Sunday, October 2, 2011

Oktoberfest 2011: O’zapft is! Part 1

Pandemonium reigned over Munich for the last two weeks. Hordes of people wandered the cramped streets of the capital of Bavaria in hopes of finding a seat on a wooden bench under 1 of 14 tents. What kind of madness is this? Answer: The kind of madness you would be lucky to be part of.

Yes, it’s Oktoberfest.

Sixteen days filled with würstl, dirndls dresses, oompah music and more “Maß” (one-liter mugs) than you can count. 

Every year during  mid-September, the fairgrounds of Theresienwiese morph into colorful beer tents, carnival rides, and vending booths. Locals and visitors alike gather once a year in what is known as the largest beer festival in the world.

Opening Weekend
Before the clashing of glasses can begin, the official Tapping of the Keg takes place. Starting at noon under the Schottenhamel tent, the mayor of Munich taps open the first barrel with the traditional cry, “O`zapft is!” (It’s tapped!), and hands over the first beer to the Bavarian prime minister. Immediately after, beer halls tap their kegs and the “prost” (cheers) among revelers begins! 

Although numerous parades run throughout “die Wiesn,” as the locals say, the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade held on Sunday is a definite must-see. The 3-mile spectacle boasts horse-drawn carriages, marching bands, riflemen in historical uniforms, and farmyard animals including oxen, cows and goats.

Beer Enthusiasts Unite!
No need to sugar coat the obvious: Oktoberfest is virtually all about the bier. Last year, fest-goers drank a record-breaking 7.1 million liters of the frothy liquid. Quite thirsty they were, you might say. All the beer served at the event comes from 6 breweries in Munich: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten. Interestingly enough, Oktoberfest beers are not brewed in the fall like the name suggests. They are actually traditionally brewed in March or Märzen. This style spends the summer slowly fermenting in cool conditions to be ready to be served fresh in the fall. Amber in color, Märzen beer is full-bodied, rich and malty in flavor. Just remember to pace yourself; the lager is rather strong with roughly 5-6% alcohol content. You wouldn’t want to become a Bierleichen (drunk person) and pass out early.

Food Galore
To complement the copious amounts of brew, try the myriad of hearty Bavarian delicacies served at every corner. Spit-roasted chickens, bratwurst, pork knuckles, and ox tails are just some of the many dishes sold at the festival. Eat like the locals and indulge in the popular Weißwürste (weisswurt), a white sausage typically 10-12 centimeters long and 2 centimeters thick. Did I mention this is eaten as a snack? Or simply opt for a giant Brezen (pretzel). Health nuts, you’ve been warned.

Ready to experience the debauchery and endless entertainment during next year's Oktoberfest? Check out The Romantic Danube!

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