I’ll spare you dear reader the plummeting to earth that accompanies any sky-high experience of alcohol-fuelled fun. That will come later. But let’s take a minute just to savour what it is like to let yourself go and to truly experience all the pleasures and the joys of a good time well-lived.
The first thing you notice about Oktoberfest is the atmosphere. Excited crowds of dressed-up party-goers fill the trams, line the streets and smile from ear to ear. There is an all-encompassing mood of celebration and almost everyone I met, be they man or dog or woman, was in their happy place. The feel is of a kind of autumnal Christmas and far from being narrowed into youthful revelry, there are families, children, people young and old all sharing in the sense of local pageantry.
Yes, there are tourists and it is touristy, but in the main the friendly sense of welcoming wins over from the odd brief glimpse of Antipodean loutishness or German grumpiness.
Outside, you get a vague sense of the scale of the festival. On the opening weekend its about as busy as it gets and tens of thousands of us wander in through the entrance lined on both sides by a dozen giant tents.
But inside those tents is where the magic really happens. Inside those tents you are transported to a different time and place; to another world where beer and salty snacks appear and refill from nowhere. Where waiters and waitresses juggle twenty pints in both hands. Where the men strut around proudly in tight shorts and braces and the women share their cleavage with the world. From time to time a table floats by, with a dozen roasted chickens riding on top. Every fifteen minutes or so, someone calls a toast and sings a German toasting song and strangers crash their steins together. And all the while the oompah band plays on, just in case you were in danger of forgetting that this is Germany, and without a drum and a trombone playing you might have mistaken this magical scene for somewhere else.
Festivals evolve over time. They take us to places long gone and times long passed. It is miraculous they survive, yet wonderful if they can survive intact. Of all the places I have been to and great events that I have witnessed Oktoberfest stands alone in it’s achievements. Somehow the German engineering of structure and efficiency has been utilised without allowing it to crush the graphic chaos and friendly abandon that the spirit of such an event demands.
It was a special novelty, in an age where popular events are commercialised in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘marketability’, to see a great celebration done well without feeling the need to drain it’s soul for a few extra pounds and pence. Festivals should be about protecting the purity of the experience for everyone, forever. And though I can’t say I was around to toast the actual wedding of Ludwig the 1st, back in the Autumn of 1810, I certainly got to feel the echo of that tradition; that two hundred years of getting drunk in tents has left the Germans with mastery an art form, one that any other nation would be proud of.
Photo Credit: Gareth Womble
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