This weekend the Burg celebrated its annual Fest. This is not the Burg’s only Fest – there is at least one per weekend – but it’s the big Fest, the one where residents don’t dare drive anywhere in their cars for two days for fear of losing their parking spaces, where we go to sleep to the thrumming sounds of bass, and where we can’t get into our favourite shops because there are stalls in front of them selling large piles of tat. The Big Fest is looked forward to for months before and is talked about for weeks afterwards. This year was my sixth Big Fest, and it occured to me, not for the first time, that all German Fests exist so that people can drink booze and eat sausages.
Whether it’s the Oktoberfest, or the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt (which is actually a wine Fest where they serve wine in beer-mugs accompanied by, you guessed it, sausages), or any Fest in any German town on any given weekend, the Hauptthema is alcohol combined with pork. In itself, this is not surprising. Germans are committed to their booze and pork products and show great loyalty to them.
After years and years of going to Fests, be it Christmas Fests, Easter Fests, carnival Fests, autumn Fests, balloon Fests, dragon-boat Fests, school Fests, work Fests, tennis club Fests – you name it, I’ve fested it – I can safely say that the two most remarkable things about German Fests are:
a) they are identical
b) Germans are adorably fervent about them
I love the enthusiasm with which people look forward to the Big Fest, which is exactly the same as last year’s Big Fest, and the ones before that. There is an almost innocent anticipation of pleasure and fun, even though the fun is no different to the fun they had last year and the twenty-five years before that. No-one says, “Stuff this Big Fest pork and beer thing. We’re going to show arthouse cinema on outdoor screens and only serve absinthe and herring. That should get the populace going.” No, there is a formula and we stick to it.
GHT and I took a walk around the Fest on Saturday night. It was my first nighttime visit to the Big Fest, since the previous five years I was either breast-feeding babies or protesting too loudly that it was his turn to go out. However, we have MIL in situ, so I had no excuse. Since it was a Big Fest, I was pleased to see there was not only pork on offer, but also fish, doners, Chinese food, Italian and other Mediterrranean delights. Since it was a Big Fest, there were two sound stages, and every street bar had its own music playing. There were many other alcoholic options outside of beer. There were lots of teenagers in shrieking groups saying things like, “I’m going to puke! Right now!”, but there were slightly older people, like us, and there were much older people, all out enjoying themselves. There was a pleasant, non-aggressive atmosphere of a community celebrating together and many different generations all enjoying the same party.
I lasted an hour.
Perhaps you have to be German to get into the swing of all getting sloshed in the street together. Perhaps I didn’t drink enough. Perhaps I have Fest jaundice.
All I am saying is that as a tourist you really don’t need fly to Munich for the Oktoberfest. Pick any German town on any weekend, and you will find a version of the Oktoberfest happening right there, complete with sausages, beer, loud music, puking teenagers, jolly pensioners and people of the middle years all out together having a lovely time.
As for me, pour me an absinthe, won’t you? I’m staying in with a Bergman film.