie attraction and other sorts of family fun. The various beer halls line the sides, all representing a Munich brewery. (There are 13.) Everyone has a favorite for various reasons. Some attract a younger crowd, some older and less frenetic, while still others may offer different culinary specialties. Oh yeah, they serve food too! Fresh and hot Hendl or roasted chicken is very popular -- and tasty. The service can vary from crisp at the Hacker-Pschorr brewery to very slow at Augustina.
"It's amazing how good a tuba can sound after a few beers."Standing on benches, sometimes for long periods, most of the patrons are friendly and -- despite the beer and crowds -- it is a very peaceful scene. People come to drink fresh beer and have fun. "It's amazing how good a tuba can sound after a few beers," said Tom Carroll visiting from Maryland. He's right, and in fact this is when the dorky tuba player from the high school marching band finally gets some respect. At a break, the tuba player pulled out a fifteen foot long Alpine horn and played it jauntily. It sounded like an immense trombone. His short-brimmed, country hat sported a fluffy feather in the side, rising about ten inches into the air. The crowd roared, he smiled and bowed slightly after his short performance. He then picked up his beer.
Many women – of all ages wear the traditional dirndl dresses (think Swiss Miss) with frilly white blouses blue or red skirts. Revealing and busty they usually look lovely in these outfits, with the exception of the ugly "Mary Jane" type shoes. Men on the other hand wear lederhosen – brown leather pants with suspenders. The most common type ties off at the knee – supposedly to keep the critters out. There is also a cross-section belt connecting the suspenders in the front that often sports a family crest or city logo. Underneath they wear a two colored checked flannel shirt, most often red and white or blue and white. Some wear vests, usually green, and white or cream colored socks pulled up high. Suede loafers or short work boots complete the ensemble. Small shops as well as large department stores in Munich sell proper Oktoberfest gear running anywhere from $100 - $300 for an entire outfit. (Makes a great Halloween costume back home!) There are also some used clothing stores around town.
Still many Oktoberfest participants wear otherwise normal clothing without a problem. "This is fantastic, there's nothing like this in England," said Tony visiting from Ipswich England. Now they are singing "Sweet Caroline," Ha, time for another beer...
Beer logistics at Munich's Oktoberfest
Oct 5th 2010
"It's a panic," remarked Michael Bannister, a distinguished gentleman visiting from Cambridge, England. "The thing is they all know the songs." The crowd -- some ten thousand strong -- sang along with various German tunes but the real gusto was reserved for intentional hits. They belted the chorus from "Hey Jude" so loud the rafters seemed to shake. People inside the Paulaner tent danced in place for hours and did all the right moves from "YMCA." Moreover, songs like "Sweet Caroline, "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Country Road" brought the crowd into frenzy. And you've never heard the song "Tequila" until hearing it on tuba and accordion! "There is so much energy here," said Jo Wegstein from Fremont, California, visiting Germany on biotech business.
The logistics of Oktoberfest are impressive, and large festival or event planners might consider studying their methods. The beer logistics alone are amazing. For instance...
The Paulaner Brewery, the largest in Munich begins making Oktoberfest beer in late July and delivers about 3,000,000 liters during Oktoberfest. That's a lot of beer, consumed one liter a time. And Paulaner is just one brewery out of 12 functioning at the annual event.
Paulaner brings its beer from the brewery to its Oktoberfest tent in huge tanker trucks able to transport 270 hectoliters at a time from midnight until right before the tents open in the morning.
The brew is connected directly from the tankers to the beer taps using a sophisticated, patented system.
Munich-area breweries, hospitality vendors and politicians all vie for tent space, which is highly coveted and incredibly lucrative. A tent owner or brewery can be kicked out of Oktoberfest if there are problems -- and they'll never be allowed to return.
Particularly now -- the last few days of Oktoberfest -- the brewery tents are usually entirely packed with attendees who've reserved tables months in advance.
The Spaten tent was packed, the doors shut tight, and only those with a wristband or VIP access were allowed to enter. There are also biergartens outside, but alas, also full. I ambled over to the nearby Paulaner tent and was fortunately able to jostle and push my way in, but every seat or bench was taken. Still, I was inside and able to watch the action. However, the servers were only serving within reserved designated areas.
Eventually I started chatting with a nice young guy wearing a traditional red and white checked shirt, and he invited me over to meet his little group. Instantly I was "in," and one of the family. Very friendly, the people at this table included his mother Monica and her husband Mark, plus a few friends and relatives. Her friend Sandy said she was with, "My man, my ex-man, my son and his girlfriend, and my sister."
