Munich, Bavarian Brew (2010)

Munich, Bavarian Brew (2010)

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Oktoberfest in Munich is an unmitigated, but not altogether unpleasant assault on all your senses – visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory and olfactory. Of course, everyone present, including yourself, is both perpetrator and victim. During the fest, Munich, in the evenings, is a visual delight with millions of twinkling fairy lights, complimented by brightly illuminated rides and roller coasters. One can indulge in every juvenile whim and fancy – get tossed in a swirling merry-go-round that rides up a pole and opens like a giant umbrella to hurl you upside down, drop down in a stomach-churning devil trap through a vertical shaft or saunter through an artificial cave to confront demons and monsters.To indulge in some real action, there are many tents put up by Bavaria’s famous breweries. The collective chatter of a few thousand voice boxes is loud enough to drown out various bands gamely trying to produce music above the din.

The fest rules require you to be seated, however precariously, to be served beer. That’s easier said than done. The hall may be as big as a football stadium, having hundreds of benches jammed so closely together. And the place is teeming with humanity, all crammed into these benches and many standing on tables trying to catch the attention of passing barmaids. If you want a seat, you will have to push, shove and crash into groups of total strangers who are equally determined to not let you in. It takes much ingenuity, oodles of charm and powerful ‘elbow’ work to wrest a spot. Once you have accomplished this, half the battle is won.And then begins part two of your ordeal – catching the eye of the barmaids. You may stand on the benches, bellow, scream, wave and look like a buffoon, but no one minds. Either they are too drunk or themselves trying their brand of buffoonery. After several tries, one finally manages to have barmaid’s wavering attention for a split second in which you thrust two crisp 10 Euro notes into her apron pocket. She disappears into the mass of humanity and there is no sign of her for the next half hour. Not that you need the beer to get into the spirit of the evening; after all, the tent is so reeking with alcohol that you just need to inhale.

Suddenly the barmaid heaves into view, her slender wrists balancing six massive glasses in each hand, the golden frothy liquid sloshing all over the place.In most beer tents, it is interesting to see people in various stages of surrender to Bacchus. Some are flat out on tables, while others are up, dancing and singing. Pretty young girls, bearing baskets, sell pretzels the size of steering wheels.

During Oktoberfest, Munich is full of men and women in traditional costumes, which might have been worn 200 years ago when the first year of the festival was celebrated to commemorate the union of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese. Girls in golden braids and milkmaid costumes with partners in breeches and funny hats are a common sight. Traditionally dressed Muncheners are all over the city. It is as though you’re in the Bavaria of yore – if you ignore the setting, that is. The whole world seems to be headed towards the fest. There are contests and competitions galore. Shops hawk Oktoberfest souvenirs, the most popular being the one-litre mugs that require at least bantamweight physique to lift.Last year more than six million visitors downed seven million litres of beer, and munched on several thousand yards of sausages. According to a news report, visitors lost or left behind “one hearing aid, a leather whip, a live rabbit, a tuba, a ship in a bottle, 1,450 items of clothing, 770 identity cards, 420 wallets, 366 keys, 330 bags and 320 pairs of glasses, 90 cameras and 90 items of jewellery and watches. A total of 37 children were also lost.” One can well imagine how much they must have enjoyed themselves to accomplish this feat!After a drinking spree if you can still stagger out of the tent, there are hordes of ricks waiting outside to take you back to your hotel long after the Metro and buses stop running. But make sure you don’t stay too close to the fest venue, or you will end up being awake all night, due to continuous wails of ambulance sirens as they ferry drunken revellers in need of medical attention to hospitals in the city. But make no mistake, the same drunken revellers will return to the same fest ground the next day to do it all over again. It is that irresistible!

(published in The Sunday Tribune dated Aug 14, 2011

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