Monday, 13 December 2010

Beer! Beer! Beer! A belated Oktoberfest report

The picture says it all really
Back in September we attended the 200th Oktoberfest in München, the boys all dressed in black Gisborne Gold t-shirts, eager for Mass upon Mass of Bavarian beer, and the women wondering how their lives had reached such nadirs.  I’m happy to report that the boys did indeed have their wishes come true, and that it wasn’t so bad for those less keen on the beer.

Like I said, the tents were huge.
First of all, the event is huge, millions of people attend over the two week period the festival runs, and by the afternoon of the Sunday we were there it felt a wee bit like they'd all decide to all turn up at once.  Each beer tent holds thousands of people, and once full the noise alone is amazing.

A number of kiwis we've spoken to back home have been astonished to know that we took Matilda to the event, but she was by no means the only nearly once-year old, let alone the only child there.  The thing is, that while beer is definitely a key element of Oktoberfest, the festival has much more to offer.  Being the 200th Oktoberfest, there was a section dedicated to München through the ages, but there were also all sorts of carnival rides, and the day we were there featured parades of people in traditional dress playing all sorts of instruments, decorated carriages and horses to boot.  Marching in separate groups, there was an incredible mix of colours and sounds, from a group of folk from northern Italy (German speaking Süd Tirol) playing xylophones and triangles to flutists from Austria and more traditional German marching bands from all parts of Bayern.

The photo doesn't do the group justice, they sounded awesome...

...and the paraders looked good too (also note the roller coaster in the background)!

And it's not like the waiting staff were giants or anything.
The beer itself?  Surprisingly monochromatic, all the breweries brew a high strength (6% plus) lager for the festival, which I think you can only get by the litre (that'd be by the Mass, not the Stein), but I didn't see any other beers on offer. No matter, watching the serving woman (and it was only women serving) carrying four, six or even eight of them in one go was astonishing.  The Oktoberfest beer's not my favourite drop, so it didn't bother me at all that we spent most of the day bathed in sunshine outside the Löwe-Brau tent, a brewery widely acknowledged as one of München's worst.  Later on, I met a brewer from Paulaner at the Paulaner tent (funnily enough), a much better regarded brewery, who was astonished we'd even gone near the Löwe-Brau tent, but by Mass three and four it all tasted pretty much the same.  The best thing about the Löwe-Brau tent was that the roar of the lion outside it sounded at least as much like "Ste-phen Fry) as it did (Lö-we Brau) due to the distortion, which provided far more amusement than you might think.


Weisswurst, rumour has it brains are a key ingredient
Food wise I was limited to Weisswurst (boiled white sausage, eaten best with sweet Bayern mustard and a massive pretzel), plus a giant chilli-soaked gherkin from one of the gherkin stalls that we dotted through the festival area.  It's not that there was nothing else to choose from though, there were a lot of things on offer, all perfect accompaniments for drinking, including in one tent an entire ox on a spit!  In hind site it was a pity I blew all my money on beer.

Mmmm, gherkin and chilli.
What was most amazing was how well behaved everybody was, at least outside, even the tables of very drunk kiwis.  How did I know they were kiwis?  Nobody, I must stress, nobody, else in the world has so little shame (and class) as to sing the Gambler as though it's a national anthem.  The Aussies weren't much less cringe worthy, but even a little classier is something.  I'm sure Oktoberfest gets messier towards the end of each evening, but there is something about drinking in Germany that induces a level of maturity you'd certainly never ever observe in New Zealand.

In true kiwi style though, getting home wasn't straight forward.  Callum (a long-time and very good friend from Gisborne) and I managed to get very, very lost on a dark Sunday night, and what should have been a half hour walk home took three trains, a bus, a tram and about two hours.  Nevermind, it was a magnificent day eh (even if Sara, and Callum's wife Kat, who went home about three hours before us,  were not so amused).

To sum up, a great day!

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