Oktoberfest a One-of-a-kind Experience

Written by Lynnette Hintze for dailyinterlake.com

I wonder if anyone has ever calculated how much beer has been consumed at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, since it began 200 years ago?

A staggering amount, to be sure, and I’ll have to admit I contributed a few pints to the sum total.

I’ve had Oktoberfest on my mind lately because I keep getting e-mails from the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce about its upcoming inaugural Oktoberfest — “Beer, Brats and Bavaria” — Oct. 14-17. This sounds pretty exciting.

After a mayoral toast and tapping of the first keg, a tradition still practiced in Munich, the Whitefish event gets under way Thursday with all kinds of crowd-pleasers, including a bratwurst-eating contest and competitions to see how many beer steins men and women can hold. And it sounds like there’ll be polka music ’til the cows come home.

Even if you don’t know any Bavarian drinking songs (I’ve been known to croon a few), the event is worth checking out. Whitefish knows how to party, and a big-top tent at Depot Park is where it all happens.

In my experience, Oktoberfests are a pretty good time. While most Americans were celebrating the country’s bicentennial in 1976, I was living in Salzburg, Austria, and had the opportunity to spend a weekend in nearby Munich for the Oktoberfest.

Unbeknownst to most people, Germany’s famous Oktoberfest happens mostly in September. It begins the third weekend in September and wraps up the first weekend in October.

Oktoberfest first brings to mind a massive number of beer tents.

After that, things get kind of fuzzy, understandably so, when there are seemingly infinite opportunities to sample good German brews. The one tent I do remember had a gigantic mechanical lion’s head at the entrance that growled “Lowenbrau” as you entered. There was lots of yodeling, oompah bands and polka dancing.

The beer was cold and plentiful.

That entire summer was an immersion in German and Austrian culture. I sewed my own dirndl (traditional attire worn by German women) that I wore when I waitressed at a hotel restaurant in Salzburg.

My college roommate and I made a couple of trips to Munich to the Hofbrauhaus, Bavaria’s most famous beer hall, and almost missed the train one Sunday night because we stayed too long, caught up in the raucous atmosphere that embodies the beer hall. And there were those cute boys in lederhosen …

The Oktoberfest has a rich history and still is celebrated in the fields where it all began on Oct. 12, 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.

Munich residents were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates. Those fields were renamed Theresienwiese (Therese’s Fields) to honor the princess. Today they’re simply called The Wiesn.

It takes a lot to shut down the time-honored celebration. Only wars and cholera epidemics have halted the Oktoberfest.

As traditional as the event is, it also has come along with the times. I had to laugh as I read on the event’s website about a new iPhone Oktoberfest app that not only lets you know which beer tents have available seating (drinking starts at 10 a.m.!) but also offers a beer counter and drunkenness check.

“Count the beers you have already drunken and show it to your friends on Facebook,” the website encourages. “The app will calculate consistent with your weight and height how much blood alcohol you have and on which time you are going to be sober again.”

Ach, du lieber, I could have used one of those back in 1976.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at lhintze@dailyinterlake.co

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