From Munich to Palestine

From Munich to Palestine

Two Oktoberfests – from Munich to Taybeh, Palestine. The Oktoberfest has long since gone global. It is a mad lorry charging around the world full of boobs, beer and drunken Australians. In Munich it has become so saturated with itself that people basically get drunk to block it all out. But it’s a bit different in a country under military occupation where the population is 95 percent Muslim.

Read it in German in VICE

Even though I had never been to it before this year, I always hated Oktoberfest. I don’t like crowds, I think a litre of beer is a rubbish idea because the bottom third is too warm and I’m terrible at conversations with drunk tourists. And as much as I like them, I just never make a good impression on pissed-up Canadians wearing funny hats.

I know I’m a miserable moody bollocks. Oktoberfest is really a magnificent way to immerse yourself in debauchery, and a great secular celebration where people of all cultures can come together to get drunk, and it’s an economic windfall for Bavaria. Or at least it’s a better than average chance to have sex with a stranger.

So for whatever reason I decided to submit myself to the Oktoberfest this year. Twice. Once at the original in Munich, where it was celebrating its 200th birthday, and then a week later I visited the Oktoberfest in the village of Taybeh in the West Bank, somewhere in the cracked rocky hills between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It was organized by the local brewery, whose beer, also called Taybeh, has become a symbol of national pride in Palestine, even though it is brewed in one of the territory’s few Christian villages. “It tastes great!” one Muslim Palestinian told me. “But I thought you don’t drink?” I replied. “I don’t. But Taybeh tastes great.”


Munich didn’t offer any surprises. The pleasures of Oktoberfest are old and simple. I paid 20 euros for a beer and some hot chicken. I clawed at it with my fingers while I stared around at the cleavages and the torture-machine fairground rides like an escaped prisoner. The noise, mainly disembodied screaming from the rides backed by DJ Ötzi’s “Hey Baby,” invaded my head, where it mixed with the smell of molten sugar.

And I found out that other people don’t really like the Oktoberfest either. Old or young, all the Bavarians I cornered into conversation kept telling me that “it used it be better.” “It’s worse than Karneval,” a strained-looking girl from Garmisch told me. “It’s too expensive and if you get a seat you have to stay in it all night because you won’t get another.” A lanky middle-aged Municher tapped his forehead at me in exasperation. “They get up at four in the morning to get the first beer!” Tap tap tap. “I know it’s a big economic factor for Munich, but it’s shit.”

One man, smoking in the rain outside the Hammelschotte or the Ochsenhammel or whatever those tents are called, shouted “SCHEISSE PUR!” at me when I asked him about the new smoking ban. “SCHEISSE PUR!” he shouted again, before assuring me that he’d never have come here except that his company had reserved a table, like they did every year.

That’s how it works. Year after year, mid-sized German companies reserve tables, for no better reason than habit, and night after night their employees come and sit at that table because if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to sit anywhere else.

So that was that. I may not be rich, or Catholic, and I’m not into Leberkäs, or lederhosen, or cows, but me and conservative Bavaria saw eye to eye on this. The Oktoberfest in Munich is awful, and it used to be better.


The Taybeh Oktoberfest in Palestine, on the other hand, is fantastic. Okay, there are more men with machine guns around than in Munich. During the two days of the festival, the Palestinian police, along with the festival’s own security men, quietly smoked in the corners and watched the crowds – 10,000 people in a village of 2,000, surrounded by all the things you expect at an Oktoberfest: beer, meat, children, Coca-Cola, donuts, loud music. There was also a baby crocodile, parrots, and stringy cakes filled with hot sticky cheese and boiling honey, and a young lad wearing pantomime Arabian clothes dispensing tea from a huge teapot strapped to his back.

There wasn’t much Bavarian stuff. The flags weren’t blue and white but Palestinian, and there were no marching bands, no dirndls, no-one wore lederhosen. There were some Maß glasses – six altogether – but they were presented on stage as part of a beer carrying competition.

In fact, the key to this Oktoberfest was that it was not an Oktoberfest at all. When I took in this fact, and realized I had travelled all the way to one of the world’s bitterest conflict zones to visit a village fair, just because master brewer Nadim Khoury had named it ‘Oktoberfest,’ it also became clear that this was one of the most brilliant marketing coups ever.

This Oktoberfest was opened by a succession of speeches, from the mayor of Taybeh, Nadim, the local Palestinian governor, and an Orthodox priest, and the speeches made clear that this festival was meant to be a peaceful protest against the three illegal settlements being built by the Israelis on the surrounding hilltops.

I was not the only reporter to have fallen for the entrepreneurial audacity of Nadim. The New York Times ran an article on Taybeh. CNN was there, along with Deutsche Welle. I watched them squabble with Italian TV over who could interview the kid with the giant teapot. On my flight home from Tel Aviv I picked up the Berliner Zeitung, looking forward to reading some news from home, and there was an article about Taybeh Oktoberfest on the back page.

All the while, Nadim, this Super Mario-esque businessman who spent the entire un-Oktoberfest Oktoberfest holding one meeting after another, never without a plastic cup of his beer in is hand. While I was waiting for my interview with our host, a very sweaty, very fat exhausted man who owned a string of retail stores in San Francisco told me he’d been waiting four hours to catch a few minutes with the big man.

The fact that few of the media reports mentioned the political aspect of Taybeh Oktoberfest did not matter much. Among the many westerners I met in Taybeh, there was a woman who worked for a British aid organization in Jerusalem. I asked if it was depressing working there, given that the Israelis have not stopped building either their wall or their illegal settlements on Palestinian land. On the Monday morning after Oktoberfest ended, a mosque in a village about the same size as Taybeh near Bethlehem was burnt down by settlers. During the weekend, a Palestinian man had been shot dead trying to cross a checkpoint into Israel.

She answered, “Yes, it is depressing, but the Palestinians have quite a proactive attitude. You can watch them making the best of living under occupation.” Peace talks are fairly pointless, and Palestine is probably not going to be a country in our lifetimes. But thanks to people like Nadim, the West Bank is becoming a place where businessmen and tourists are suddenly all over the place. I’m really glad I was tricked into coming.

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