Prost!

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© Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos

There’s a great photo essay on Slate depicting German beer festivals, especially the Bavarian Oktoberfest in Munich. You may think Octoberfest takes place next month, but the traditional German celebration begins in September and runs into the first week of October. It began in Munich yesterday and I’m sure it was quite a party today as well.

If Bordeaux is the holy land of wine, then Munich is the holy land of beer.

I recall my time in Munich well. I stayed with two friends in a cheap hotel in a Turkish neighborhood that seemed to be home to an equal ratio of schawamer and kabob stands to strip clubs. We made forays into the city proper and discovered the wonderful Englischer Garten, which we toured after a visit to the museum of science and engineering. (Leave it to the Germans to have an exhilarating “forklift simulator” experience with real-life factory scenarios! There was also several interesting electricity and magnetism displays as well as an odd, scale model of the Jagermeister distillery.)

The Englischer Garten has four beer gardens as well as surfing on the river that runs through the park Surfers ride the swell created as the river is forced under several tight bridges. It also is famous for its nude sunbathing area, but as our visit coincided with a spring rain storm the weather did not inspire many locals to take full advantage of the park’s liberties.

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Hang ten Herr Ofstermueller!

We weren’t in town for Oktoberfest, but there was still a small carnival set up near the old city center to give one a sense of the party that occurs every fall. A few locals told me that the event has become too popular, too wild and too filled with drunk Englishmen. I can see that from the photos and videos you can find online, but I also have heard that local residents disparage Oktoberfest because they would like it to just be their own private party rather than raucous international party it is now.

That is why I liked the photo essay on Slate. It has several photos from the Oktoberfests of the mid to late 60s in what, was then, West Germany. It shows a culture that is beginning to regain confidence in itself and an understanding of its new place in the world. If you can recall, large public gatherings of Germans in the ’30s and ’40s didn’t have the best of intentions. The beer festivals of the early ’60s were tentative and casual. Young Germans, like the one pictured above — at a festival in Dusseldorf in 1965 — were just beginning to once again wear traditional costumes and embrace their culture. But they did so in local and comfortable settings that stressed the values of community and friendship. They were reinvigorating the old traditions while dismissing Munich’s darker history like the Beer Hall Putsch in which a young Hitler made a presumptive move to gain control of the German government.

To visit Munich now, one can not ignore that history, but one can not also ignore that it is home to some of the finest breweries in the wold.

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And yes, the Hofbrauhaus is an amazing good time.

A visit also gives one a glimpse into how a simple beverage can be a defining characteristic for a people and for a nation. Beer flows through German culture as well as its history.

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