I had the good fortune to be in Munich, Germany for the famous Oktoberfest in 1971. It is one of the unique events in the world, the Super Bowl of beer, the Taj Mahal of hops, the Sahara Desert of suds. Oktoberfest is a 16 day festival, held in late September, and early October. It is one of the most famous events in the city and the world’s largest fair, with some six million people attending every year, and is an important part of Bavarian culture.
Oktoberfestbiers are the beers that have been served at the event in Munich since 1818, and are supplied by 6 breweries known as the Big Six: Hofbrau, Spaten, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Augustiner, and Hacker-Schorr. Since the 1970s the type of beer served at the festival has been a pale lager between 5 and 6% abv, and the terms Oktoberfest and Märzen are used by non-Oktoberfest brewers in Germany and the USA to market pale lagers of this strength.
Visitors also eat huge amounts of food, most of it traditional hearty fare such as sausage, chicken, cheese noodles, sauerkraut, apple pancakes, ox tails, mackerel, and radish. After gorging on sausage, I settled down to mackerel amd radish with my beer. I ate so much sausage that I got sick. But I found out that I really like German food. In particular, I like sauerbraten, which is a type of marinated beef, served with sauerkraut and potato pancakes. It turns out that the greasy spoon in Pleasant Hill where I eat breakfast before playing golf, makes sauerbraten on the first Thursday of every month. And believe it or not, it is better than the sauerbraten I had in Germany.
Oktoberfest started back in 1810, to commemorate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese. In 1812, the Oktoberfest was cancelled since Bavaria was involved with the Napoleonic Wars. To honor the marriage of King Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria, a parade took place for the first time in 1835. In 1887, the Entry of the Oktoberfest Staff and Breweries took place for the first time. This event showcases the decorated horse teams of the breweries and the bands that play in the festival tents. This event always takes place on the first Saturday of the Oktoberfest and symbolizes the official prelude to the Oktoberfest celebration.
By 1960, the Oktoberfest had turned into an enormous world-famous festival. A big problem occured with the younger people who overestimate their ability to handle large amounts of alcohol. Many pass out due to intoxication. To keep the Oktoberfest, and especially the beer tents, friendly for older people and families, the concept of the “quiet Oktoberfest” was developed in 2005. Until 6:00 PM, the tents only play quiet music, for example traditional wind music.
To give an idea of the enormity of the event, I list the statistics and quantities of food served:
Seats in the festival halls: ca. 100,000
Visitors: 6.2 million
Beer: approx. 69 million liters (1.2 million liters non-alcoholic)
Wine: 79,624 litres
Sparkling wine: 32,047 litres
Coffee, tea: 222,725 litres
Water, lemonade: 909,765 ½ litres
Chicken: 521,872 units
Pork sausages: 142,253 pairs
Fish: 38,650 kg
Pork knuckles: 58,446 units
Oxen: 104 units
My assessment of Oktoberfest is a huge party, complete with great food, carnival type rides, friends drinking together, and great tasting beer. The beer fraus carry a dozen or so liter mugs full of beer to the various tables. This feat of strength was impressive to all of us, especially after we had a few too many.
I was fortunate to meet up with three German guys, and their female friend. I only remember Hanz and Jurgen. Both drank way too much, but were quite funny and real jokesters. They took a liking to me since I spoke a little German back then. We met each day at the Lowenbrau outdoor biergarten, and stayed for 4-5 hours. Then we jumped in a cab to one of their local hangouts. It turns out that both Jurgen and Hanz liked the same young lady, whose name I cannot remember.
Fortunately, I had a room by the train station (Bahnhof). So, when it was time to leave, I just had to tell the cabbie that I wanted the train station. But on Monday, when my new pals went back to work, I was alone at the biergarten. Much like Monday mornings in the U.S., most Germans are either calling in sick and taking care of a massive hangover. I realized then, that the fun I had was due to my new friends, not the beer and food. We exchanged letters for many years after that. But I have never made it back to the Oktoberfest since. I will have to put it back on the list of things to do, perhaps in a more sober or mature manner.