Munich, the capital of Bavaria and the third largest city in Germany, is home to the Oktoberfest, one of the biggest p*ss-ups on earth. Despite its name, the Oktoberfest actually starts at the end of September and lasts for 16 days up to and including the first Sunday in October or (since 1994) until German Unity Day (October 3rd), whichever is later. The festival grew out of a wedding party for Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810 to which all the people of Munich were invited. “Wow that was fun,” the townsfolk said with one voice when they woke up a week later, so they’ve been doing it ever since, except on 24 occasions when it was cancelled due to wars or epidemics. So, the Oktoberfest that coincides with this issue of Indonesia Expat is the 180th and marks the 204th anniversary of the festival.
The first time I went to the Oktoberfest I couldn’t believe the sheer scale of the thing. The site occupies about 420,000m2 of land, about seven million people visit every year and on average every man, woman and child that walks through the gate drinks a litre of beer. That’s right, around seven million litres of beer are served in 16 days – that’s roughly 450,000 litres per day. Bearing in mind that beer is only available for about ten hours a day, that’s amazing; about 45,000 litres per hour, or 750 litres per minute, or 12.5 litres per second. But they also sell about 150,000 litres of wine and 1.3 million litres of soft drinks, tea and coffee, so the rate of liquid consumption per person is actually much higher.
You can see why the City of Munich provides around 2,000 toilets and urinals specifically for the festival, but unfortunately this is never enough. When I visited in 2004 there were actually German police officers going along the incredibly long queues for the toilets trying to determine if the men waiting in line wanted to do number ones or number twos (not exactly the kind of detective work they had in mind when they joined the job, I imagine). Men dancing around grasping the fronts of their jeans were ordered to go and use a huge enclosed pit with a grill over it, those standing very still and grasping the backs of their jeans were allowed to stay in line for the enclosed cubicles. This explains why every vertical object in a shadowy area within a kilometre of the festival plays host to a blissfully groaning man, and sometimes a blissfully groaning woman (and sometimes both).
There are 14 huge beer ‘tents’ which can seat from around 2,000 to nearly 11,000 people, including the obligatory beer gardens. The largest is called Winzerer Fahndl and is operated by the Paulaner brewery. Here you will find the players and fans of the Bayern Munich football team and statistically people stay in this tent longer than any other (although I believe this may be because they have lost the ability to stand). This tent is easy to find, thanks to its huge square tower and the enormous glass of Paulaner beer that rotates on top of it. Inside you will find the famous Nockherberger Band playing in an authentic Bavarian atmosphere, which makes it one of the most popular venues of the festival. Outside you will find dozens of football fans and naive tourists lying unconscious in pools of urine.
If you like getting shoved around and elbowed in the face by good-natured drunk men in lederhosen and Bavarian hats, the Oktoberfest is definitely the place for you. Go into any one of the beer tents on any evening during the festival and they will be only too happy to oblige, and while they’re doing it they will gladly drench you in beer from the huge glasses which they insist on swinging about in time to the music as if they were empty.
It’s all great fun, but do try to anticipate your bodily functions well in advance, and if you are a man do ask for ID before you agree to leave the queue for the bathroom with an oddly inquisitive German man wearing a police uniform.