Another couple, Rolf and wife Shannina, originally from Romania, rounded out the group. These folks were accommodating and friendly and of course, everyone was enjoying the fresh Paulaner Oktoberfest brew. Dressed in traditional Oktoberfest garb, Rolf was very proud of his custom-made lederhosen, which cost 600 Euro and took six months to deliver. "They are from Stangassinger," he said proudly. "The best."
Yes, his lederhosen looked very nice, not that I am up on the nuances of this product. Apparently, every Bavarian man should buy a good pair, which may last a lifetime though fitting into them years from now may be another story. At one point, everyone stood and sang out as the band played a rousing rendition of "New York." I found out that Monica's son Danny, who brought me to the table, was only 14 years old. He looked much older. His mother said that he'd been very good this year and thought it best that he would drink under her supervision. She allowed him to drink one big beer. I saw him drink at least two.
Oktoberfest: Lots of food and more than 8 million gallons of beer
Oct 7th 2010
Oktoberfest grew like an indelible beast as Munich crowds headed by subway, bus and foot to the Theresienwiese fairgrounds. It was the last night, after all -- and there was still plenty of beer to consume. Thousands converged, happily dressed in everything from traditional colorful dirndls, lederhosen and vests to ordinary t-shirts and leather jackets. It really makes no difference what you wear to Oktoberfest unless, perhaps, you are an old-timer from Bavaria. On this night I headed for the Hacker-Pschorr Braurosi tent -- which I'd heard was a wild one.
Besides fresh Oktoberfest beer, specially brewed for the occasion, Oktoberfest showcases and serves German culinary staples such as excellent Hendl (rotisserie chicken), Wursti (sausage), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Haxn (pork knuckle -- better than it sounds) and Knodel (a potato pancake). The ubiquitous Brezn (pretzels) are huge, soft and very salty.
Some Oktoberfest facts:
There are 12 tents all hosted by Munich area breweries. Each tent is a very lucrative business. It's a sophisticated setup regarding beer delivery, ingress and egress, food, security and music. The bathrooms? Well... they're another story.
Tents can hold up to 10,000 people at a time and are usually packed, packed, packed -- especially in the evenings. The jostling is incredible. Big German waitresses power through the crowds holding up to ten beers or platters of food. The tents are open for 12 hours each day (usually 11:00 AM - 11:00 PM). In other words, way more than 10,000 people rotate in and out throughout the day. Meanwhile, thousands of others are standing outside the tents, hoping, trying to get in!
The festival lasts 16 days.
Doing a little math, that's: 12 tents x 10,000 people x 16 days = 1,920,000 people minimum. In fact, Munich estimates that a record 7.5 million people will attend Oktoberfest in 2010.
If each of those 7.5 million people drink only 4 liters of beer, then the partiers consume roughly 8 million gallons of beer over the course of the event.
The Hacker-Pschorr tent is by far the prettiest at Oktoberfest. The walls are painted with bucolic Bavarian scenes and the roof is painted like a big blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Well-lit, you might think you're outside, eating and drinking with 9,999 new friends. I was fortunate to get seated in the balcony so could overlook the controlled chaos. The band now belted out the familiar "Que Sera Sera" followed by rousing rendition of "Those Were the Days." (The 1968 hit sung by Mary Hopkin was produced by Paul McCartney.) Appetizers soon appeared consisting of radishes (they seem to love radishes), a type of pork fat liverwurst and of course, big salty pretzels. As my first beer arrived, I settled in as waitresses roared by, blasting through the ever thickening crowd carrying full or empty steins of excellent Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest beer.
The din -- a happy noise -- got louder and louder though I couldn't tell if I was inside or outside the asylum. Looking back through the windows, thousands of people were massing, trying to get into this tent. Then the song "Mamma Mia" got the crowd lathered in proper ABBA fashion. Some danced in the aisles and many others on the benches. After a short break, the traditional music was replaced by a rock band and soon the chunky opening chords of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" shook the building. It sounded great. "We come here every year," shouted Gabriella Keck, visiting from Salzburg, Austria. Her five friends were rocking too. Next came AC-DC's "You, Shook Me All Night Long" and the horde, young and old, local and international went nuts.
Bob Ecker is a Napa, California based travel writer/photographer providing worldwide magazines and newspapers with compelling travel, hospitality, wine, culinary, skiing, film and innovative feature content. He is constantly on the go, traveling the world, unearthing new stories and uncorking emerging regions. He is current Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) member and former President of the Bay Area Travel Writers (BATW).