I’ve lived in Bavaria for nearly three months. In that short time I’ve already had numerous opportunities to attend various fests.
Fest: A special type of local carnival. Featuring local craftsman selling specialties from the region, a Ferris wheel (Riesenrad), typical food (bratwursts, chocolate covered fruit on a stick) and a variety of beers only sold in one size: a Maß (1 liter or 33 ounces). Fests can last from one day to two weeks. Some fests encourage traditional clothing and some not. All of them have tents or bier gartens, there is always live music and the whole atmosphere is very festive. (Thus the name “fest.”)
At the end of July each year Forchheim hosts the Annafest in the Kellerwald for 11 days. This is Thorsten’s favorite fest. It even has a motto, “Annfest, alladooch, Annafest” or in English, “Annafest, everyday, Annafest.” 11 days in a row is a little much for me, but it is great fun that the fest is in our own Kellerwald just a quick walk up the hill. It’s also a chance to get to reconnect once a year with all the people you’ve ever known in your life…(if you’re from Forchheim or a surrounding city.)
Then a few weeks later, Forchheim hosts the Brucken Fest (translated Bridge Fest) in the town. This fest takes place a small open area between three bridges. Obviously there is nothing to do with this space except to use it as a fest ground to celebrate the three bridges. Although I’ve wondered if it’s more for people who are experiencing withdrawal from the Annafest’s ending.
As soon as Fall begins each town has a fest called Kirchweih, (Kerwa in Franconia.) It’s obvious that Franconians and Bavarians alike are wild about fests. Not a week goes by in the summer when there isn’t a fest in some nearby town to celebrate something non-specific that no one can really remember, and if you ask, they all say “who needs a reason to have a fest?”
Last Thursday I got the chance to attend the mother of all fests: Wiesn–Bavarian for “Oktoberfest”–in Munich. Almost everyone wears the traditional Bavarian clothing- Lederhosen for men and Dirndl for ladies. The decote is what makes the Dirndl famous and so often replicated. Thorsten actually said that he thinks a nobel prize should be awarded to the inventor of the dirndl. I think maybe it should go to the person who invented the clever Dirndl Bra that goes underneath the dirndl, making all the magic…The Oktoberfest goes on for two weeks and this year 6.5 million people attended drinking more than 6.5 million Maßes of beer.
The origin of the name Wiesn, comes from the name of the field where the Oktoberfest takes place. It’s like a huge fairground. Numerous breweries compete each year for a spot. Then they each spend more than a month building tents that are more like ornately decorated semi-permanent buildings, large enough to hold about 4000 people. One tent actually roasts a steer on a spit in its kitchen. When we visited, the cow’s name was Hubert and he was the 84th boar roasted during the Oktoberfest. The absolute best way to see the Oktoberfest is from the inside of a tent. Make a reservation and make it early (like in February.) The insides of the tents are beautifully decorated, you have a place to sit, you can see the band, and participate in all the fun. You even have a waitress assigned especially to your section, who becomes like a member of your family by the end of it. Each reservation reserves a table for 10. Each person at the table pays ahead for 2 Maßes of beer and about a food item from the menu. In total to reserve a table at the Oktoberfest costs 250 maybe 350 Euros.
I will be honest about two things: Sometimes Fests are really crowded and that can cut down on the fun. And a Maß of beer is just what it sounds like–Massive. Even experienced Germans sometimes overestimate their ability to drink Maßes of beer and stay coherent. So, I always find myself looking forward to the end of the fest when we can all go back to drinking more reasonably sized beers…those two things aside, the Bavarian love of fests is absolutely contagious.
Tips: Eat early and often. Do not miss the Hendl (half a chicken, roasted to absolute perfection, often served with Kartoffel salat (potato salad). Make sure to order water in between Maßes if you expect to make it through the marathon day. Go on a weekday. Clap for the ones who stand on the chair and pound the Maß in one swig but don’t attempt it yourself. Take a walk through all the tents. Be on the look out for the brewery horses, gorgeous animals in full regalia pulling the wagons full of beer barrels. Ein Prosit!