A look at the Old Oktoberfest from Jeff Cox
So here we go again. At midday on 20 September, when the new Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter tapped the first keg of beer, the first drops of a small stream of beer will began to flow. This stream will eventually become a raging river, consumed by a parade of patrons who will consume in excess of 7 million litres of beer. The 181th Oktoberfest, known to us locals as the “Wiesn”, is now be underway.
Depending on how you look at it, it is either “the most beautiful event on the whole planet” (to quote my neighbour of the last 9 years), or, to others, the best time of year to get out of town and rent out your flat at four times the market rate. Love it or loathe it, most will agree it must surely be the biggest organized orgy of overindulgence of alcohol on earth.
But it was not always that way. Every local company has its night out at the Wiesn, where the office manager hugs the cleaning lady; the American tourist will gladly clink glasses with his neighbour whatever his or her nationality (thankful for the geography lesson), unconcerned with any current tension in the world political situation. Despite the noise, the world is temporarily at peace with itself – at least until the next morning.
Of course time moves on and even the most stubborn traditionalist is forced to be dragged along with it. People actually enjoy scenes such as those described above and when the marketing men see it, they provide more. This, after all, is the way of the world we live in. Is there no hope for any of us?
Well, for those traditionalists, who seek a way back to the ‘good old days’ of Oktoberfest, when people sat on the benches rather than stood, and conversations took place in a civilized manner, they can, in the form of “Die Oide Wiesn”, The Old Oktoberfest.
In 2010, the 200th anniversary of the first Oktoberfest (nothing more than a glorified wedding reception and a horse race), Munich decided that it might be a good time to try and bring back many aspects of that old, traditional festival. The southern section of the Theresienwiese grounds were sectioned off and it were occupied by tents and attractions which harked back to a simpler time and place. It was so successful the Oide Wiesn is now held every year unless the equally traditional agricultural show takes place (every 4 years).
In 2014, it is going to be even larger than before. It will offer a growing assortment of rides, shows and tradition that may seem outdated at first, but nonetheless touch most revelers as authentic and pure. Grandparents can show grandchildren what made them scream with that unique combination of fear and delight. Every contraption has a time and a place. The rides today, though more complicated and intense, lack the soul of those earliest ‘thrill rides’.
You can give me an old fashioned Waltzer any day; there’s actually a 1960s version waiting for you at the Oide Wiesn. Besides nostalgic rides in the Museum Tent there are sideshows from years gone by. “Did Grandpa really find that fun?” Go and find out for yourself! It’ll only cost you €3 to get in.
Of course no Oktoberfest – or any Bavarian Fest of any kind – is complete without beer and lots of hearty food. Two tents provide this at the Oide Wiesn with their own individual forms of entertainment. The largest of the two is the “Festzelt Tradition” (5000 seats inside, 3000 outside), whose Wirte (hosts) Toni & Christine Winklhofer and Peter & Margot Wieser lay on a programme of genuine, live traditional Bavarian “Volksmusik”, entertainment and dance provided by various organisations, bands and clubs from throughout the region.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Oide Wiesn, if not the whole Oktoberfest, is the Herzkasperlzelt, so named in memory of the much loved cabaret creation of the Munich actor and satirist Jörg Hube, who passed away in 2009, the year before the first Oide Wiesn. One of Hube’s closest friends and admirers is Herzkasperlzelt’s Wiesnwirt Josef “Beppi” Bachmaier, who with his tent aims to embody the spirit of Hube’s philosophically anarchistic stage figure. “I always like to do things a little differently,” he says.
Perhaps this is why the city of Munich approached him with the idea in 2009 in the knowledge that something original would somehow be able to combine with the traditional. The result is the sort of tent nobody could have imagined. It is a tent which combines new with old.
Beppi stresses the Bavarian “wuid” (as in “wild”) in his descriptions of how things should be: not in the sense of flirting with your best friend’s mother-in-law atop a table swimming in spilt beer and half eaten radishes, but through less conventional interpretations of traditional ways.
The music programme in the Herzkasperl reflects the way he has helped nurture new interpretations of older forms of folk music from Bavaria and around the world in the Theater im Fraunhofer, located behind his ever popular Gaststätte Fraunhofer. During the day there will be three separate sessions including performances by many who have graced the stage of the annual “Volksmusik im Fraunhofer”, plus an open stage in the beer garden for those who may wish to progress to the main podium in years to come.
In the evening, though, things become really “wuid”. Otto Göttler, founder of the famed “BairischDiatonischer Jodelwahnsinn” of the 90s presents his latest innovation “B.B. Diatronics”, electric Volksmusik for those who like it a little louder. Louder still is the Express Brass Band, a collection of between 10 and 25 brass musicians whose combined effect can make the most reluctant of dancers start tapping their feet. For those who cannot resist the idea of swinging their hips, another feature unique to the Oktoberfest is provided here in the form of an actual dance floor. Yes, a dance floor. No cavorting on table tops here, thank you so much.
The one event singled out by Bachmaier for special attention is the unlikely fusion of the traditional and the latest party and club music provided by the Band “G.Rag & die Landlergschwister” and the Munich duo “Schlachthofbronx”, whose fame spread across the globe following their concert at the 2010 Oide Wiesn.
Despite the admitted stress involved in the organisation and running of such an event, Beppi Bachmaier deviates from the norm in the culinary department as well.
Non-beer drinkers will be delighted to hear that it is actually possible to get a decent organically produced wine in the Herzkasperlzelt. The traditional fare of cholesterol and carbohydrates are of course on the main menu, but in this case using organically reared pork and beef. Added to this is the calculated risk of offering horse meat sausages. Once forbidden, Bachmaier was the first to reintroduce them in 2010. He expects some to be repulsed by the idea.
However, our genial “Wirt” now performs a gastronomical somersault surely unforeseen by any, adding vegan options for his guests. His son Lorenz has now worked in this area for a few years
and will be part of a team producing dishes previously undreamt of by visitors to this most carnivorous of festivals.
Come to think of it, apart from the obligatory mushrooms in cream sauce and Käsespätzle (a type of noodle, sort of, with cheese), the only non meaty component of an Oktoberfest menu, normally, is the beer itself!
Beppi looks upon this innovation in typically relaxed manner: “In a way I see it as an amusing challenge to the norm.”
Will it be successful? “We’ll see,” he answers, although we can be sure everything will be done
to make sure it is. With his previous record of turning the unlikely into a smash hit, do not be surprised if vegan food appears on other tents’ Wiesn menus in the future!
As with all areas of the Oktoberfest, if you can avoid the weekend crowds, do so. Ideally a stroll around the Oide Wiesn on a sunny weekday is the optimal way to recapture the mood of yesteryear. Try a few of the old attractions, take in the general ambience, enjoy some music and then sit down for a beer.
Hungry? How about a plate of horse sausage and tofu?
This article was originally written for the 2013 Oktoberfest and has be updated for our 181st Fest in 2014