Our big day began with a full team turn out for a proper Germanic breakfast of white bread, hefty pastries and sundry other items of gloop and stodge – perhaps not the most nutritionally conscious of starts, but probably the most sensible given the shape the day was likely to take. Thus, fully carbed up, we made our way to a hotel near the festival ground to pick up our tickets and find our table. Entry to the beer tents is by one of two methods, either pre-booking a table of 8, which we had done, (as this guarantees seats in a tent and comes with 16 steins and 8 meals between the group), or getting there early doors – generally by 9:30am at the latest on weekends – and hoping there are seats available.
At the hotel, we were introduced to Gaby who had been assigned to us as our host and whilst we waited for her other group to arrive she handed us our entry wristbands and beer and food vouchers. After half an or so of kicking our heels, it became clear that from the other group, only one of them, was on deck and ready for action and so with collective thirsts rising, we invited the James to join us and off we went. He wasn’t sure why his buddies hadn’t showed up, but grateful to not be drinking on his own he pooled his beer vouchers with ours, doubling the amount of beer and food available to us – what a lovely bloke.
Our allotted seats were in the Ochesenbrateri tent (loosely translated as Ox Bar and Grill), which is run by the Munich brewery Spaten-Franziskaner and has been a fixture at the festival for well over 50 years. On entering the tent, the things which strike you first are the size (roughly a football pitch) and the number of people in it (just under 6,000). Following these you notice the earthy smells of beer, food and humanity, then finally the noise which is a blend of conversation, laughter, singing and music, a cacophonous mix of the raucous and convivial – quite an atmosphere. This is just one of 17 larger tents (all similarly sized) and all of which have a primary theme, ours being the oxen which can be seen being continuously roasted on spits in the kitchens; over the course of the festival they roast 150 of them in this venue, all of which are subsequently honoured with their names on plaques around the tent.
We started quite slowly as it was only 11am and we wanted to give ourselves at least a fighting chance of putting in a full shift and despite our relatively quiet one the night before, not everyone was firing on all cylinders. However, by about halfway through the first stein, any doubts were expunged and we were in business. The music played, we stood on the benches and linked arms with the people at the adjacent tables to sing along with them, we raised our glasses to toast ourselves and our new acquaintances and all the while, the beer continued to flow.
The band played an excellent selection of tunes, from German folk songs which we had absolutely no clue about, through a much more familiar selection including Country Roads by John Denver (this came up about every half an hour), Grease and Abba medleys, 500 miles, Show me the Way to Amarillo and the theme tune to Dirty Dancing – which proved to be a big crowd pleaser. Standing on the benches and waving arms in the air is (seemingly) the only acceptable way to sing in beer tent and so we complied with the regulations, taking care to leave our steins on the table – spillage being very much frowned upon.
At some point we ordered food, the menu being largely meat oriented – e.g. the traditional half a roast chicken, slices of roast ox, beef goulash, lamb shank etc.. – but broader vegetarian choices were available as well, ensuring that no-one would go hungry unnecessarily.
At about 3:30pm or so we were told we had to start vacating our table so that they could clear away and prepare it for the evening shift which runs from 5pm-midnight – ours being the 9am-4pm morning shift. As most the group had had enough for the time being, we got our stuff together and began to head for the exit; however, Alan and I decided that perhaps we could do with another hour or so in the tent, so we snuck back around and in again and found ourselves at one of the tables close to our recently discovered friends and asked if we could join them. Shortly after, with further steins on the go we were back up on the benches, belting out Country Roads.
Things went swimmingly for about an hour, until we reached the crescendo of New York New York and in her fervour to out sing all the rest of us a German lady unfortunately – and accidentally – clonked Alan just above the left eye with her stein. She was very apologetic and at first Alan laughed it off (well, to be honest, we all did), but it soon became clear that it was quite a deep cut as the blood flow was profuse. We applied a series of napkins to it and having received considerable quantities of sympathy we both agreed we should quit while we were ahead-ish, so we downed the rest of our beer and made for the door.
Out in the fresh air, milling with the happy throng and with our excellent first aid staunching the blood-flow from burst dam to mild ooze we pondered our next move. More food perhaps, or how about purchasing a novelty hat or some lederhosen, we even gave brief consideration to a quick spin on the festival rollercoaster. In the end our decision making was made for us, aided by the brightness and warmth of the late sun, there was only one place for us, the beer garden of the Hofbrauhaus and it was there that we spent all of the rest of afternoon and evening – all, that is, apart from an impromptu diversion for some salsa dancing.
Sunday brought with it, glorious weather – 25 degrees – and with (relatively) clear heads and brightish eyes, we found ourselves by 11am drawn, as if by a mystical lodestone back to the Hofbrauhaus for steins and bretzels in the beer garden.