The Germans are often considered emotionless and curt. Well, so am I, but then, there is a difference between reality and our perception of reality. Come September, all that goes with the wind as the anticipation of Oktoberfest grips the world. It is no longer ‘a German thing’. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and luckily, there’s a lot of pie or rather, beer.
The story goes that Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King Ludwig I, married a pretty princess on 12th October 1810. As kings are, he invited the whole town to join the celebrations in the fields in front of the city gates. Those fields were later known as Theresienwiese or ‘Theresa’s meadow’, after his wife (that’s one lucky fräulein!). There was horse racing, wine and beer tastings and all things that medieval folks used to do for fun outdoors. The king was so impressed that he decided to continue it as a tradition for the city, and thus, Oktoberfest came to be. Since then, each year, from mid-September to the first weekend of October, the festivities have continued.
Fast forward to today, it was around the year 2000, when the Doordarshan era was finally over and the public in India was exposed to television programming from across the world, that most Indians first came to know about the phenomenon that is Oktoberfest. The massive pavilions that accommodate hundreds of thousands of people, the beer, the pretzels and the bratwursts, the organisation and logistics that go into the largest Volksfest on the planet were all quite new to the Indian audience.
Although we have been late by, say, about two centuries, as with all things considered ‘cool’, Indians have adopted this German festival with much fervour. It will be too early to get excited at this point; we are nowhere near the scale of the real Oktoberfest in any way, but we love to showboat, nonetheless. Oktoberfest has excited the palates and the imagination of the people and everyone wants to be seen doing what ‘ze Germans’ do. Few have actually been to the real thing and even fewer are aware that of the only six beer brands officially served at the Oktoberfest, in keeping with tradition, only one is available in India – Paulaner, and it is hellishly expensive, especially in states such as Haryana. Each tent at the Oktoberfest grounds serves a particular brand of beer, and only a few have some wine and coffee available.
Regardless of the prices and traditions, beer is beer, and there are some good ones in the Indian market. Even if we consider those as the staple at Oktoberfest celebrations in India and let the willing and able enjoy with what is available in the market, we still fall short on a lot of other aspects. Crowd behavior is one. With a large percentage of the population believing in drinking to get drunk and behave in a rowdy manner, it poses serious challenges for the organisers and authorities to control such people. Another big concern is the government policy towards alcoholic beverages. The government has often displayed signs of, and hiding behind clueless and baseless and dumbfounding cultural and religious excuses that do not seem to be going anywhere soon.
Yet, somehow, beer prevails. And so does the enthusiasm of establishments and patrons. It started with the first Oktoberfest in Bangalore by Kingfisher in 2005 and has now been picked up by many establishments across the country. Establishments go out of their way to bring a little bit of Germany to their patrons, offering a selection of beers, sausages, pretzels and more. Anya Hotel in Gurgaon had a good selection of beers and offers on beer buckets, along with some good food to go with it, which included schnitzels and bratwurst. 7? Brauhaus on the same stretch of road offered a little closer to home experience with servers and staff dressed in the traditional Bavarian Dirndl for women and men sporting the Sennerhut and Lederhosen.
Some establishments such as Beer Café and The Hungry Monkey are continuing celebrations till the end of October. While a carnival setup may have been absent from the scene in India, most establishments, for the duration of Oktoberfest, organise special performances.
Oktoberfest is proof that love trumps hate every time. In this case, the love of beer has conquered the world for Germany, something that even the Nazis could not accomplish with their force. While heading to Munich may not be feasible for everyone, there are a lot of options within the country to enjoy Oktoberfest. Fortunately, as microbreweries and beer cafés become popular with patrons, establishments are pulling all stops to bring an authentic German experience to Indian shores. So, don’t worry if you can’t make it to Munich, but do learn a few things about how to behave if you really want to be taken seriously as a global citizen and be a part of global traditions such as the Oktoberfest.