I went to Oktoberfest in Germany this year expecting it to be monumentally different from the American stereotype that has been exposed to me for many years. As you are reading this, you are probably imagining Oktoberfest to be the common visage of sausages, pretzels, and beer, all in the name of partying. Well, you’re wrong. There’s way less sausage and exceedingly much more beer.
Oktoberfest originally started as a wedding ceremony for Princess Therese and her new husband Prince Ludwig. They had invited the whole of Munich to participate in the ceremonious events that were being held in what is now named the Theresienwiese, after the princess herself. The highlight of these events were the horse races held throughout the meadow. Afterwards, the citizens continued the festivities the following year and it became a soon-to-be-treasured annual event.
Contrary to popular belief, the beer tents that now define the “traditional” German Oktoberfest didn’t begin to crop up until the year 1896. Since then, the people of Germany begged for the beer tents to be expanded in size and number; thus, eventually leading to the Oktoberfest that the world knows and loves today: a party.
Yes, attending Oktoberfest in its original location in the Therienwiese is not for the faint of heart. When I arrived, we still had an hour and a half wait in line (a line that stretched around almost the entirety of the meadow before the gates were finally opened. When the gates were opened to allow us in, everyone began to run.
It wasn’t long before my friend and I joined in and ran to the closest beer tent: the famous Hofbräuhaus. Here, we were both able to buy a full liter of beer at a whopping 11.50€, and a giant pretzel for another 5.60€.
In order to check into our Air BnB, we left Oktoberfest with a plan to return later that day, which ended up being later that evening. It was at this point where I realized how rowdy the entire city had become. On the subway train, at least two people in every car were falling over drunk. Trash cans were over flowing or stacked high with beer cans and beer bottles, and you could hear half-screamed songs being sung many blocks away from their origin.
This wasn’t very surprising given the fact that earlier in that day, while we were still waiting in line, one of the American gents behind me and my friend ended up vomiting several times into a nearby trash can, before finding himself needing to head home, barely able to stand. My favorite part of that catastrophe was his fellow group mates who continued to shout at him, already half a block down the street.
The biggest conflict in my mind that day was not the alcohol poisoning, the handsy drunkards or even the hilariously overpriced bread. All of that was, somehow, fun. It was a party, it was meant to be a party. No, what really stuck out to me were all the cheap, knock-off dirndls that were being worn by more than half of the female attendees. These variations on traditional dresses admittedly made me very upset. I will not lie, I was honestly aggravated that people were taking a piece of German history and “bastardizing” it with cheap lace, low-cut tops, flimsy sleeves, and knee-length skirts! Being of a Swiss background, and being used to people throwing Austrian, German, Swiss, and even Hungarian clothing into the same bucket, I started to get more and more upset that tourists were taking a long-lived tradition and using it to party.
Even though I had no idea who these people were. Or where they came from. Or what they were doing there. Or what they were thinking, or how they felt about the whole thing, or yadda yadda yadda. It was all very mature, I know.
The reality of it was, however, the whole time I was feeling aggravated about the entire scenario, I knew I was being hurtful. All of those previously mentioned “even though” statements were not things I thought about after the fact, they were all things I was thinking about in the moment. I knew that I had no right to be judging others and that it was pretty much useless to do so. Besides, they were all just having fun.
Everyone there, whether wearing dirndls, lederhosen or street clothes, had taken the time, effort, and money to share in something that they had absolutely no obligation to join. What people were doing when they were wearing them was initiating a bond with the culture. They wanted to be a part of the event, and they were appreciating the history of it by going out of their way to buy and wear the outfits. Plus, some of the dresses were, admittedly, pretty cute. Okay, they were very attractive, and I may or may not have wanted to buy one for myself by the end of the day, but the point is: everyone that was there, whether “taking advantage” of the festivities or not, had engaged with German history.
It took a conversation with another good friend of mine studying abroad here to make me realize yet another thing: culture is not a solid concept. Culture can change.
Not everything has to have a deep cultural history that has been flawlessly carried out through time. Likewise, something does not become worthless just because it isn’t a traditional display of the country’s history. Sometimes it can just be a great event that gets people to join in and sing together, no matter who they are or what their own heritage is.
Above all, the main thing I learned that day was to stop being such a stick in the mud. I went there expecting to be taught a lesson in the value of looking past stereotypes and peering into culture, but what I experienced was exactly that. Strange, I know. But eye-opening in the best way possible.
I realized that I was the one taking advantage of the culture, using it as an excuse to be mad at these people who were there to experience the cultural phenomenon that is Oktoberfest. Am I glad I went? Absolutely. But am I glad that it was a huge party? Eh, not so much, that really isn’t my scene.
In the end, Oktoberfest managed to get countless people singing and laughing together for almost an entire month out of the year. And my stick-in-the-mud brain is admittedly pretty pleased about that.
Additional information found via:
muenchen.de. “History of the Oktoberfest.” Muenchen.de,
About the Author – Dottie Porter, fall 2018 Marburg, Germany Storyteller & Elizabethtown College student
An Environmental Science/German Major at Elizabethtown College, Dottie finally finds herself exploring what the country of Germany has to offer. After spending the first two months of her semester abroad in Vienna, along with 5 other students on BCA’s Marburg program, she’s excited to continue studying German (and hopefully one day master the language) at Philipps-Üniversität!