Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila
MANY FILIPINOS know, or at least have heard about, Oktoberfest.
Of course, we hardly ever need an excuse for imbibing beer. But the German festival is just so tailor-made for beer aficionados that it’s practically asking to be coopted into the local scene. And that we do — with a panoply of versions but with the same vision of savoring that blessed malt-and-hops brew.
But nothing ever beats the original, and that certainly applies to the Oktoberfest, whose “real” iteration I had the extreme honor of experiencing for the first time. Finding myself in Munich primarily to meet the new BMW X1 (the brand is headquartered in this German city, of course), our gracious host cleared out an afternoon and evening for us to take in the world’s largest Volksfest.
Autumn’s on its waning throes this atypically congested afternoon in Munich’s streets (still nothing like EDSA, of course), and we are dropped off a few minutes from Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadows), the home of the festival since it started in 1810. The location takes its name from Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who married King Ludwig while he was still a prince.
We follow a steady stream of people — many of whom are garbed in traditional garments or tracht: lederhosen (leather shorts) for the men; dirndls (typically a white blouse, a skirt, and an apron) for the women — who funnel into the fairgrounds. Oktoberfest is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and establishments stop serving at 10:30 p.m.
Unlike Disneyland, entrance is free. But like Disneyland, there are rides (quite a few of which appear downright brutal, especially when you’ve imbibed some beer), animatronic displays, and souvenir booths hawking overpriced items. Expect to shell out €15 or more for an Oktoberfest shirt — even more inside the brewery-dedicated tents. Lots of concessionaire stands also sell fare typical for the festival such as pretzels, sausages, and the Lebkuchenherz (“gingerbread heart”) — the latter being a usual adornment for women garbed in dirndls. “Food’s really expensive,” says our guide. “Some people purposefully bring no more than €60 with them to limit their spending.” Now that’s a brilliant idea.
You can hear a variety of languages spoken by the crush of people, as the world seems to have descended upon München today. As we wander around Theresienwiese with the sun still high, we do spy some, umm, enthusiasts stumbling about. A man trips and takes down a lady with him. She flashes a frown of indignation, but there is nothing more made of it as she dusts herself off. Chalk the disorientation all up to Oktoberfest, I guess.
Speaking of which, you would be forgiven if you conjure up images of people with mugs of beer in hand milling about and getting rowdy in the chilly open air. But you’d be wrong. There’s no beer to be had outside the numerous tents. It’s actually illegal to take the mugs out of the tents. Walking inebriated is a totally different matter altogether.
Speaking of tents, think of them as the various themes or zones within the parks. Each tent is owned by a particular brewery or beer maker — including the 12 Munich-based companies that Hofbräu München counts itself among. We are ushered by hosts into this brewery’s tent, said to be the biggest in the festival — and able to house a maximum of 14,000. Hofbräu opened back in 1589 and is owned by the Bavarian state government.
The Hofbräu-Festzelt is reportedly the only tent with open area fronting the music platform. The band — Kapelle Alois Altmann und seine Isarsplatzen — performs an odd selection of English songs interspersed with Deutsch tracks. “Summer of ’69,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and, yes, even “We are the World” get a strange brassy treatment. The patrons sing along and dance — often clambering atop the benches and dancing unreservedly.
During lulls in the performance, there’s an impinging, constant din of loud voices which only gets louder deeper into the night — a constant drone that is ostensibly drowned out by increased inebriation.
At the mezzanine, we are served by the tall barmaid wielding as many as 12 bedimpled mugs of beer — at a liter (or mass) each and weighing five pounds per.
We dig into a medley of starters: the Hofbräu Appetizer Platter (€8.90) with ham, a savory cheese spread called Obatzda, butter and bread with chives; and some salted radish and small radishes on bread with chives (€7.50). Of course, there’s plenty of brezen (pretzels). A key to maintaining one’s sobriety amid such copious amounts of bier, we are told, is to keep eating. Who am I to disagree?
If you think you can get away with nursing your drink at Oktoberfest, you are in for quite a struggle. There’s a periodic (every 15 minutes or so) playing of “Ein Prosit” (Ein prosit, ein prosit, der gemütlichkeit [roughly “A toast, a toast, to cheer and good times”]), which basically calls for you to raise your mug, clink, and chug. Thank God that a delicious order of roasted pork knuckle (€19.50), served with caraway gravy and potato dumpling made its way to our table — it’s like a tender version of our own crispy pata.
The standard mass or liter of beer is quite daunting in both quantity and price (€11.70) — not to mention the fact that the standard brew for Oktoberfest is, we’re told, more potent in terms of alcohol content. Still, you can choose to keep your wits you by opting for a non-alcoholic beer or the Radler (beer with Sprite) for exactly the same price.
We call it a night a few hours short of closing time, and walk to the pick-up point for our ride back to the hotel. There are definitely more people succumbing to the spirits. Some are sashaying from here to there, some have sat on the ground cradling their heads, and still others are laying completely flat and still.
The majestic statue of Bavaria, towering over the Oktoberfest since 1850, mutely watches over us all. To its right are a couple of passed-out patrons in the grass. We set off into the cold night just as a light drizzle begins. I’m sure it’s still warm and noisy at our tent.