Insider's guide to Oktoberfest

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Feature article for national magazine publication German Life

Transcript of Insider's guide to Oktoberfest

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  • Opposite: As dusk falls, the statue of Bavaria looks across the Theresienwiese, filled with rides, food, beer, and people enjoying the Germany's famed festival. Courtesy Munich Tourist Office. Above left: Enjoy all that the variety of Oktoberfest beer tents have to offer by doing some tent hopping. Make sure to check out the Hacker-Festzelt, known for having one the livelier local crowds and more inventive decors, made to look like "Bavarian Heaven." Courtesy Munich Tourist Office. Above right: At noon on opening day in the Schottenhamel tent, the Lord Mayor of Munich taps the f]rst keg of beer to officially open Oktoberfest. Once the first keg is tapped, it will take many more to satisfy the thirst of visitors over the following two weeks. Cour-tesy Munich Tourist Office. Near right: The Fisher-Vroni tent grills up the lesser known, but very tasty Bavarian treat Steckerlfischen or "fish on a stick." Courtesy Munich Tourist Office. Far right: Munichers rarely use the term "Oktoberfest," opting instead to refer to the celebration as "die Wiesen," short for Theresienwiese, the fairgrounds and former meadow where the festival is held. Courtesy Munich Tourist Office.

    Lliinstroth attests to the quality and renown ot" one of the town's oldest beers. "Augustiner has never paid for advertisement and they still only make a fixed amount of beer every year, no more," Lliinstroth says. Augustiner is a rare find in Germany let alone the rest of the world; the company does not sell or distribute its beer outside of Munich.

    For some colorful and histori-cal customs, pop into the Schiitzen-

    Festhalle. Inside the tent, themed after the "shooting clubs" popular in the nineteenth century and still active today, you w i l l find a plethora of patrons decked out in the finest of traditional Bavarian style outfits. Not nearly as loud or rambunctious in the afternoon as other popular tents, Schiitzen-Festhalle provides excellent people watching with its classic costumes and traditional at-mosphere with an exceptional brass band. Check out one of the tent's in-teresting customs and ask to meet Der Schiitzen Konig {Shooting King) the

    club's man of honor. As the member winning the annual target-shooting contest, he gets to carry this distinc-tion, along wi th an impressive medal, for the year.

    Among the other tents, the H i p -podrome is well known by locals as the hangout for the fashionable, beautiful, and even famous, and the "Briiurosl" tent, serving the popular Paulaner beer, is another great place to run into locals. "Each tent has its own theme and tent hopping is en-couraged," says Mike Richardson of Radius Tours in Munich. "Once you sit down though you may not want to get back up."

    Sometimes just getting into any beer tent can be a trick in and of

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    Probably the most impor tan t custom to observe at Oktoberfest is the specific Bavarian style of toast ing wi th your liter beer or "MalB" (pronounced mahss). Every person in the par ty gets their beer before tak ing the f i rst sip and only then do all raise their glasses in a "Prost," (German for "cheers") making sure to clink glasses with everyone else in the group. It is bad luck to cross arms dur ing this and even worse luck if you do not make direct eye contact with the person as you "Prost " to t hem, resul t ing in seven years of bad...well, romance. Also, as is customary, par-t icularly in Bavaria, you must set your beer back on the table f i rst after the toast, then (and only then) begin dr ink ing.

    You are likely to notice a good deal of tradi t ional Bavar-ian style lederhosen and dirndls being worn by an increasing amount of young people at the festival. However, be attentive and you can f ind out if that Fraulein of your dreams is stil l avail-able and wait ing for someone to buy her a beer. If the bow of her apron is tied to the left side, it is a signal that she is already spo-ken for, while a bow on the r ight side signifies her single status.

    If you pay close at tent ion you wil l probably hear the word "Wiesn" used both in speech and in signs around Oktoberfest . This is short for Theresienwiese, the fa i rgrounds and former meadow where the festival is held. In fact , most Munichers

    rarely use the te rm "Oktober fes t " when speaking about it, usu-ally just referr ing to the festival as "die Wiesn."

