21 September 2008

175th Oktoberfest opened in Munich

Yesterday the traditional Oktoberfest, the world's oldest and largest beer festival, opened in the Bavarian capital Munich.
This year the 16-day-long event will be special for two reasons: It is celebrated for the 175th time, and it will be the first Oktoberfest under the newly introduced German ban of smoking in public.

Precisely at 12 o'clock noon Munich's Mayor Christian Ude performed the traditional tapping ceremony (photo right). It took him just two swift strokes to pound a spigot into the first of the many massive wooden kegs of beer before shouting the traditional "Ozapft is!" (It's tapped!) which gives the official permission to all the beer masters at the festival to open their taps as well.

Following the festival protocol, he handed then the first Mass (the traditional Bavarian beer mug, holding one litre) of fresh beer to Bavarian Prime Minister Günther Beckstein.

A 12-gun salute, also part of the nearly 200-year-old tradition, signalled to the hundreds of thousands of citizens and visitors, who had come to the Wiesn (the festival meadow) on a cool September day, that it was time to start drinking, eating and enjoying themselves.

The organisers are ready to welcome about 6 million visitors from all over the world to the large festival ground in the centre of Munich and expect to sell them even more than the 6.9 million litres of beer that were consumed last year. About 500,000 roasted chicken are also consumed by the visitors each year, together with vast amounts of bread and bakery products (especially the famous salted Brezl), cheeses, gingerbread, roasted almonds and many other kinds of food.

Today saw the also traditional Oktoberfest parade, which always takes place on the Sunday after the opening and brings thousands of people - including hundreds of Bavarian musicians - to their feet, while hundreds of thousands line the streets and watch them march past.

Despite its name, the Oktoberfest starts every year in the second half of September and ends on the first Sunday in October. The name comes from the first festival, which was held in October 1810 to celebrate the marriage of the then Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I of Bavaria) and his bride, Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen (whose name lives on in the festival venue, the Theresienwiese - Therese's Meadow).
But in the 198 years since then there have only been 175 festivals. The reason is that in times of war Bavarians fight and don't hold their harvest festivals. Twice in the 19th century the event was also cancelled because of Cholera, and in several years after the two World Wars there was no Oktoberfest for reasons of severe economical hardship.

Originally really only a local event, the festival has meanwhile become one of the world's most visited public attractions. Unfortunately it has become quite commercial in the process, and the traditional Bavarian Gemütlichkeit (jolly cozyness) is not that common anymore. Making money is nowadays the name of the game, and from my own experience I can tell you that the Munich brewers and the proprietors of beer halls and amusement venues are masters at that.

Having lived in Munich for some years myself, I remember the old-style Oktoberfest, before the globalisation took hold of it and replaced - among other things - the traditional Bavarian felt hats with tacky baseball caps, decorated with a chamois beard (which looks proper on a hat, but most ridiculous on a baseball cap).

As it happened, I lived close to the huge festival ground. From my windows I could look straight down at the amazing spectacle with its large beer halls, tends, entertainments and - at night - thousands and thousands of lights in many colours (photo left).

Beer prices this year are similar to Ireland (other beer outside the Oktoberfest is a lot cheaper in Germany) and most of the food is still reasonably priced (and cheaper than food in Ireland).
But it remains to be seen how the millions of visitors react to the newly introduced German ban on smoking in public places, which now also includes the Oktoberfest.
I remember very well that it was part of the 'ritual' to have a beer, some traditional food, and then smoke a Virginier cigar. It was simple joy of life and did no harm to anyone. But now, in an era when everything is more and more dictated to us and regulated by governments, one cannot even enjoy a cigar with one's Munich beer any longer...

We live in sad times for taste and culture, but nevertheless I wish the people of Munich all the best, including good weather, for the 175th Oktoberfest.

The Emerald Islander


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Martin Miller-Yianni said...

What an event, just up may people's street, but many just don't have the repsect for the drink, so it woudln't work in lots of places in Europe.

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