Munich's Oktoberfest is turning 200. Adrian Bridge offers a visitor's guide to raising a glass.
AS FAR as wedding parties go, the one between Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in October 1810 takes some beating.
For five full days, the burghers of Munich were invited to eat, drink and be merry and enjoy parades and music, shooting displays and a horse race around a meadow on the edge of town, in which a tent was erected to house the happy couple and royal entourage.
Such a good time was had by all that it was decided to stage the race (and the accompanying indulgence) the following year. Thus was the Munich Oktoberfest born – an event to which about 6 million people now flock each year to consume stonking great litres of some of the finest beers in the world (only Munich brews are served) and to party in that uniquely Bavarian way (think lederhosen and dirndls; oom-pah-pah and pretzels).
The 200th anniversary of that first celebration is being marked by the city of Munich with suitable fanfare. It has also been decreed that an extra day should be added to this year's festival. Even by Oktoberfest standards, it promises to be quite a party. Here are a few pointers for those wanting to join in.
Just when does the Oktoberfest take place?
Although the festival concludes in October, most of it takes place in September. This year's dates are September 18 to October 4.
Where is it held?
The main Oktoberfest is held on the original meadow, named, in honour of Ludwig's bride, the Theresienwiese (shortened to the Wiesn), a short tram ride from the centre of Munich.
The grand parade
The opening day of the festival is marked by a parade of carriages, floats and people dressed in costumes winding its way through the streets of Munich.
Is it really held in tents?
The structure erected to keep Ludwig and Therese out of the sun – or rain – in 1810 may well have been a tent but the vast ones used today are much more solid affairs with colourful facades, long wooden tables and benches – frequently on more than one level. Some can hold up to 10,000 visitors.
Best time to go?
General hours are 10am to 11.30pm (from 9am on Saturdays and Sundays). It is packed at weekends; many locals prefer to pop in during the week.
Do I have to dress up?
Lederhosen for men and dirndls (traditional Bavarian dress with full skirt, apron and tight bodice) for women are compulsory. Not really – but it's nice to see Bavarians make the effort. If you want to join in, several shops in town specialise in such gear. For a more upmarket designer dirndl look, the Charles Hotel, 28 Sophienstrasse, Munich, is offering Oktoberfest packages including suitably extravagant costumes for the ladies and/or the possibility of a table in the prestigious Schottenhamel tent (+49 89 544 5550, roccofortecollection.com).
Isn't it full of drunken Australians and Brits?
No. While there is undoubtedly an antipodean contingent and plenty of Brits, most tend to be found at the Hofbrau tent. The majority of visitors are from Bavaria or other parts of Germany. For a more rounded feel of the event, try the other tents (there are 14 in total): the Schottenhamel (popular with student societies), the Hackerbrau (decked out in Bavarian blue and white) and the Winzerer Fahndl (complete with beer garden).
The only beer served comes from Munich breweries such as the Augustiner, Paulaner and Spaten. The most popular variation is the lager-like helles. And there are no half measures: beer is served in one-litre glasses, several of which are typically carried at one time by barmaids. A litre (eine Mass) costs about €8.50 ($12.15) – but you don't need that many. If you decide to pace yourself, ask for a radler (beer with lemonade).
And to soak it up?
Typically, half a roasted chicken with a giant pretzel. Also, bratwurst (sausage), knuckles of pork, freshly smoked fish and lots of colourful gingerbread creations.
Is there anything apart from eating and drinking?
Believe it or not, the Oktoberfest is also aimed at families, with fairground attractions such as carousels, the Olympia Loop ride and shooting galleries.
What's so special this year?
Next to the main festival area will be a separate "historical Wiesn" site dedicated to Oktoberfest history and a celebration of Bavarian culture. Visitors can sample dishes popular 200 years ago, enjoy folk dance displays and whip-cracking and watch racers on vintage cycles speeding around a big top. Open from September 17.
They're off . . .
For the first time since 1938, the horse racing that marked the original celebration is being reinstated, with two races a day to be held next to the main festival area.
Pictures at an exhibition
Munich City Museum is presenting Oktoberfest 1810-2010, an extensive exhibition detailing how a Bavarian celebration "with monarchist overtones" became the world's biggest beer festival. Exhibits include paintings and photographs, beer barrels and mugs, pennants for the winning horse riders and Princess Therese's wedding dress. It runs until October 31. stadtmuseum-online.de.
Bavarian is a dialect all unto itself, being heavily informed by the Latin of the area's previous occupants. Here are a few useful terms: O'zapft is! ("It is tapped" – the phrase uttered by Munich's mayor to mark the opening of the first beer barrel); Oans-zwoa-drei-g'suffa ("One, two, three, skol!"); and I mog di ("I like/love you").
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