How’s it going Fort Worth? This is a bit different of a post because it has nothing to do with Fort Worth really. But it is something that is very cool (at least in my mind). Many would consider this a bucket list item and I now get to check it off. This past weekend I was able to attend the opening day of Oktoberfest in Munich.
Before we get into too much, a brief history of Oktoberfest and why it started. As all great stories start this one is also about love. The first Oktoberfest dates back to 1810 and was essentially a wedding reception for Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. These two had a large party that was so grand and memorable that people wanted a round two. This then became a tradition to have a celebration and has since turned from celebrating the love of these two royals to honoring the traditions of Bavarian culture. Pretty much the pride and love of beer.
Coming to Oktoberfest from America, the coolest thing was getting to experience this from the point of view of what Oktoberfest is portrayed to be in America. From my own understanding through extremely limited research was essentially what you see in the movie Beerfest. Fantastic film and should be watched but it essentially portrays Oktoberfest as a drunkfest with a ton of German traditional clothing. Now dont get me wrong, the German traditional clothing was out in full force, but this was way more than a drunkfest.
Walking into Oktoberfest with my friends, I’m not goign to lie was a little underwhelming. We entered the gates and saw what was essentially the equivalent of fairgrounds you would see anywhere in America. There were rides, and food stands, and parents chasing their children around. What was different was the lederhosen and dirdnl’s that everyone was wearing. This was a part of German culture that was very much preserved. This wasnt worn as a goofy halloween costume. It was worn proudly as a form of culture that has been passed down for multiple generations.
After seeing the fairgrounds my fiends and I proceeded towards the back and began to see the ‘tents’ that housed all of the breweries parties that are thrown all throughout Oktoberfest. I put ‘tents’ in quotes because they are called tents but this isn’t a Coleman tent by any means. These tents were massive and can hold thousands of people. All of which are there to experience the true magic of Oktoberfest. My friends and I walked into a tent which happened to be the Paulaner tent (which is a very well represented brand in the US). We entered just in time for the keg tapping ceremony. This is a big deal because the ceremony is done in original style of using a wooden hammer to slam in the tap into a large wooden barrel.
This ceremony involved every tent having a couple of speakers from the brewery to come out and acknowledge how proud they are of the beer that they make and the people that they serve it too. A truly remarkable ceremony because it emphasizes a different relationship with beer than I feel is often portrayed in the US. This was not a drunkfest. You don’t drink our beer to forget a problem or to get a girl. Your drink our beer as a means to connect with other people in a deep and meaningful way.
I feel I must put in as a disclaimer that this is all a translation from someone who does not speak German and is simple observing the human emotion of the speakers and reading the room full of people who all seemed to be interacting with strangers on a deeper and more meaningful level. Despite not knowing the language it was a truly meaningful ceremony.
After hearing multiple swings of the hammer, our group finally heard the roar of people yelling that the keg had finally been tapped and out poured the army of waiters and waitresses carrying 10 glasses of liter beer at a time. For a point of reference, that big ass glass you can keep and refill from movie tavern is a liter and EXTREMELY similar to the glass you would get from Oktoberfest. So the waiters and waitresses had ten of those. Each full of beer. I’m using short sentences to emphasize just how much weight this was. And to acknowledge I am so sorry for ever accidentally standing in their way as they yelled “MOVE! SCHNELL!” at me.
It was truly a sight to behold but sadly it was followed by a harsh reality of Oktoberfest. As I stated earlier, Oktoberfest is not a drunkfest and therefore, unlike my prediction, there are not keg taps at every corner. You don’t just walk in and get handed a stein of beer. Which typing it out sounds ridiculous but looking back, i think part of me believed that was truly what happened. In order to get beer at Oktoberfest, you have to be seated at a table in one of the tents. In order to be seated at one of the tents at Oktoberfest you have reserve a spot. In order to get a reserved spot at Oktoberfest, that reservation needs to be made a year in advance. My friends and I were only able to do this because we happened to be near the area for a work trip and couple pop over just for the very first day. And this was not planned a year in advance so we did not have a table. Which led us to the super harsh reality with our American point of view which was, Its really hard to get beer at Oktoberfest without a table reservation.
That being said one of my buddies made it his mission to get all of us a beer at Oktoberfest. And he did not disappoint. Eventually we were able to find a table at one of the restaurants on the grounds that was full but not completely reserved out. Our group of ten had to start out sitting three by taking over half a booth. then eventually inheriting the entire booth and then doing the same at the adjacent booth. Eventually all of us were happily drinking beer at Oktoberfest.
I was one of the luckily three who took a stake at the tables to get beer first so I was able to get my beer and enjoy it quickly. Sadly this led me to a bit of FOMO after not being able to get a drink in the real tents. I told myself I needed to try again so I went on a lone ranger mission to see if tables were available. I left my buddies behind and lo and behold…nothing. Nothing was available. Despite that I still went walking around the tent to get teh full experience. As I walked in, thousands of people were cheers-ing each other with big grins on their face arm in arm. Simultaneously as if it were a flash mob, everyone began to sing Bruce Channel – Hey Baby. People would stand on their seats and point out strangers and if their gaze was met, the stranger would have to rise, cheers and engage in the chugging competition as thousands of people cheered them on. It wasn’t a race, it felt like a celebration for the two people. They had the privilege of drinking beer and that was good enough to embrace the attention and love of strangers for a good smile and a laugh. It was incredible.
Needless to say this caused me to have a new slightly selfish goal. At least I needed to get a beer at Oktoberfest in this tent. I went looking around and eventually found a waitress who truly took pity on me. I walked up and asked her “Where can I get a beer in here?” She told me “You have to be at a table to get a beer.” Obviously a disappointing answer but I continued forward. “What if you didn’t make a reservation for a table a year in advance?” I ask. She chuckles and looks at me. “Is it just the one beer?” she responds. “Yes ma’am”. “Come with me” she says as she takes me over to the edge of a table. I then wait there and she comes back with a stein full of beer just for me. Needless to say, I saw her at a distance, threw my arms in the air, yelled out “MY SAVIOR!”, and gave her a hug. She laughed at the silly American so desperate for a beer disappeared just as quickly as she entered. I will never forget you. Lowenbrau is now my new favorite German beer.
I took a sip of my beer and proceeded to walk around the tent. I got to experience all of the comradery that comes with Oktoberfest. It was a celebration of beer, but not of beer like in American culture. It wasn’t a celebration of drunkenness, or sex, or living your one and only night tonight. It was a celebration of a drink that was used to bring a country together. To embrace a stranger, a friend, or a lover in this crazy life that we all live. It was about celebrating love. Love for everyone.
I get that the last paragraph might be cheesy for some, but it is truly the difference of what makes Munich Oktoberfest great. But since it it pushing into the time that Fort Worth and essentially anywhere across America will be experiencing their Oktoberfest, its good to share this experience as a challenge. This Oktoberfest, go to the events and have the beer. Not as a snobbery thing or a way to excessively drink. My challenge this Oktoberfest is to go to an event and connect with a stranger. Make a friend. Because from experiencing the real Oktoberfest, that is what the original is all about.