If you have never been to the Oktoberfest in Munich, you should know that it is not just for beerswillers and younger people; it is an enormous annual festival like nothing else on earth and well worth the experience. If you were to combine the FA Cup Final atmosphere, the Last Night of the Proms and the Royal Agricultural Show – and then add the biggest funfair you ever saw – you could get somewhere close!
The event is a 201-years-old tradition and from mid-September it occupies a huge site near the city centre for nearly 3 weeks. Each of Munich’s five major breweries competes to build the biggest and best pavilion – and inside each there are perhaps 3,000 people seated at long benches and being served with steins of beer and the traditional Bavarian foods. One of the features of these beer tents is the army of waitresses who have mastered the art of carrying six or even eight full steins in their hands and arms. And at the centre of each pavilion is the bandstand, featuring a brass and accordian ‘oompah’ band and leading the crowd in German drinking songs. The atmosphere is raucous and after a few beers, some of the drinkers climb on the seats and tables to encourage the singers – but it all seemed to be good-natured and the whole event closes down promptly at 10pm each night. And there is a strictly enforced no smoking rule (no doubt one of the reasons for the very visible security staff patrol the entire area).
Outside, the milling crowd moves between the large and small beer tents, the souvenir stalls and the food and ice cream vendors. Also on parade are several of the traditional horse-drawn beer wagons and a surprisingly large proportion of the men are wearing the Bavarian lederhosen and the women are in dirndl skirts – all adding to the picturesque scene.
Then at the edge of the tented areas is the funfair area, featuring some spectacular rides where it seems that German engineering and ingenuity is testing the endurance of human beings to the limit! It would certainly be unwise to experience some of the rides after too much beer, schweinebraten and weisswurst.
The Oktoberfest is said to attract 50-million visitors each year and between them, they consume seven million litres of beer!