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Wiesn light

Oktoberfest can be fun, even for non-beer drinkers.

I’m German, I don’t like beer nor large gatherings of people, and I’ve just had a great time at the Oktoberfest  in Munich. After years and years of resisting this most German of all festivals I dipped my foot in for the first time in 2008 and have been going ever since.

My visits are slightly different to the very liquid merriment of Australians, New Zealanders, Italians, Brits – and, of course, Germans. The general image of the Wiesn, as the locals call the Oktoberfest, that the world sees is one of lots of people drinking lots of beer and getting very drunk. Bierleichen (beer corpses) on the meadows around the Bavaria statue on the fringes of the Theresienwiese where the Wiesn takes place are a common sight.

However, there’s another side to it. For example, my personal Wiesn memories are full of sunshine, relaxed weekend mornings sitting on beer benches outside in the sun with good food and a nice glass of sparkling wine or white wine spritzer (that’s possible, yes, no one is going to shoot you). This year when I visited last Sunday, there was no sun, but we still had a great day in the Weinzelt (wine tent), dancing on the benches while it was raining cats and dogs outside. Clapping hands and singing (shouting) silly songs is mandatory. Unlike the typical big Wiesn tents such as the Hippodrome or Augustiner, the wine tent serves wine, sparkling wine, champagne and wheat beer only, not the traditional one litre Maß. Not surprisingly, it is very popular with the ladies, maybe also because it’s a bit smaller, less rowdy and very lovingly decorated.

A very important element of the Oktoberfest that tends to be overlooked outside Germany is that it is, traditionally, a fantastic family fun fair with lots of rides, modern and wonderfully nostalgic ones, delicious foods and sweets and – a personal favourite of mine – ‘Bodos Cafézelt’, a tent all dedicated to cakes and coffee. For international visitors – and from my point of view that is a bit unfortunate – it’s more or less all about drinking as much beer as possible. For me, as a German living abroad, it’s every year a wonderful piece of Heimat – even if I’m not Bavarian. It’s about tradition, your roots and where you’re coming from, a bit of originality in our globalised and branded world. It’s about colourful Dirndls and Lederhosen and socialising with friends and strangers. Because, in the end, Wiesn revellers are all part of a big community, and the general mood is one of friendliness and having fun with lots of other people.

My favourite Wiesn moment this year was witnessing a group of Asian tourists who sat down near us in the Weinzelt, observing their surroundings with utter amazement and a look of sheer incredulity. I tried to put myself into their shoes: Thousands of people in quirky dresses, dancing and singing while standing on wooden benches, sometimes making funny gestures with their arms and hands (some songs require expressing the lyrics by making gestures, it’s a German thing, I guess) while a band is playing very loudly on a stage. What must they have been thinking? How weird is this. And how great. Silliness on a large scale – it’s necessary now and then. I’ve already decided to join in another time next year. Just the beer drinking will again have to take place without me.

See the GermanyisWunderbar Facebook page for our Wiesn picture album:

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