The kegs have been tapped and the beer is flowing at the Wiesn in Munich because today is the opening of the 177th Oktoberfest.
Two years ago I attended Oktoberfest before my study abroad program began in Salzburg. I went early so that I could go to this party of parties, and then, once the rest of the group found out that I had gone, well, many others wanted to go, too, so I returned.
Oktoberfest is wild and crazy. There is really no other way to describe it. The two-hour train ride from Salzburg was just the start of the party, because you can drink beer on the train, and everyone began the party there.
I also do not think I have ever been somewhere where there was no breathing room anywhere due to the wall-to-wall people like I experienced at the Wiesn.
Before going, I had done some research on the tents, checking out the music and just trying to learn as much as I could. What I found was that the Hacker-Pschorr tent supposedly has the best music, which just happens to be classic American songs.
Taste in music was one thing I learned well at Oktoberfest. The Germans have incorporated American songs like “Hey Baby,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Country Roads” into their repertoire. As perplexing as that is, it’s true. When these songs were played, everyone went crazy. Everyone also goes crazy when “Ein Prosit” is played, which is often played when things have died down a bit just to stir things up again.
Sadly, I was too entranced by everything to take more than one video, which I regret. But you can see what it’s like early in the day at Hofbräu Festzelt:
Another surprise was the size of the tents. I pictured graduation party tents that fit in your backyard. Really, this was exceedingly foolish of me to picture something so small, but nevertheless, that’s what a tent is to me. The tents on the Oktoberfest grounds are so much more than a tent. These are semi-permanent structures that can hold thousands of people.
To get into a tent, you really need a reservation. When you don’t have a reservation, you need to be there early. And you need to be there on a weekday. I was there first on a Thursday and then on the following Sunday. Sunday was the day of super crowdedness, as opposed to Thursday, which was much more manageable. Both times we arrived on the 11 a.m. train (use the bathroom on the train before disembarking), and the grounds are conveniently a 15 minute (or less) walk from the main train station. Arriving early allows you to enter a tent and search for an unreserved table you can sit at. (Hofbräuhaus has a standing-room section, but I don’t really like their beer and it easily gets packed, too.) Females can manage to squish into seating at tables, but for guys, it is not so easy. And even once you’ve found a seat, you have until 6 p.m. when your table gets turned over to the evening reservation, and every table is booked. And the search for a seat begins again and is much, much more difficult at this hour.
You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal about having a seat? I can stand and drink beer.” You could stand and drink beer, but you can’t get served unless you have a seat.
I am sad that I can’t be in Munich for another Oktoberfest this year, and I also can’t get to Cincinnati for their supposedly quite authentic Oktoberfest this weekend. But I did get to attend the German-American Festival in Toledo a couple of weeks ago, where I proudly wore my Austrian dirndl, even though Austria is snubbed in the event (it’s only about Germany and Switzerland).
The other strange thing I noticed about this event is that it fulfills many of the American stereotypes of what Germany is like. There were plastic boots to drink beer from, lots of ooompa music and “Edelweiss.” Germany and Austria may be these things, but if the bands were truly authentic, they would not have played “Edelweiss,” which is an American song written by Americans for “The Sound of Music.” There also should have been some American classics like “Hey Baby” that were part of the program. But really, I don’t want to complain because beggars can’t be choosy. I got to have a Schnitzelsandwich, served on an American hamburger bun, but again, it was Schnitzel. In Ohio. And Alison was happy.
Here is a video of the music at the German-American Festival, where you’ll hear “Edelweiss” in German and English and get to hear the Falcon Marching Band Trombones’ version of “Beer Barrel Polka” :
And here is a slideshow of Oktoberfest 2008: