Covering the world’s biggest beer fest
By Michael Dalder and Kai Pfaffenbach
It’s 5am when my alarm clock rings and to be honest, my thoughts are more about coffee than beer.
However, I packed my gear and tried to get ready for the world’s biggest party, where tradition meets madness in Munich: The “Oktoberfest”.
It all started in 1810 when a rich banker hosted a horse race to honor the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Since then the fairground has been called “Theresienwiese”, where the Oktoberfest common name “Wies’n” stemmed from.
Now more than 6 million visitors from all over the world are expected to taste the special Oktoberfest beer, which is a lot stronger than the usual German drinks as it reaches up to 7% alcohol. Despite its name “Oktoberfest”, the big party always starts on the second last Saturday of September and will end by October 3.
For those interested in traditional Bavarian clothing the Oktoberfest is paradise – women and young girls wear the “Dirndl”, an old-fashioned dress sporting “décolleté”
and the men arrive in their famous leather trousers.
On the opening day Munich’s lord major taps the first beer barrel at 12 noon.
The beer is served in traditional one liter mugs, also known as “Steins”.
A few coffees later around 6am, I arrived at the Schottenhammel beer tent where Munich’s mayor Christian Ude tapped the first barrel of the famous and delicious ale. Around 3,000 people packed in front of the entrance aspiring to catch one of the non-reserved seats inside the tent. Security personnel with megaphones tried to tame the crowd.
Privileged with a special press pass I was allowed to enter the tent from a side entrance to reserve my position together with colleagues from other agencies and television stations. There we had to sit for six hours protecting our spot in front of the barrel to get the shot as mayor Ude said the legendary sentence: “O’zapft iss, auf eine friedliche Wiesn!” (“The barrel is tapped, a toast to a peaceful festivity!”)
To pass the six hour wait time I started setting up remotes to capture the tapping and a camera to do a time lapse as the revelers came in. This time I had the sense of security that my buddy and colleague was with me in one of the other big beer tents, some of which hosted up to 10,000 people, to shoot pictures as revelers waited outside to get a spot for the party.
By that time people had already started to drink beverages brought from home. Often they were drunk before the festival even started. The first hours of the beer fest are very difficult for photographers to get around. It’s overcrowded everywhere, drunk people spill beer, block the way, dance on tables and create an incredibly loud noise. It’s fascinating to watch the waitresses maneuver around in this chaos while carrying up to twelve one liter mugs, blowing a whistle to get people out of the way and making sure everybody pays for their beer (up to 9,80 euro per mug this year).
Outside the tents people can relax while riding a huge Ferris wheel or enjoying the world’s latest roller coasters.
Others just lay in the grass and have a nap after too much strong beer.
It was late afternoon when the last hike of the day started for us photographers covering the opening day. Almost 300 steps up to the tower of the St. Peter’s church offered an incredible view over the whole fairground. By that time my colleague and I had been working for almost 12 hours and felt too tired to have a beer ourselves. But a couple of years ago we started our own tradition that when we visit Oktoberfest privately with our families on Sunday afternoon after recovering from opening day we enjoy the atmosphere and great food which is offered beside the beer in most of the tents. Suckling pig, crispy chicken, Ox-tail and other Bavarian specialties are sold and of course we dress up in the traditional Bavarian style (even though we are not Bavarians at all).