around the world – part 17.4 (oktoberfest)

Sept 2006: 

octoberfestOktoberfest – the saga continues…Some of you may remember that at this time last year I had written of going to Oktoberfest in Munich.  Last year successful, this year not so much.  Not that it was entirely unsuccessful, just not what we had planned to accomplish.  Some background is in order for those of you who may not know what you should need to know about Oktoberfest.   First, it isn’t held in October despite the name.  It is held in the last two weeks of September every year.  Second, Munich, a city of about 2 million, receives about 6 to 7 million visitors in those two weeks, thus it is wall to wall humanity in the train stations, subways, downtown and at the Theresienwiesse.  Third, Oktoberfest is hugely popular with families because despite impressions, it is not simply a huge drinking binge. It is, by now, a family affair complete with rides, carnies and of course the beer tents.Beer Tents: many of the large German breweries sponsor their own tent – but they are quite unlike any tent you may imagine. They are semi permanent structures complete with wooden floors, tables, chairs, washrooms, mezzanine levels and stages etc. The Hofbrauhaus’s tent holds approx 8000 patrons with their competitors capable of holding similar numbers.  Although there are tables with seating, the average tourist will never obtain one as they are booked up to a year in advance – most attempt to claim a standing table and remain there as long as they are capable of standing.

The beer arrives largely in 1 litre mugs known as “Maas” (although I suppose for the weaker patrons one could with some embarrassment order a smaller beer) wielded by sturdy waitresses carrying on average about a dozen at a time. Patrons are expected to order and consume their beer at the same table because the waitresses ‘rent’ their tables from the establishment and thus it is a faux-pas to order your beer at one table and then take it to another – since you have not ordered it from the waitress at the table you have just arrived at.   Last year we were successful in obtaining a table at the HB tent but this year things worked out somewhat differently although satisfactorily in the end.

The story this year:  We departed by car from Greding to Ingolstadt Hauptbahnhof where we purchased two group tickets to Munich. Group tickets are the way to go, since 5 people can travel the entire transit system all day for 25 euro  including the Regional Express from Ingolstadt, the Subway, the  “>Schnellbahn, streetcars and buses. Unfortunately we departed a little later than we should have as it turned out. Important tip: if you intend to get into any of the beer tents – arrive no later than 0930hrs.  By now you will have guessed that not only did we arrive much too late, we didn’t get into the tent – not at all.

In fact although we kept our hopes up, by 1035 when we had queued at the entrance to the tent they were only letting in one and two at a time corresponding to those leaving.  After about half an hour, the line suddenly began flowing counterclockwise around to the left side of the tent and began forming new lines at each of the several side exits.  Although we were now closer to an entrance, the numbers of supplicants being granted access to the tent dropped off to a tiny dribble.  While our places were held in line, a couple of us checked the situation at other neighbouring tents only to discover that the situation was no better there.  By 1230 I was about 10 people back from the front of the line – when quite unexpectedly along came about 6 security ‘goons’ blowing their whistles and applying their best rugby scrum pushes to clear us and all of the other lines away from the side of the tent and then simply closed down the lines – muttering ‘alles fullurung – kein eingang’ – all full, no entrance! A bit of a piss off!

By this time we were all quite hungry, thirsty and disappointed – until someone suggested trying to get into the original HB in downtown Munich. I had my doubts because I figured nearly everyone else might have had a similar idea given the sheer numbers of people being turned away from the tents – but thought the idea might have merit since most people are tourists and simply don’t know where the HB is.

So a quick walk from Theresienweisse into downtown Munich found us in front of the old HB. Not surprisingly much of the Alt Stadt was crowded with tourists, but we were able to find a table for 12 (two more friends joined us) inside the HB. The HBwas, much like the tents, jammed with beer swilling patrons, but with tables and chairs available it one was willing to search. We spent the remainder of the day quaffing belt-fed (explanation provided on request) maas making up for lost time so to speak.

Things to remember: Apparently the middle weekend of Oktoberfest sees the entire population of northern Italy uprooted and transplanted into Munich.  A fair statement to say that at no time during the day were we out of sight or sound of hordes of Italian tourists. Thus we were treated to non-stop serenades by sequentially drunker and drunker Italian cohorts.

More things to remember:

  • get to the tents early 0930 – or wait until the lull around 1630hrs…
  • the security guards around the tents are, in my opinion, simply street gangs and thugs given legitimate employment for two weeks – don’t argue with them – they seem to thrive on the possibility of ‘tuning’ someone up.

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