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Published:October 23rd, 2006 05:50 EST
Oktoberfest 2006:  A Ma of Fun

Oktoberfest 2006: A Ma of Fun

By Colleen Wright


Number of roasted oxen eaten: 102. Number of beer liters sold:  6.1 million. Number of injuries caused by flying beer steins:  61.  Ah, yes. It is the end of yet another dirndl-filled, beer-stained celebration that the Munich locals call dies Wiesn. The rest of us know it as Oktoberfest, the biggest public festival in the world.

st Saturday of the celebration. As the train neared Munich, the three friends and returning Oktoberfest patrons who shared my train compartment began their scheming. Alex pulled out a map of the fairgrounds and plotted the quickest route from the train station to Schottenhamel, a tent popular among the younger crowd and rumored to serve beer even to those without seats at tables. We planned to find out. The tent sat 6,000 people inside and had only opened at 9a.m.; an hour earlier than we would arrive, but he worried, it would already be filled. Minutes before the train screeched into the station we had already left our soft cushioned seats and perched close to the rattling exit door for a quick escape. 

Our near-run from the train to the tent was an obstacle course of two-decker buses filled with Italian tourists and strolling Bavarians dressed in dirndl and lederhosen. Inside the fairgrounds, a mass of colors and people sucked us into the chaos. To the right, a group of young German guys clinked 1-liter glass tankards and shouted a cheer full of foreign words. Behind us, a carnival ride shot riders into the air and spun them repeatedly, the dizzying stumbling after-effects a preview of what was to come.  To the side of the crowds stood a calm, cast-iron figure so large that it would take 66 steps to climb from her knee to her crown. The statue of Bavaria`s patron saint, a symbol of the country`s power and strength, somehow managed to fit in even among her, ah, less than solemn descendents. They shouted loud cheers and belted slurred songs, but they wore their Bavarian clothing with the same streak of pride.

When they got married in October 1812, Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa could not have imagined their wedding reception would inspire decades of celebration that survived more than one cholera outbreak and two world wars. What began as then as a mass of wedding guests strolling Munich meadows ( Wiesen ") has become a 6.5 million-person affair spanning blocks of carnival rides with 14 festhalles that seat over 70,000 inside.

Each festhalle, or tent, is popular among certain crowds and serves beer from a specific area brewery. The Bräurosl purports a brass band and a yodeler, while the Hacker-Festzelt offers a rock band that plays in the evening, and another tent`s alcoholic selection includes over 15 wines. The Hofbräu Festzelt is popular with Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders, while other tents are popular with celebrities.

Our own efforts to get into the Schottenhamel were met with a closed door and a long line of hopeful entrants that did not move a single step forward during our half hour wait. A quick walk around the grounds showed every single one of the tents to be filled. Of course this had happened in years past, and so seats had also been placed outside on the pavement and in makeshift restaurants where it is said that a good " waitress can cradle up to 14 glass Maß (pronounced "mass"), or 1-liter tankards, in her arms at once. 

We took a seat at one of the outdoor restaurants and our half-empty table outside was soon filled by a young couple and a group of friends from Germany. All together, our mixed group came from two continents and spoke four languages. No matter:  three card games and a few Maß later, we all spoke the same language of Oktoberfest.

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