Oktoberfest – the main tents
Published: 21 Sep 2012 15:02 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 Sep 2012 15:02 GMT+02:00
- Oktoberfest – the traditions (21 Sep 12)
- Oktoberfest – the beer (21 Sep 12)
- Oktoberfest – the food (21 Sep 12)
Festooned in primary colours like a drugged-up circus impresario's vision of utopia, the Hippodrom is the Oktoberfest at its most garish and most glamorous. Enter here and you will be sealed inside a giant beach ball of debauchery. Though it is one of the smallest of the big tents, this only heightens the intensity. There's a champagne bar where the sexually unattached tend to hang out, and it has become a ghetto for slightly incongruous tourist-celebrities - Paris Hilton and Eva Padberg have both dirndled themselves up here in the last few years. More familiar German glitterati like Boris Becker and those TV-hosts whose names you can never remember are also regular patrons. Music is provided by the regular band Happy Hippo. Whatever that name suggests to you is true.
For those who consider the Hofbräuhaus in central Munich too intimate, low-key and artsy, the brewery’s tycoons created this tent just for you. It's an immense, raging cavern of Bavarian-ness – the Hofbräuhaus to the power of a kazillion. A huge brass-band, augmented with vocalists and electric guitars, screams uninterrupted for hours at a time, and this venue has become the base-camp for most Americans and Australians. Still, rural Bavaria is literally inserted into the Hofbräu-Festzelt: according to the managers, Margot and Günter Steinberg, an entire field of hops is used to decorate it.
This is the keeper of the spark that ignites the thousands of barrels all around. Except it's not gunpowder that explodes here, but liquid gold, streaming into gullets and displacing minds. This proud tent is more tradition-conscious than some of the others. It is the home of the ceremony where the mayor of Munich taps the first barrel – with blows from his Conan-esque hammer - signalling the opening of the Oktoberfest. It has earned this honour by virtue of being the oldest of the regular tents, and its management is still in the hands of the venerable Schottenhamel family. The traditional food served here is heavy, large, and very, very good.
At some point, the famous Löwenbräu brewery, makers of maybe the finest Bavarian beer, decided that it wasn't enough just to have lions on every glass, barrel, flag, and tent pole in this place. They decided to make the foreign tourists understand what their beer was named after by installing a 4.5 metre plastic lion at the entrance to their tent. It roars – some would say belches – into the throbbing crowd every few minutes just so you don't forget where you are. But with any luck, you might actually find some actual locals from Munich in this tent, as it is the traditional meeting point for fans of the city's second, more traditionally working class, football team – 1860 München – also known as the “Lions.” Beer still costs plenty though.
Perhaps ever since you were a boy you've wanted to tear roasted ox meat off a spit with your bare teeth like a Viking. You probably won't get a chance to do that here either, as the continually roasting creatures are hung tantalizingly out of reach, but at least you can eat oxen in every imaginable form. There is even an ox-brunch plate (€28.50), where lots of cuts are offered to you at once, like some nightmarish vision of meaty hell. You can even find out the name and the weight of the animal you are eating, as if they were poor sinners serving purgatory in the flames, and you are their tormenting demons.
Ben Knight (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Munich's Oktoberfest runs from September 22 until October 7 this year.