“It seems you have almonds, over there.” Andre belches and leans over to view the end of the bench. “What was your name again?” he adds clumsily. But the girl in the lilac mini-dirndl isn’t keen on sharing her roasted Caipirinha almonds, let alone a conversation. “That’s a false impression,” she shrugs and continues munching. It is half past eleven, the world’s biggest fun-fair, the Munich Oktoberfest, has just closed for the day, and the local train is full of cheerful people who are tipsy but rather entertaining.
Many of the young men are wearing traditional knee-long lederhosen, although some combine them with stylish white sneakers and cosy fleece sweaters.
In specialised Trachten shops all over Munich, the lederhosen are marked down already. Next to them glare flashy mini-dresses in pink and turquoise, with patterned blouses and many frills. They are certainly not traditional garments, but they resemble the classic dirndls just enough to create a stout Bavarian beery atmosphere. “So many people are wearing these fake dirndls,” we had commented to a Bavarian friend. “Fake? Oh, the ones with petticoats? They are called Wiesn dirndl, made especially for the Oktoberfest.”
For the weekend, S. and T. from Bochum are coming to visit the Oktoberfest. The idea of enjoying huge quantities of beer in large beer steins and riding merry-go-rounds seems rather strange to them. Even Isa, who has been to the Oktoberfest only once before, can almost feel like an insider. When we meet S. and T. at the station on Friday afternoon, some of the teenagers in lederhosen are already drunk. They are wearing them a couple of sizes too big and well below the groin. Never mind. S. is keen to taste the Bavarian beer and see a bit of Munich, and T. is toying with the idea of a roller coaster ride.
The Oktoberfest is held every year for 16 days - strangely in late September and only a few days in early October. The festivities date back to the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig (later Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810. Originally, they organised a big horse race on the meadows outside town for the citizens of Munich. Apparently the crowds liked it and some sort of fair was repeated almost every year from then. From 1835 a parade has been added to the festivities, which today forms an important part of the Oktoberfest: Almost 8000 people in traditional costumes walk through the centre of Munich, to the fairgrounds on Theresienwiese. The traditional horse races, however, were discontinued after WW II. Today the Oktoberfest is still a highlight in the Munich citizens’ calendar, but many visitors come from other parts of Bavaria, Germany, and the world. “Italians!” a friend sighs. “But mind you, after a couple of those one-litre steins they don’t live up to the cliché…”
The next day we mingle with the Oktoberfest crowd. A bunch of giggling girls in turquoise gingham skirts jostles past us. Gingerbread hearts screaming „Darling“ or „I love you“ in sugar icing dangle at their hips like handbags. They are wearing neon-coloured wristbands. They are among the chosen. The chosen thousands, that is, who can still get entry into one of the 14 beer tents. For those who don’t have a reservation – like us – the tents remain closed. Inside there may be music and dance, roast pork and pretzel, beer and Oktoberfest atmosphere, but today they have been closed at least since 11 am due to overcrowding, and we can’t even get a glimpse inside. Outside, there is also beer, pretzels, and Oktoberfest atmosphere, but it’s raining. Dripping wet, T. returns from the roller coaster. He admits to having closed his eyes all through the loopings, but is nevertheless enthusiastic about the world’s biggest mobile rollercoaster. Like the other thousands of none-chosen, we resort to the fairground rides and the outdoor foodstalls: they offer all the Bavarian classics from roast pork to smoked mackerel and from Magenbrot to roasted almonds. Those are not simply caramelised – the stalls offer a wide choice of classic, vanilla and chocolate-strawberry almonds; but this year’s selling hit are the Caipirinha almonds.