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.
%Gallery-7107%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.
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…
Previously: Arriving at Munich’s Oktoberfest
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).