An Ode To Oktoberfest: Bringing it back through memories

Covid has given me time to reflect back on some of my best memories. Near the top of that list stands Oktoberfest in Munich, 1977. I remember it like it was yesterday; as if those memories are tangible in my mind.

Oktoberfest 2021 in Munich is cancelled, but if you plan to go next year, this event is the purest definition of enjoying amazing beer, a true feast, surrounded by fellow tourists (and some Germans) in huge tents singing “Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit” — a toast to cheer and good times. Liter-sized mugs and traditional steins are hefted by waitresses in dirndl dresses and waiters in lederhosen and feathered alpine hats. Good cheer, merriment, and willkommen spirit is heartfelt, shared, and genuine. And I, at the age of 26, had an epiphany when sipping my first beer, Löwenbräu.

The author and an unknown fellow Oktoberfest reveler enjoying the feast in 1977. Photo courtesy of Hannah Campbell

Neither my best friend Nancy nor I drank beer, but we were young, adventurous, and impulsive. So when a reasonably priced charter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Munich enticed us to escape to Europe (and escape our parents) we hopped on. Oktoberfest was alluring enough for us.

Arriving in Munich, there wasn’t one car, scooter, nor bike for rent — mass transit was still not an effective means to get around in those days. Luckily for us, we befriended neighbors on the plane ride, Colonel Joseph Hennegan of the U.S. Marine Corps and his wife Betty, who made some phones calls to friends and got us a Mercedes Benz on loan! The car gave us the freedom to see the beauty of Munich . . . so clean, organized, and encircled by shiny, clear lakes and chalets, which reminded me of a Christmas card — but without the snow. We shopped in cheese stores, we lunched on the best liverwurst sandwiches ever, dined on pizza, Chinese food, and sipped on wines from the Mosel region of Germany.

Ah, but the icy, chilled mugs so easily armed by waitresses took two hands for me to hold.

When the Oktoberfest parades began throughout the city, pomp and pageantry combined with oom-pah-pah music blasting from tubas and accordions as ponies wearing colorful apple/fruit wreaths around their necks pulled carts adorned with fruits, flowers, and vegetables, all as fresh and beautiful as a painting. Women danced the polka around the parade route twirling in calico gowns, checkered aprons, and long braids beneath lace caps while their mustached male partners looked spiffy in forest green suits. Children bent over the geranium plant window boxes, waving to revelers below. I felt as if I were living inside a cuckoo clock.

Beer halls were huge tents with tables covered with Frisbee-sized Bavarian pretzels along with snake-sized sausages and potatoes. Ah, but the icy, chilled mugs so easily armed by waitresses took two hands for me to hold. As custom dictates, only beer from Munich breweries were served in the Wiesn: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten. And that epiphany I had . . . that this is what real beer is supposed to taste like. Not the watery, lifeless stuff my dad always drank after work.

This 100% Irish-American grandmother now only occasionally drinks beer, but one tradition that I have kept is to get a 6-pack of Löwenbräu Oktoberfest every September. Maybe it’s not the taste of the beer I truly long for, but the knowledge I had one of the best times of my life being introduced to the glory and talent that goes into a great mug of beer and the beauty of a great brewing region and its traditions. So this late-September or early-October, raise a homebrew in toast to this great celebration of life and to the 187th Oktoberfest that awaits you in 2022.

Issue: October 2021