PROST Bitches!!! Oktoberfest, Munich, September 24-29, 2012

14 Oct

EVER heard the saying quality over quantity? Well, with more than 6.9 million litres of beer consumed this year during 16 days in Munich, Germany, Oktoberfest is definitely not the time for that old adage.
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Bier Bier Bier!

With more than 200 years history under its’ beer-belly sized belt, the annual festival of the frothy stuff has gained infamy into the world’s far reaching corners, but nowhere more so than in Australia, with thousands from the sunny continent making the more than 14,000 kilometre pilgrimage in pursuit of the amber liquid each year.

Oktoberfest has become something of a rite if passage for young Aussies, and, having made it myself this year, it’s easy to see why.

Firstly, where Australia in recent years has condemned and legislated against a culture of binge drinking, Oktoberfest facilitates it, welcomes it with open arms. (Perhaps in foolish overestimation of the personal responsibility factor of its’ overseas tourists.)

I was apprehensive at the thought of five days of drinking beer in one-litre portions amongst a crowd of large Bavarian men, but was eased into proceedings on our first night by a visit to Hofbrauhaus, a large beer hall in Munich, outside the festival grounds.

Established way back in 1859, in 1920 Hofbrauhaus was the location of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party inauguration speech and painted swastikas, remnants of this horrific time in modern history remain on the high, pitched ceilings of the hall, hidden under huge red and yellow wheels which were painted in place after the war. This knowledge, in contrast with the loud and carefree merriment ensuing inside the building, leaves a strange feeling.

Wearing a newly-purchased dirndl, complete with apron and long socks, in keeping with the boys’ (Nic, Luke and Kurt) traditional lederhosen, I shared brotwurst, sauerkraut, crispy skinned pork and German potatoes, quickly learned to ‘Prost,’ (the German way of saying cheers) and downed a couple of litres (called a Mass in German) of the frothy stuff until we were threatened with removal from the establishment by a large and angry waiter and Kurt jumped out of the window.
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Pork and potato dumpling from Hofbrauhaus

I could finish this blog post here, because the rest of Oktoberfest was basically a ramped-up extension of this night, but I would like to explain a bit further into the magic and appeal behind this giant playground of excess for adults.

Day two, 9 am and the boys are back in (or perhaps still wearing) their lederhosen, which could by this time have been mistaken for a second skin – such was their emotional attachment to the traditional German folk-ware along with the difficulty in actually removing the heavy suede shorts.

We meander our way by foot to the festival, which takes place at Theresienwiese, a meadow south-west of central Munich. Now, to eat and to choose which beer hall out of the 14 huge and impressive structures to hand our souls over to for the day.

Breakfast consists of a chicken schnitzel slapped into white bread (other days brotwurst, or some other dead, cooked or cured animal or a pretzel) and by 10.30 am we are seated at a long timber table in the red and yellow-themed Hippodrom tent, ‘Prosting’ with our first litres of beer. The aim is to be seated as early as possible each day, because by around midday, the halls, some seating 10,000 punters with increasingly glazed eyes, are full. And by full, I mean resembling a single giant, many armed, many legged, shouting, singing, beer devouring monster.
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Hippodrom hall

The bringing of beers at Oktoberfest is an exciting spectacle in itself. Hall staff, mainly buxom women, can be witnessed in awe, carrying up to eight beers at a time. At eight kilograms of liquid weight, plus another 1.3 kilos for each glass (more than 18 kg total!), combined with squeezing through drunk and disorderly merry-makers, this is no mean feat. They wear whistles around their necks to part the crowds and stern expressions on their faces. They are amazing and should probably be tipped more generously.

Beers cost about €10/litre and ordering anything less than a litre is sacrilege.

