Survivor: Oktoberfest, episode 3 (the final one)

While the Oktoberfest dust has finally settled (although the fest complex is still under deconstruction), I still feel compelled to finish this trilogy. In this episode, I will recant bits of my experience inside the beer tents…where the party really happens.

Munich’s six major breweries host fourteen beer tents. They may call them “tents,” but tents they are not. Most of the de-constructable wooden structures are made to look like centuries-old Alpine chalets (their appearances belie how quickly they were constructed), and some look more like sports arenas. Regardless, all are huge with capacities in the thousands. Here’s a handy guide to the tents.

Beer tent example. Image by DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons

The construction for this beer village began (from what I can recall) back in July (though it might have been June). It was fascinating to watch the village grow and evolve over those months. Each time I passed by Theresienwiese, something new had popped up–a roller coaster here, a beer tent there. I am sure a photo time lapse of the Wiesn’s construction exists somewhere out there, but I am too lazy to look for one.

If the walls of the tents could talk, I can only imagine the tomes of stories they could tell.

I ended up going to Oktoberfest four times over its 16 days, and I got to experience the three different faces of its party: morning, afternoon, and night.

I will say the morning, perhaps the more authentic of the experiences, was my favorite. The crowd was much sparser and more civilized. Most “early” morning festers go to eat the traditional Bavarian breakfast: Weisswurst, Breze, und Bier (white sausages, pretzel, and beer). I appreciated how accepted it was to drink a liter of beer before noon.

A tamer time inside a beer tent. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The rowdiness starts to rise with the afternoon shift. Then, each tent’s band begins their long day of playing their shared repertoire of Bavarian oompapa, traditional Oktoberfest tunes, and pop songs you typically hear either on the dance floor at American weddings or on 80s and 90s radio stations. Needless to say, the music gets better the more you drink.

The afternoon is also when the crowds begin to really pour in. Since you are only guaranteed a seat if you have a ticket (which you or your company must have purchased months in advance), it can be a struggle to either nab a table or get in the door. On the busiest days, mobs of people have to wait their turn outside to join the fun inside. I have heard if you are female and are wearing a “well-fitting” Dirndl, it is much easier to convince the bouncers to let you in. Typical.

Inside, the beer flows freely, dissolving inhibitions and lubricating singing voices. As more beer flows, people begin standing (sometimes precariously) on the benches–sitting becomes a silly idea, not that you would really want to sit on the (by then) beer drenched and muddied benches anyway. By the night shift, many of the tents become a joyous riot.

A rowdier moment inside a tent. Image by Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons.

On the only night I experienced the late shift, my friends and I entered our first tent completely sober, and it was quite a shock to witness the tent’s contents in a clear state of mind. The air was heavy with body heat. The mass of people made it nearly impossible to move. People were dancing in the isles and attempting to dance on the benches, all the while singing at the top of their lungs. Fortunately it didn’t take us too long to find empty benches, although our waiter herded us quite gruffly onto them–it was clear he knew how to handle drunk people, but was probably sick of it.

As I sipped my first Mass, I couldn’t help but just stare in (somewhat troubled) awe at the spectacle of humanity around me. Really, I don’t think I quite have the words to describe it accurately. A fight nearly broke out at a table near us, and all I could think was what a chaotic mess that could cause (fortunately the fight fizzled quickly). At the table behind us, a poor inebriated soul sat with his head on the table, sleeping, while his buddies all danced and sang around him. I tried to drown my rising concern for human dignity with my beer.

But by the second tent and second Mass, the night became much more fun. Suddenly the songs became much more enjoyable, it was way funnier to watch the stupidly drunk people do their stupidly drunk things, and it really did seem silly to be sitting on the bench when you could be standing and singing with everyone else.

So, in the end, I survived Oktoberfest. And it really was as they said: you can’t survive, or enjoy, Oktoberfest without drinking beer. Well, I can check that one off my bucket list. “Ein Prosit” to that.

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