In Defense of Your Local Oktoberfest
I'm in Germany right now! As you have probably guessed, I'm at Oktoberfest. I'm trying to make my way through Munich with just enough German to be pointed to the nearest beer garden. I've been told I have nice Lederhosen "for a tourist," so I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of blending in. I'm gonna tell you about the OG Oktoberfest here in Munich, so you can decide for yourself if it is worth it to come all the way here for the real thing. I had the idea to write this post when I was on liter five of day two in the festival. On day one, I knew for certain that this place was the absolute best place in the world and that no one in their right mind would miss going at least once. Spoiler alert, that is the eventual conclusion of this whole post: go to Oktoberfest at least once and for just one day. On my second day in the festival, with a multi-day, full body hangover still kicking around, the magic had worn off. There is stuff you need to know about this magical celebration of beer before you spend your life regretting never coming. A fire hose of misconceptions.
The festival is much more like a giant state fair than anything else. It has rides, roller coasters, spinny things, tons of food stands, carnival games, and souvenirs on top of souvenirs. The whole thing would require most of what the game Roller Coaster Tycoon has to offer in order to be faithfully recreated. It is indistinguishable from your classic rodeo or state fair, but with a Bavarian theme.
Then there are the tents. Over a dozen tents, that are more like giant temporary buildings than tents. Actually, scrap whatever you thought a tent was. Imagine a full building just shy of the size of a football field where the only thing relating it to a tent is a canvas roof about 50 feet up. Each tent is lavishly decorated in the Oktoberfest style: huge wreaths wrapped in blue and white hang from the lights, banners, paintings, stuff like that. They are each dedicated to a specific brewery and you can usually tell by some of the decorations including massive spinning beers, cows, and whoever this guy is (check the photo). The most surprising thing about it was that each table actually has waiters. You don't run off to the beer line or food line to fetch things, they are brought to you and you pay in cash right then. I certainly didn't expect that at all. Each tent serves a substantial menu of German food like sausages, schnitzel, the famed pork knuckle (you gotta eat this to believe it. It's reminds me of a turkey leg wrapped in pork rinds), and the good 'ol half-a-chicken. But you'd think that serving about 6,000 people at a time would be better served by not giving each of them an individual table. Apparently not, they have this down to a science. Service was fast, waiters were attentive (by German standards, that is, maybe I'll rant about that a bit later), and beers were always full, even when people were starting to going nuts around their 5th liter.
Here's what Oktoberfest has that you didn't know. People standing on tables. By the end of the night, every person in the tent is up on their seats singing along with the band, which by about 8PM is singing Ein Prosit every other song to get everyone to smash through their beer. People are packing in, so tables are beginning to mix together. It has snuff. Germans love snuff and they trying to get you to try it. Don't know what snuff is? It's that snort-able tobacco that no one likes. Why do they use it? So they don't have to leave the tent to smoke. Leaving the tent and abandoning your table is a real gamble that might lead you seeking out another place to drink after the previously mentioned 8PM mark. They have hawkers, mostly for pretzels and hats. God damned hats. The mechanical chicken dance ones. Perhaps you've seen them? They play music and dance around. No one buys them. At least I hope not anyway.
Despite the overwhelming presence of chicken dance hats, the festival is surprisingly missing both hats and the chicken dance. In my local Oktoberfest, it's a basically guaranteed song that will come on about a billion times. Here, there are too many real German songs for you to count on hearing the classics like Sweet Caroline and Chicken Dance. Not that I'm really complaining. I just wanted to belt out Sweet Caroline all night. It's my second favorite part. And no one has hats. Hats are for the rich tent that we don't get to go in and for the marching band. My hat full of pins I'm collecting at home? Might as well box it. Alas, they just aren't cool here.
Before I get carried away, I am going to need to split this into two posts. I have a lot more to say, and just not enough time to type. I still want to talk about Leavenworth Oktoberfest, what it's like to drink in Munich, and I want to share my list of dos and don't bothers for attending the festival. However, I'm still here, and there are still 6 more tents I haven’t been in, so I gotta get back to drinking! Prost!