At about midday,the locals order a standard lunch of quarter chicken and chips to prime themselves for the coming hours of drinking. I say the locals, because the non-German tourists are either too excited by all the strange and wonderful menu options or cannot read the language well enough to choose sensible chicken, and end up ordering €66 platters consisting predominantly of radish. (Our rookie error…)
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€66 platter :/

By early afternoon all plates have been cleared and empty beer mugs are accumulating fast on the tables, alongside the battered feet of a few extra-keen revellers. Most people are by now standing on benches or are otherwise packed into the aisles between tables with little breathing room. Everyone is in traditional dress and singing, usually the wrong words to folk song after folk song and it is not unusual to see the entire brass band in the centre of each hall each scull a litre of beer in perfect harmony. It is a loud, excessive, merry congregation, the ruckus resembling that of an evangelist church service, but the worship taking place here is to none other but the beer.
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Crowds…
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…and more crowds
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Old and new friends

Over the course of the next few days, we manage to consume upward of five litres of beer each day (me five or six, the boys seven or eight or really who knows how much?) and manage to stake out a number of halls including decent stints at the Hofbrau, Schottenhamel Spatenbrau and Hippodrom, with a brief foray into the Lowebrau tent from memory, before spilling out into the crisp night air to contend with yet more crowds and a carnival atmosphere of brightly lit fair rides, the wafting smells of hot food and the gleaming spoils of the many souvenir shops. We devour our fair share of brotwurst, chilli wurst, schnitzel, ham, steak and hot chips (pommes) and make dozens of new, if fleeting, friends. We learn German songs and then quickly forget the words, replacing them with ‘…something in Germaaaannnnn’ We lose each other in the madness and we are reunited, sometimes minutes, often hours later.
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Festival lights
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Schottenhamel-Spatenbrau hall
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Hofbrau hall
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Hippodrom hall

Even in all the excitement, a few festival goers really managed to stand out… We watched this guy (we don’t know him!) stumble past with half a chicken, drop the chicken, pick up the chicken, drop the chicken again – behind a rubbish bin, then pick it up, dust it off and start eating it.
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Despite the ridiculous quantity of liquid we consumed each day – to the point that my kidneys were hurting – we did not once wake up with a hangover, thanks to the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, (thank you Beer Gods!) which limits ingredients to water, hops, malt and yeast – no chemicals or preservatives.

The day before we leave for Prague, having already extended our time in Munich by two days, we plan for a final blowout with two of Nic’s high school friends, Joe and Will and Mary, a new friend from Dublin, Ireland. Circumstances dictate we can’t get to the festival until after 3 pm and by the time we arrive the entrance to the Hofbrau hall (Hofbraufestzelt) is already packed about 10 persons deep and about 10 metres across with thirsty revellers clamouring to get in. We stand packed like sardines in the hot sun, periodically being pushed back in a pack by fearful security guards shouting in German, one of whose face has turned so red he looks like he is going to explode. From our understanding it seems like they are saying ‘It is closed!’ but we wait and occasionally a beer wench comes outside and chooses a small group to enter the hall. Half an hour ticks by and we are still crammed together, sweating being pushed around and wondering if we will be here until dark. Suddenly, the guards remove the barrier rope and shout something along the lines of ‘Everybody in!.’ The crowd surges and then stampedes forward through the too-narrow doors of the hall . And the fun starts.
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Joe, Will, Nic – last day of festivities

Oktoberfest organisers estimated that 6.4 million people attended this year’s event, with more than 2500 of those requiring medical treatment in the first week. Luckily we all came out unscathed, any residual liver damage aside, but at least one Canadian festival goer was not so lucky, the man dying after being hit by a tram.
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Real Bavarian girl and boy!

HOSTEL
Smart Stay Station Hostel

    Pros:

Excellent, young staff, good bar/restaurant, good price considering festival time, decent €6.50 breakfast, great atmosphere. Perfect location close to Munich HBF train station and all amenities.

    Cons:

Central heating too close to the beds, too hot at night.

MUNICH
We didn’t manage a walking tour of the City, nor a visit to Dachau concentration camp memorial, which I was really keen to do. But from our brief experience of Munich, we found it incredibly clean, with great shopping, many fountains and friendly people.
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Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Marienplatz, Munich

TIME SPENT SO FAR…
In the air – 24.5 hours
Total travelling including flights, buses, airport time – about 66 hours

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One Response to “PROST Bitches!!! Oktoberfest, Munich, September 24-29, 2012”

  1. The Holy Profit October 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Sounds like a lot of fun! I’ve heard there’s more Aussies than Germans at Oktoberfest, did you find that?
    Only correction I have, I would title this article “PROST schlumpas!”

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