There’s more men in leather shorts around me than at a screening of The Sound Of Music during Gay Pride week. I am at Oktoberfest in Munich; it’s a bit like London’s Winter Wonderland except with beer and funny outfits. And its in Germany, which means everything is done with Teutonic efficiency, even if some of it makes absolutely no sense, including the fact that Oktoberfest is in September.
My buddy Raymondo sparked off my visit to Oktoberfest with a party invitation which promised beer and a chance to dress like a pederastic Boy Scout. The women in our party had to channel their inner serving wench – and vamp it up in derndls. I worried both about how Raymondo knew my Lederhosen size and whether they actually clean the darn things between rentals.
We joined the six million beer drinkers who pour into an area called Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow, after Princess Theresa whose nuptials kicked off the festival in 1810) over a period of a fortnight. The German beer companies erect large tents, each capable of accommodating over ten thousand people). I was in the Löwenbräu tent – one of the larger ones. Before me was a huge barn-like space filled with trestle tables and benches. In the centre was a stage on which a band that appeared to have escaped from the Eurovision Song Contest infused a playlist of cheesy pop songs with an oom-pa back beat.
The purpose of herding men into an enclosed space and feeding them beer is to encourage fighting. The English Premier League has turned this into a fine art and sells season tickets to the spectacle.
In an attempt to make Oktoberfest family friendly the Germans give the said drunken men loaded rifles (I’m not making this up), and load them into rollercoasters. Vomiting is optional. It’s best to avoid Oktoberfest if you ever plan to be considered for a seat on the US Supreme Court. The combination of guns and vomit never look good when taken out of context.
Oktoberfest is run like a well oiled German machine. The tables are turned regularly as drinkers are fed, watered and moved on – either to the fairground outside (cue guns and rollercoasters) or to after parties elsewhere. The atmosphere is one of cheerful bonhomie. The beer is specially brewed for the occasion, apparently with 2% more alcohol than the regular stuff. The Löwenbräu 6.1% Oktoberfest brew is full bodied but easygoing on the palate – a crowd pleaser. The buxom waitresses impress with their ability to carry four of five huge tankards of beer in each hand.
As a nation that has lived through a tumultuous century of bloodshed, Germany now finds itself almost singularly fighting for liberal values in Europe. Singing “Country Roads” and “Sweet Caroline” with a group of drunken strangers isn’t exactly the pinnacle of the human experience. But in a polarised world, the sheer ordinariness of people coming together from around the world to share a common experience is celebration enough. I’ll drink to that! 🍺