Millions to Raise a Glass for Munich's Oktoberfest

Millions to Raise a Glass for Munich's Oktoberfest

More than six million revellers from around the globe are set to descend on Munich from Saturday for the world’s biggest beer fest, complete with lederhosen, pretzels and plenty of the amber nectar.

With the traditional cry of “O’zapft is” (“The keg is tapped”) on the stroke of midday (1000 GMT), the mayor of Munich will kick off the 16-day extravaganza of beer-swilling and sausage-gobbling to the accompaniment of an oompah band.

As ever, the 179th Oktoberfest will also feature traditional Bavarian uniforms — women resplendent in long dirndls, lace-up dresses with plunging necklines, and men in obligatory lederhosen or suede knee breeches.

This year’s party stretches over 26 hectares (65 acres), with around 12,000 waiters and waitresses expected to serve more than seven million “mass” (litre-sized glasses) to punters in 35 tents, the biggest of which seats 10,000.

To soak up the suds, drinkers will consume tens of thousands of giant soft pretzels, pork, dumplings and other delicacies. Last year, party-goers worked through 118 oxen, 53 calves and thousands of chickens.

But such fun and games don’t come cheap and with the eurozone crisis hitting Germany harder and the price of a litre nearing 10 euros ($13), the run-up to the festival has been marred by accusations of cheating and price-fixing.

A group called the “association against deceptive pouring practices” has vowed to conduct tests to ensure customers get their full quota of beer and has called for the price of a mass to be capped at just over seven euros.

They are gathering signatures to pressurise the city authorities to limit the annual price rise to 15 cents per year. This year, a mass will set you back between 9.10 euros and 9.50 euros, a rise of 43 percent over the past decade.

Another beer fest crisis has materialised in the shape of a potential lack of bottles and crates, which are usually washed and reused.

The shortage has led the managing director of one of the top breweries to issue a dramatic appeal in the local TZ paper: “Dear people of Munich — bring back your crates. We need our empties.”

The threatened shortage has sparked fears that this year’s drinkers will fail to break the all-time beer record, which stands at 7.5 million litres gulped in 2011.

Despite its long tradition, innovative technology unveiled this year for the festival seeks to bring the event in line with the 21st century.

For the first time, certain beer tents and souvenir vendors will accept payment via smartphones and there is a galaxy of “apps” to enhance the Oktoberfest experience.

One such app allows you to input your height, weight and number of beers slurped to give a readout of your current blood alcohol content and how long it will take before you are sober again.

Another app for frisky festival-goers can pinpoint like-minded singles and send an invitation to join them for an ale at a certain tent or maybe a romantic trip on a roller-coaster.

While this is the 202nd anniversary of the world-famous festival, it is only the 179th edition, as the event was cancelled during two cholera outbreaks, two world wars, Napoleon’s invasion of Bavaria and the hyperinflation of the 1920s.

The Oktoberfest, originally held in October as the name suggests but brought forward to take advantage of warmer weather, began in 1810 to mark the marriage of the prince of Bavaria to one Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.

It has since been exported around the world and versions of the festival can be found as far afield as China, Brazil, Canada, the United States, Russia and Australia.

This year’s event runs to October 7.

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