Touring the Oktoberfest nostalgia-zone
Germany - The Local

Touring the Oktoberfest nostalgia-zone

The Munich Oktoberfest is celebrating its 200th anniversary by reserving a corner of the Wiesn as a historical tribute to the festivals of yore. I took a tour of the nostalgia-zone.

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The biggest surprise of the Oktoberfest, if you’ve never been to one, is that people actually wear those stupid clothes. The dirndls and the lederhosen are not just for large-breasted postcard models and old dodderers with big moustaches who live in a mental alpine farm. No, people wear them. They think it’s funny. And what’s more, they don’t get changed on arrival. They actually walk from their cars or ride around town on the U-Bahn looking like that.

After a couple of hours of getting over this, the reason for the insistence on folk costume begins to dawn as well. Without it, and other Olde Worlde paraphernalia like giant beer glasses and papier-mâché lions, the Oktoberfest would look too much like … oh, I don’t know, a large fairground crossed with a meat-market night-out in almost any city centre in Europe, maybe?

This is why the Munich government’s decision to create a historical quarter at this year’s Oktoberfest has proved so popular. The re-introduction of farm animals and clay beer-mugs makes Munich’s biggest event feel special again.

The other thing that makes it special is the fact that you have to pay to get in. The most dominant emotion when you hand over your €4 ticket and enter the nostalgia zone is relief that you’ve left the riff-raff outside. The drunken Hogarthian grotesques can squeal all they want on the terrifying torture machines that modern fairground rides have become. Let the hordes sink into their delirium of drinking, fighting and the desperate search for sexual relief. You are going to spend some time looking at a well-groomed horse.

I discovered that this veiled snobbery is a common motivation for those entering the historical zone. An opinion column in Munich’s local newspaper the <i>Abendzeitung</i> had this to say: ” ‘ The historical Wiesn’ ” is the saviour of the Wiesn! Since drunken people don’t like to queue for a ticket at the ticket hut, the area behind the fence is beer-corpse-free.”

“It’s much better for my generation,” one gentle, affluent old lady told me. “I don’t go to the main beer tents at all anymore. They’re nothing like what they used to be. You know, they get up and dance on the tables now?”

“What, they didn’t used to?” I asked. As an Oktoberfest virgin, I had assumed this was a longstanding custom. She looked shocked. “No!” she exclaimed, and me and this geriatric bourgeois Municher, were briefly united in our disapproval of modern ideas about appropriate dancing surfaces.

These are the main differences between inside the historical zone and outside: the beer is served in grey clay mugs rather than glasses, the fairground rides are less likely to be used by the CIA as Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, and you only hear DJ Ötzi’s ‘Hey Baby’ once an hour, rather than once every five minutes. In the Historical Tent, the decorations do not look like they were designed by a frenzied Bavarian lunatic with a taste for clashing colours and cartoon pigs. Or they were, but he only had half his usual budget. In short: everything is simpler, slower, more quiet, less delirious, slightly more boring, but in a pleasant way – just like the olden days.

Outside, in the real Oktoberfest, kids can have fun in a variety of unhinged ways, including firing metal darts with a brutal crossbow or riding a train at high speed through a huge edifice made to look like Indiana Jones’s ‘Temple of Doom.’

In the historical Oktoberfest, on the other hand, the main entertainment options are throwing a ball at some wooden pegs, listening to jaunty organ music, or stroking a Shetland pony. And you can always watch one of the interminable parades of costumed people carrying large, grassy letter A’s over their heads. It’s charming enough, but it’s not a dizzying Bacchanalia.

The beer too, has a nostalgic twang to it, having been specially brewed for this anniversary. It is darker, cloudier, bitterer, and leaves a slightly unnerving brown film on the inside of your mug roughly the colour of a smoker’s fingers. After a while of this it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that, while it’s nice and all to see how things used to be, the historical days were a bit rubbish.

Though what is meant by ‘historical’ is fairly non-specific. There are fairground rides from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, but there is also horse-racing, which dates back to the founding myths of the Oktoberfest itself. “I can’t remember that we had some of this stuff back then,” one rather serious woman told me. “I guess they were just going for a general impression.”

Some Munichers have now set up a campaign to have the historical sector every year. Those I talked to liked the idea, but weren’t especially bothered. Its role as an oasis of family-friendly calm has certainly enriched the Oktoberfest though.

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