    If you are fami l iar wi th a smidgen of the German language, you may f ind yourself a bit perplexed while r id ing the Munich subway or "U-Bahn" dur ing the weeks of Oktoberfest . That is because the subway drivers typical ly also call out the stops in Bavarian, the regional dialect of the area. This is more likely on weekends when people f r om out in the country, who may have Bavarian as their f i rst language, come to visit. See if you cannot f ind someone to translate for you as U-Bahn drivers are known to crack a joke or two while on the job dur ing these weeks (such as "Next stop Theresienwiese. exit here for all people who are th i rsty." )

    Another run-in you might have wi th Bavarian is on the popular Lebzel terherzkuchen. the ornately decorated and de-l ightful ly tasty gingerbread heart-shaped cookies, which range in size f rom the palm of your hand to twice the size of a dinner plate. Phrases wr i t ten on them in icing are often in the Bavarian dialect such as the popular "I mog d i " actual ly "Ich mag d ich" in proper German, t ranslat ing to "I like you " as in a romant ic way. Fortunately whatever language you speak, giving someone a large heart-shaped cookie is a universal ly understood sign.

    itself, especially considering that some companies reserve a good deal of "Boxen" seats around the edge of the tent more than a year in ad\'ance. In the most popular tents during the weekends, vou wil l find testi\al-goers arriving as early as 11:00 a.m. or noon to claim tables for the rest of the e\-e-ning. And you w i l l not be served beer

    From September 20 to October 5, 2008. some six million revelers will pay a visit to ffie world's largest annual festivalMunich's Oktoberfest Courtesy Munich Tourist Office.

    inside of a tent unless you can find a seat at a table. I f you cannot, ho\\e\er, there is a last resort. "Go to Hof-brau," Lliinstroth of Munich Walks savs. "They ha\'c a section where vou can stand and be served beer."

    Then there are the interest-ing odds-and-ends out on the fair-grounds, or "Wiesn," worth search-ing out during your tent hopping. Next to the Schutzen-Festhalle you can find the "Vogelmeister," a charac-ter of a man in traditional dress with a handlebar mustache who attracts crowds to his booth with expert imi-tations of a wide range of birdcalls. Stick around for the audience partici-pation and he wi l l show (or attempt to show) how to use his unic]ue tiny mouthpiece to make these authentic bird sounds.

    Also, as you meander the fun-filled aisles of outdoor games and food, be sure to stop by the "Teufelrad." The small entrance fee is well worth it to observe and participate in this most entertaining and outlandish of Ok-toberfest games. The set-up consists of a large, flat spinning disk, approxi-mately twelve feet in diameter, sur-rounded by a low padded wall. The game's announcer calls for a specific group from the audience (that is all males from fifteen to thirty-five) who rush out to get a seat as close to the center as possible. The wheel begins to spin, hurling laughing contestants off and into the walls. I f not enough to extract those still hanging on, a large ball on a rope spins precariously to and fro from overhead, taking out unsuspecting \. For those skill-ful enough to still maintain footing, hea\\ rope lasstis are tossed at the contestants unti l everyone is pulled off. I t is everv bit as comical to watch as it is exciting to play, and for the

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  • most part you \l be in a crowd of lederhoscn-and-dirndl-dccked Ger-mans as many other tourists continue on past outside.

    While vou are enjoying the deli-cious soft Bavarian pretzels or ten-der rotisserie chicken so common in the tents, be sure to make room to try some of the other wonderful fest delicacies. Probably the least expected treat that you w i l l find a crowd of M u -nichers enjoying is fish...on a stick or "Steckelfisch." The Fischer-Vroni tent cooks and spikes these easy-to-carry treats right in front of you on a t l i irty-foot-long gri l l . There is an assortment to choose from as well, the most tra-ditional being grilled mackerel.

    I f you yearn for something a little meatier, head to the Ochsenbraterei, another local favorite, where you wil l find plenty of hearty oxen dishes. The massi\'e oxen are slow roasted on a spit in the middle of the tent and served as a roast, loin, filet, goulash, and just abt)ut any t)ther way you might be in the mood tor that day

    For warming up and waking up, look for the Kafer Wies'n-Schanke tent. Their \\'ell-known Munich brand of coffee is served in this small but late-hours tent. Kiifer l it-erallv means beetle and vou can also browse through souvenirs here with the brand's trademark ladybug insignia or buy a cup of coffee and get the mug to keep. Coffee and sou-venirs aside, consider yourself even luckier i f you are able find a place to sit down inside this cozy and local Iv well-known establishment, as it often attracts enough celebrities and VlPs to fill up early on.

    Also, be aware of when you might decide to drop in on Oktoberfest, as not all fest days are created equal. Opening day brings with it the spe