Oktoberfest battles to save its soul from drunks

20th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

Munich's annual Oktoberfest, which begins this Saturday, is battling to re-assert genteel tradition as an antidote to the public drunkenness.


 When it is over, on Oct. 7, an estimated 6 million visitors, many from the far side of the globe, will have chugged beer, swayed to oompah music and ridden the roller-coasters.

And with all that beer being served up in one-litre steins selling at 7.90 euros ($11), part of the spectacle is to see some guests become seriously drunk in the brewers' vast beer tents as the nights draw on.

That is not the side of Oktoberfest that the city fathers are proud of.

Part of the answer this year is a renewed emphasis on homely Bavarian customs, which Munich hopes may civilise out-of-town visitors who arrive thinking of nothing but booze.

A tradition of bringing your own sandwiches - or other snacks like chop suey or pizza - to eat in the beergardens outside the tents will be rigorously encouraged this year, so no-one needs to drink on an empty stomach.

Sturdy serving wenches who tell off the guests for eating their own food at the tables may face sanctions, although the option of visitors bringing their own food will not apply inside the tents.

A reversal

In line with a tradition prevailing for much of the time since the Oktoberfest was founded in 1810, the duration of the event is to be reduced back to 16 days, reversing last year's increase to 18 days.

Two years ago, disco parties were banned. Last year a prohibition on commercial-promotion events was added, after organizers said dancing girls and rock music were not part of Oktoberfest's character.

The most visible symbol of the back-to-the-roots wave is a trend for patrons to dress in Bavarian national attire: men wear lederhosen and women wear the region's dirndl frocks and blouses.

 In a nod to Oktoberfest, Lufthansa flight attendants serving three destinations in Asia, North America and South America from September 23 till October 11 will wear blue dirndl dresses instead of uniforms.

The locals are just as delighted when non-Germans wear the attire. Dressing local-style is not only a fun and friendly way of responding to the hospitality. It also leaves a few more euros behind in the local economy.

Bernd Ohlmann of the Bavarian Retailers' Association said lederhosen and dirndl frocks are major items in many clothing stores. Quite a few Japanese, American and other visitors buy them too.

"It's just about a business sector in its own right," he said. "For retailers in this town, the Oktoberfest period is almost as busy as Christmas." Visitors also buy steins and other souvenirs.

Unsober traditions

Not all the fest's traditions are sober ones. There will be a ban this year on buying fest beer in anything smaller than a big glass stein with a handle. Half-litre glasses are considered un-Bavarian.

A prize-giving was introduced at the city's Beer Museum this year to ensure top quality in the heady fest beer, which contains 6 percent alcohol by volume, 1 percentage point more than regular beer.

Beer sommelier Wolfgang Stempfl was eloquent in describing the differences between the winning blonds and brunettes - here he is talking about beer, not women.

The Augustiner brand, he explained, has a "rounded, tender body," while Hofbraeu "makes you think of hop with a lick of caramel" and Loewenbraeu has a "trim, elegant body."

Although a few limited no-smoking zones will be declared this year, Bavarians bristle at suggestions that tobacco has no place in the noisy tents. Smoking at Oktoberfest is traditional too.

The festival, located on the Wiesn, the huge open grounds reserved for the event, by the mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, using a hammer to open a tap in the first 200-litre barrel of beer.

20 September 2007

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: Germany, festivals, Oktoberfest, culture, society

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