Those of you who receive this newsletter should also receive, usually in early August, an invitation to Watt Tieder’s annual Oktoberfest celebration in Munich (if not, please contact the editors and you will be added to the list). Space is limited so an early acceptance is always a good idea.
Oktoberfest in Munich is hard to describe in words. I can think of no comparable event in the U.S. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro may approach it, but that is usually a single bacchanalian night while Oktoberfest lasts for 16 days and nights. Describe the indescribable – I will try.
First, the history. For those of you who know Germany, the State of Bavaria is the home of many of Germany’s best beers and festivals. Oktoberfest started as a public celebration of the marriage of the Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. The public was treated to beer in a large field near the city, now known as Theresienwiese. It was thought that everyone enjoyed it so much that it became an annual event. The event still takes place at the Theresienwiese but its name has been shortened to “Wiesen.”
The Wiesen abuts the city limits of Munich and is readily accessible by the S-Bahn. Each of the major Munich, and only Munich, breweries has at least one “Festhalle” at the Wiesen. The breweries are Spaten, Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, and Hofbräu. The image to the right is the Pschorr Festhalle. The Festhalles are sometimes referred to as tents, and in fact they are made of canvas, but placed over a permanent wooden structure. Each tent has seating for up to 5,000 people at closely spaced tables and benches with seating for another 2,000-3,000 just outside the tent. In the center of each is a bandstand. One would think that with seating of up to 5,000 and two seatings a day (2:45 and 5:45), getting a reservation could be easy. In fact, it is virtually impossible, and reservations are typically made a year in advance. You will have a better chance of getting a reservation if the party is a group; individual or couple reservations are virtually impossible.
So what does one do at Oktoberfest? The first thing is proper dress – all the locals wear their local attire which is known as “Tracht;” dirndls for the women; lederhosen and either a blue or red striped shirt for the men. These are not costumes but local dress worn regularly by the Bavarians for special and formal occasions similar to the full “kilt” attire worn by the Scots. Here is your correspondent and his wife properly attired.
As a visitor, you will feel significantly out of place without at least some portion of the Tracht clothing. Certainly if you come as our guest, Tracht is strongly encouraged. If you want the best, your first stop in Munich should be the London-Frey store. Lederhosen (literally translated as “leather pants”) are made of thick, high quality leather, typically deer skin. They will last for generations and many locals are the proud owners of generations old lederhosen. By the time you add in the proper socks, suspenders, shirt and hat, expect a bill in excess of 1,000 euros. Dirndls are in the same range. Cheaper versions are readily available and can even be ordered from the internet. Dressed in this finery, you then sit elbow-to-elbow at a cramped table. The beer is specially brewed for Oktoberfest and served in one liter mugs (or mas). The pictures of waitresses delivering up to ten mas are not exaggerated (you can try yourself but it is near impossible, even if the mas is empty). For the first half-hour, you drink your first mas and perhaps eat the Oktoberfest food specialty – grilled chicken. After the first mas and for the next several hours you are standing on your seats (benches) and dancing and singing with the other 4,999 participants. You start with your own crowd but you often find a new space at an adjacent table. Every 10-15 minutes, the band sings the Gemütlichkeit song which ends in “Eins, zwei, drei: Prosit” at which time you toast whoever is within arm’s reach. One of the miracles of Oktoberfest is the always full mas. Every time you set it down, a full one appears. Time seems to stand still and before you know it 4-5 hours have elapsed and it’s closing time.
The atmosphere is one of joy. Despite tens of thousands of at least partially inebriated people, there is virtually no bad behavior. In almost 30 visits, I have seen only one fight and that was between two “kilt,” not lederhosen, wearers. This altercation lasted all of 10-15 seconds before the always present, but never intrusive, security forces arrived and escorted the combatants to the exit.
Another tradition is “silly hats.” There is a new one every year. This year it was the “dancing chicken.” These fashion statements can be purchased from vendors who wander their way through the crowd. After a few mas, 40 euros for a silly hat just feels right. Below are a few photos of partners from Watt Tieder and HFK Rechtsanwälte LLP (our Munich affiliate firm), along with their families. Some of you who attended will notice that there are no photos of you or indeed any non-Watt Tieder or HFK persons or family members. What happens at Oktoberfest, stays at Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is always the last two weekends of September and the first weekend of October for a total of 16 days. Although some years are hot while others are cold and rainy, the typical weather is sunshine with blue skies and temperatures of early autumn. Against this magnificent background, we developed a full weekend. We arrive on the Friday before the opening Saturday. After a short nap, we go to the Seehaus in the Englisher Garten, a beer garden on the shores of a lake. Saturday is the official opening; a short parade from the center of Munich to the Weisen. The burgermeister is accorded the honor of tapping the first wooden keg of special Oktoberfest beer by hammering a spigot into it. The burgermeister takes the first mouthful and the party begins. We have little planned for that day, but like to watch the opening ceremony and then retire to one of the beer gardens which proliferate in Munich. We also often have a group dinner.
The official program begins on Sunday morning when we meet at the offices of HFK for a private viewing of the annual parade and a typical Munich breakfast. The parade is called the Trachten und Schützenzug, which consists of groups of people and bands in traditional clothing, a beer wagon from each of the Festhalles, and often the German Chancellor (although Merkel did not attend this year). HFK’s office is on the second floor directly overlooking the parade route. The Munich breakfast is white sausage and wheat beer which must be eaten before 11:00 A.M. On Monday, we have a seminar on a current issue of international construction and arbitration law. This is followed by a catered lunch. After lunch, everyone leaves to don their Tracht and we meet at the designated Festhalle. After that – drink, eat a chicken, dance and sing.
The pictures in this article should give you some hint of the joy of this annual event. The City of Munich is one of the world’s undiscovered treasures. The residents are friendly and kind. I can hardly count the acts of kindness and generosity which have come my way over my years of attending. If heaven is a projection of our fondest wishes, my heaven would be Munich. Even if you have never had a beer in your life, Munich is worth a visit. RSVP early as we generally limit attendance to 24-30 guests a year. As one client told me – “This is a life changing experience.”