The very first friend I made in Munich said at dinner recently, "If you told any city official anywhere you were going to build 12 tents, each holding 7,000 people, serve beer brewed way more potent than average and invite the world to their city, who in their right mind would say yes?"
Good point. No one is in their right mind at Munich's Oktoberfest. The city's 1,4 million population is overrun with 6 million more from all over the globe and for 16 days, the city is transformed from its usual orderly, elegant and graceful status to something far more surreal, random and chaotic.
As a veteran of now 12 Oktoberfests or of the "wiesn" as locals call it, there are so many facets of the fest to write about, the good and bad and insanity of it all. However, rising above the embarrassing displays of drunkeness, public urination, fornicating and vomiting is a special mood or stimmung (in German) that permeates the city's locals.
The festive atmosphere extends to every joint in the city fostering both planned and impromptu Oktoberfest after hours,work,coffee and happy hour parties. The flirt factor is high and people are smiling more than usual and dressed almost 24-7 in beautiful traditional costumes. Lederhosen for the men and dirndls for the women.
Over the years, during the fest, I've been lifted up and carried off a streetcar by a group of enthusiastic Italians who were very impressed by my cleavage. Once a chef friend, after celebrating a late evening at the fest, took us back to his dark restaurant, lit some candles, fired up the stove and cooked us a feast of fabulous pasta dishes. We ate and drank wine almost until the sun came up. I've had numerous proposals of marriage, learned the hula from visiting Hawaiians in the Hofbrauhaus tent and led a group of US army rangers in the time warp at the Augustiner tent.
Whether sitting next to celebrities, sports idols, pop stars or European royalty at the chic Kafer tent or fending off amorous Scotsmen in kilts at the Hippodrome, there are thousands upon thousands of Oktoberfest stories to tell.
One man, dubbed "King of the Oktoberfest" long ago, Is interviewed every year on TV for his record breaking attendance to every day of the fest for I've lost track of how many years. This friendly Austrian always uses a clean pair of women's underwear fastened to his lederhosen to wipe the well earned party sweat from his brow.
In stark contrast, packs of Japanese tourists are ushered through a three hour trip to the Oktoberfest. First stop is to buy traditional costumes.Once donned, it's off to the fest where they raise a Maß with one hand, the other tightly clutching a piece of paper where they can phonetically make out the words to the Prosit song. Then it's back on the bus, probably to Salzburg for the next stop. which is no doubt the Sound of Music tour.
For the most part people are friendly and eager to socialize. The food is phenomenal and the beer, being world famous, needs no explanation. So whether you are the King of the Wiesn, of real royal lineage, a random scotsman or run of the mill tourist, the Oktoberfest certainly has something for everyone. There are never any shortage of bier or ludicrous stories you can spin when it's over. Plenty to hold you over to the next year when the madness begins all over again. Prost!