The weekend started the way everyone’s weekend should; with a letter from Downing Street. Yes, that’s right. The Prime Minister the Right Honourable Mr. Cameron took time out of his busy schedule to thank me (and presumably all the other Games Makers) for the part we played during the Olympics. Good for him. Not sure whether to write/text him back, I decided that pinning the letter on my noticeboard was probably, on balance, the best thing to do. I’m not sure Dave knew what I was about to embark on the following day, but with his words still ringing in my ears, I felt sure that I would do my country proud. After all, I was volunteering as a Games Drinker, but this time at the Beer Olympics…where everyone wins gold. Needless to say, I was very grateful for the recognition, it’s not every day you get a letter from the guy who runs the country.
Despite this fab letter, my thoughts turned to utter excitement and sheer anticipation on Friday night, if there was a religion centred around beer, this was Christmas Eve. Oktoberfest is effectively Christmas for beer drinkers from all four corners of the world. It doesn’t matter that everyone gets the same present and who cares if it isn’t wrapped in paper? We couldn’t wait to devour our liquid goodies the following afternoon. Fully aware that we were about to take part in the biggest drinking game of all time, I fell into a peaceful sleep. The alarm was set early because this was not a simple operation. U-Bahn journeys needed to be synchronised and a rendezvous had to be coordinated.
When you rise on a particularly dreary Saturday morning in September, you might take a look out of the window, groan and fall effortlessly back to sleep. Not on September the 22nd 2012. This was no ordinary Saturday morning. This was the first day of the largest beer festival in the world. Forecast to reach a record 7 million visitors in a space of only 16 days, we were sure to get there early. No trip to Theresienwiese would have been complete without some sponsorship from LIDL, however. Strolling in the supermarket in full Lederhosen I decided to have a somewhat European breakfast. Two croissants later and I was feeling a bit guilty – I wasn’t in some pretentious Parisian pit-stop, I was in brave Bavaria! I did what any true German would have done, turned around 180 degrees and packeted a Pretzel.
“Nächster Halt: Theresienwiese. Bitte zurückbleiben.” – If there was one thing we wouldn’t be doing, it was holding back.
We thought we’d arrived early but even entering the tent at around 08:30 we were surprised to see that every single available table was taken. Sitting tables, standing tables, they were all 100% occupied. Thankfully our friend Izzy and her friend Katie (who had travelled from Nuremburg at the cruel hour of 5:00am to be here) had come straight from Hauptbahnhof and arrived when the tent opened at 7am, managing to get a standing table. So there we were. We had made it into the Hofbräuzelt – the most iconic experience of the festival. We were finally in the tent, but then had the awkward realisation that we would have to actually talk to each other for at least a few hours, whilst standing up. There was only one thing left to do…it was time to line the stomach with some carbohydrates to prepare us for the coming Maß-destruction.
On the first day of the festival, beer can only be consumed once the Mayor of Munich has tapped the first keg. At 12:00 midday we were embarking upon our own copycat version of this event inside the Hofbräuzelt. Before we knew it, the time had come and the Bavarian Minister for Finance, the charismatic Herr Doktor Markus Söder, was tapping the tent’s first traditional keg of Oktoberfestbier on the stage. Markus was able to get the beer out of the barrel, giving us a graphic representation of what a Greek exit from the euro might look like. He famously said: “Griechenland kann und will es nicht schaffen”. But putting his stance on Greece to one side, Markus wanted to tap the beer and he did indeed manage it.
It’s hard to picture the current Chancellor of the Exchequer doing the same. He wished us “Viel Erfolg” and a happy Wiesn after 10,000 people exploded in applause. He then proceeded to contradict his analogy of German-Greek relations by actually giving out “Freibier” to the people. Like a God bearing heavenly gifts, he handed frothy steins to the scrabbling mortals below. Something you just couldn’t imagine George Osbourne getting away with. Before you could say “O’ zapft is” the Freeloaders who had managed to get beer handed to them were standing on the high tables and attempting to guzzle down an entire litre of beer before the jeering mob.
Jesus thought he had it hard when feeding the five thousand. Try feeding and providing drinks for twice that many, bearing in mind we were becoming more and more incoherent and therefore more difficult to serve. The drinking of the ten thousand had well and truly commenced. The waitresses at this festival were stereotypical but also a credit to their nation. They battled through the crowds blowing whistles like crazy referees in a wacky game of football in which almost everyone was caught offside. If you struggle with the concept of Quidditch, then this wouldn’t have appealed to you. They could carry between 10 and 12 Steins, each a litre of beer. Since each Stein weighs around 2.3kg with beer inside it…these ladies were indeed made of strong stuff, and they had the triceps to prove it. One poor woman did look close to collapse after hauling 25 kilos of glass and beer from one end of the tent to the other only to be greeted by customers manically waving their black beer tokens in her face.
Throughout the afternoon, the band would frequently pipe the tune to “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit”. Alex tried to translate the traditional phrase for a Californian girl and managed to conjure up: “It means cheers, cheers, and basically coziness”. He wasn’t wrong, but it was just one of those German phrases which didn’t make any sense in English. To the students of Leeds, this concept is what we’re missing in drinking games. We have no equivalent. It is essentially forcing you to sing along, whilst clinking glasses with everyone you are with. We eventually realised that this may have been designed to encourage constant flow of beer, think about it: who doesn’t take a swig after saying cheers?
I am happy to report that Operation Oktoberfest is currently in full swing in its third day and apart from a friend of a friend breaking their arm in the excitement, minimal casualties have been taken. “Half a million litres of beer have been consumed in the first two days” and it is set to continue for the next two weeks.