Inspired by Munich, Germany
Oktoberfest (known locally as Die Wiesn) now in its 184th year is held in the last 2 weeks of Sept and the 1st week of October. Originally started in 1810, the festival was held in honour of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig's marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Back then the festivities began on October 12th and ended on October 17th with a horse, race but given the German penchant for drinking beer, the festivities continued every year, grew, and eventually were moved back into September as the weather was a little more reliable.
Munich – Sept 2017
So it transpires that along with myself, many of my beer friends/colleagues have not been to Munich to experience the 18 Day Annual Folk Festival more commonly known as Oktoberfest.
It is one of those events that us beer folk and any self-respecting beer lover has on their bucket list of things to do. I was lucky enough in September 2016 to attend the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest in Chico, California but this visit only prepared me for the sheer amount of celebration, what it did not prepare me for was the sheer size and magnificence of the real deal.
So, with a last minute invite, I bagged a cheap flight and off I went with a handful of colleagues, a 24 hour dip into one of my bucket list activities, but also I felt as someone who works in the brewing industry it’s a rite of passage – so here’s the basic lo-down on Munich’s finest moment.
The Germans are traditionalists and so the event is steeped in tradition, the women wear various versions of the Dirndl (traditional Alps peasant dress), some are very trad and some have a more contemporary feel and look to them, the men also gear up in Lederhosen (Leather Breeches that are traditional Bavarian, originally workwear but now considered Folk clothing), again contemporary versions are seen, along with Bayern Munich Shirts paired with Jeans and trainers! Very now.
What’s great is it’s not compulsory to squeeze into these traditional clothes, what is compulsory is you get into the spirit, jump in one of the very large Bier Halls and have a few Steins of damn fine Oktoberfest Bier. You may also stand on a table, dance & sing along to the Tyrolean Band (Traditional Folk Band), eat larger than life fresh, warm Pretzels, consume fresh, hot half Chickens and raise your 1 litre Stein to one of the longest running Volksfest (Beer Festival & Travelling Funfair) of all time.
Along with the clothing having a modern touch at times, so the bands have got with the times, it all starts off very ‘Oom Pah Pah’, however they, like us, want something you can really shout along too and as the night wears on, the tunes get more recognizable. At one point, we were all dancing on the table rejoicing to ‘I Will Survive’, you get the idea.
Which brings me nicely on to the fact that Oktoberfest is actually one massive Fairground on Steroids, in fact the majority of the grounds in Theresa’s Meadows are covered in attractions like any fun fair with the beer halls peppered in between, just on a much larger scale than you can ever imagine.
The brands with the largest halls holding up to 10,000 folk are the main Munich and official partners of Oktoberfest – of which there are 6 - Hofbrau-Munchen having the largest hall at 10K capacity, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Augustiner-Brau, Lowenbrau & Spaten having capacities between 3K and 6K. There are 14 large tents in total - mainly beer, with 21 smaller tents that offer more beer, food, soft drinks and all the other trimmings that you think you might not get at Oktoberfest.
The Big Numbers
Some big data here: the site on Theresa’s Meadows itself covers a total of 4,500,000 sq ft (approx 70 Premier League Football Pitches), a fair bit bigger than the whole of the Glastonbury Festival site in Layman’s Terms (few more bars and the beer’s better), so you start to get some idea on scale, other numbers you may be interested in below:
Attendees – 7.2 million people over the 3 weeks.
Beer consumed – 6,900,000 Litres.
Urinals – 878 Metres.
Chickens eaten – 600,000 Birds.
Lost property – 4500 Items.
Staff – 12000 People.
Munich economy benefits by - £863 million.
NB: The waitresses (Der Kellner) can carry up to 12 x 1 Litre Steins at any one time, work the whole festival on 14-hour days, they earn a commission and tips and that can equate to £20K upwards over the 3-week period, the job itself is usually handed down from Mother to Daughter and has a 20-year waiting list. Fact.
Oktoberfest Biers traditionally were dark lagers of around 5.5% to 6% ABV, Dunkel, around late 1800’s it became more of an Amber coloured Vienna Lager and eventually the Bavarian beers became more Golden, it’s highly likely it was the cross pollination of Northern European styles with British pale malts and the advent of Pilzen style lagers that brought this sea change about.
The Hangover Part 4
Inevitable is the hangover, so you need a plan – the best plan is to arise early and get down to Schneider-Weisse Brauhaus im Tal in the old part of the City, from around 8am – YES 8AM, it’s completely acceptable to have a Bavarian Breakfast. The Wheat Beer Pioneers Brauhaus showcase true Oktoberfest spirit, very traditional, all Waitresses dressed in Dirndl and all female waiting staff – the men are cooking in the Kitchen of course. The look and feel is very Bavarian, lots of wood and Bavarian ephemera.
The offer is minimal pre-11 o’clock, with Scrambled Eggs & Bacon being the go to, focus is on the beer taps early doors (of which there are about 10), this is of course to build your appetite. As the day progresses things start to get more meaty and satiating with dishes that include 2 Pairs of Sausages, liver dumpling and baked camembert(!?) And this is only the appetisers, available ‘til NOON. Salad only available as a side dish BTW.
After 11 am the mains are staples along the lines of schnitzels, steaks and stews however they do offer up some interesting alternatives; “Voressen” which is listed in part of the menu entitled ‘Specialities from the Skirt Kitchen’ reads like an article by Hannibal Lector - ‘Prepared from Calf Lung, Tripe & Veal Sweetbread (Thymus Gland), sweet & sour preparation, served with White Bread Dumpling’. Delicious!
I felt it safer to go for the Pork Knuckle, which is superb and a great example of classic Bavarian farmhouse cooking, as is the majority of the menu. A nice touch is the bespoke beer/food pairings offered up by the Waitress, recommendations are direct from the Brewmaster himself.
Recommended final stage of recovery is to head to the Viktualienmarkt area just over the road from the Brauhaus, it’s a large open space food market in lovely surroundings where you can discover some fine delicatessens and swoon over great cheeses and bratwurst. You can take the weight off in the alfresco seating that spreads over the far end of the market among the trees and sink a beer while taking in the view. If you’re going to work on your Deutsch before you go, try something like “tipp mich raus, ich bin fertig”. That’s it for me - take me home.
*Editors note; please excuse the lack of umlauts, spelling or relevant grammatical errors, I don’t spreken ze Deutsch so good.