Deutschland steht Kopf: Oktoberfest von Bayern nach Preußen verlegt / In sober Berlin, Bavarians brew a coup

Oktoberfest in Berlin - bayerische Gemütlichkeit in der Hauptstadt Deutschlands / Zelt in Berlin: die Schwarzen feiern und überlegen, mit wem sie bloß koalieren sollen: Rot, Gelb, Grün? Ministerpräsident Horst Seehofer mit Bundesagrarministerin Ilse Aigner (Fotos: Henry Herrmann)

דניאל דגן - Ob Sie es glauben oder nicht: zwar bleibt das Oktoberfest eine durch und durch bayerische Einrichtung. Doch der Auftakt zum größten Volksfest der Welt wird im Herzen von Preußen zelebriert.  Bieranstich und bayerische Gemütlichkeit in Berlin... heute abend geht's los...

Believe it or not - this year's Oktoberfest will kick off in Berlin, not in Munich. It will mark the tenth consecutive Oktoberfest in Berlin, a tradition that began after Bavarian‘s leaders decided that a closed-doors political hobnob should be opened to the general public with all the trappings of the Munich original.

Munich is of course still the real seat of Oktoberfest, the iconic festival of beer, traditional costume, and hearty fare that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every autumn, many of them Americans.

But Berlin has become its official outpost. What’s more, the German capital will launch its celebration a few days before the kegs are tapped in Munich.

Every German state has a delegation to the capital that functions as an embassy of sorts, and all regularly hold receptions to woo politicians and reporters. Bavaria's Oktoberfest was an annual and exclusive event in Bonn, the former capital.

When the Bavarians followed the federal government to Berlin, they decided to try something new:  In 2000, after an invite-only evening, the party was continued for three days and opened to the public.

"2000 was a big success," said Iris Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Löwenbräu Brewery, which sponsors the celebration.

Events in the following years also got very good reviews. So the Bavarians decided to continue the new tradition and to establish Berlin as the place to launch the Oktoberfest as a nationwide attraction.

In spite of its name, the Oktoberfest is actually held in September, not in October. That’s in order  to make the best of the weather, which is still pleasant at this time of the year.

In 2001, guests were just arriving for the opening night in Berlin when news of the September 11 attacks had spread. Bavaria's state prime minister, Edmund Stoiber, was quick to cancel his appearance. The band did not play, and guests were mostly comforting one another.

But otherwise, the Berlin event went smoothly and has become popular with both residents and tourists.

Encouraged by their initial success in 2000 and in following years, the Bavarians extended the event to five days from three. To allow for more visitors, they also shifted its venue from the Gendarmenmarkt square, one of Europe's most picturesque, to a bigger square in front of the Red City Hall, named for its color.

Both locations are in the eastern part of the city, set on a stretch of historic sites that draw many thousands of tourists every day.

Last year, even Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, was spotted popping in to pick up a Weisswurscht (white sausage, eaten with sweet mustard. Please note that the skin must by no means be eaten.)

Other specialties include ox on the spit, ferkel (a young pig, often used to describe an indecent behaving person), and of course Sauerkraut  -  the traditional vegetable which goes with tons of Wurst and meat consumed in any Oktoberfest celebration.

Oktoberfest grew out of the success of a noble’s wedding celebration in 1810, and today all servers  - and some guests  -  still show up in traditional costume.

In Berlin, organizers are now setting up a beer tent that can hold over 2,000 people – far less than the vast canvasses of Munich, which hold up to 6,000, but still a respectable size. All in all, they are projecting that up to 20,000 people will stop by for a drink and a traditional Bavarian meal. Nonetheless, few are expecting Berliners to link arms with strangers and sing along to brass bands.

The operators of an English-language walking tour of Berlin said the city just isn't made for Bavarian-style celebrations.

Francis Hartnett, the owner, said the merry beer culture "is a Bavarian thing, and we're here in the former Prussian capital."

To facilitate things, Munich has already made a concession to Berlin's beginner status.

At the original Oktoberfest, strictly enforced rules forbid visitors from ordering anything less than a "Mass," or a full liter of beer. For Berlin, though, the minimum has been reduced to a mere half-liter.

Still, Bavarians may have more trouble changing the city's haughty attitudes.

"We're just jealous because our weather isn't good enough" for beergardens in Berlin, said Nick Jackson, a tour guide. "Berlin's also too modern for that [Oktoberfest], because we don't like dressing up in medieval clothes."

Be that as it may, an Australian visiting the city said the northern Oktoberfest could be the culmination of the German experience for tourists  -  and that location is secondary if the beer is authentic. "No matter where you've got it, they'll come," predicted Rebecca Westcott, 27.

Judging by the preparations, she is absolutely right. A number of tour operators have already made reservations to entertain their guests in the Bavarian-like Berlin celebration. And many passers-by who are watching the construction works of the huge tent in front of Berlin’s city hall firmly plan to attend.

And there must be something irresistible to the good cheer of the Bavarians: a bike shop recently inserted an advertising section in city newspapers, announcing an “Oktoberfest Sale!”


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