Oktoberfest by the Bay pours it on
In vino veritas, aber in bier auch etwas.
Every year when Oktoberfestzeit rolls around, my thoughts turn nostalgic for liter-sized beers, chewy brezeln, and oompah bands playing “Country Roads.” And that this year’s Berlin and Beyond Film Festival fell smack in the middle of Oktoberfest’s traditional 16-day season only exacerbated the quasi-homesickness that feeds my Teutonic obsessions. Having lived for some time in Munich, and hoisted many a Maßkrug on the Wiesn, I’ve purposefully avoided its San Francisco counterpart, Oktoberfest by the Bay, for years. After all, Munich’s Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival in the world, boasting more than six million visitors a year, an adrenaline-pumping array of roller-coasters, and mountains of Bavarian food to soak up the rivers of beer. Any other city’s regional edition will naturally far short of this admittedly high mark.
But when it comes to beer fests, is it really the size that matters, or just the beers? I figured I owed it to myself to find out.
Unlike the pictures of this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich featuring lots of soggy umbrellas and cloudy skies, Saturday midday at San Francisco’s Pier 48 was sunny and hot, ideal conditions for cold beer and chintzy, costume shop St Pauli girl attire, both of which were in visible abundance. On a small dance floor in the middle of the cavernous warehouse, a group of folk dancers clumsily showed off their Schuhplattler skills to pre-recorded music and a smattering of applause, and the smell of grilled sausages and Underberg wafted temptingly. Patrons in hats shaped like beer steins and aprons printed with big-breasted barmaids mingled with those sporting real leather lederhosen and billowy, low-cut dirndln, as vendors hawked bags of cinnamon almonds, chicken hats, and weirdly inauthentic deep-fried pickles.
“I wonder what Adorno would say about all of this,” my fellow obsessive muttered as we searched the perimeter for the purveyor of liter-sized mugs, sold separately. Clever people had brought their own from home, and cheapskates merely purchased the beer by the pint in disposable plastic cups, but since beer-by-the-liter is really the one unalienable Oktoberfest rite, we went ahead and bought the one for sale, finding out too late that it was plastic. But it did hold a liter of beer, and getting it filled with Spaten Oktoberfest brew was definitely the highlight of our pilgrimage. The copper-colored märzen went down smooth and lightened our mood, as did the appearance of the Internationals, whose oompah renditions of American classics such as “Sweet Caroline,” and yes, “Country Roads” were torn straight from the Wiesn playbook. We amused ourselves further by checking out the German-themed t-shirts of the decidedly American crowd. Our favorite was definitely “I (heart) döner,” followed by one with an image of a St Pauli girl and the directive to “Drink up Bitches”. Not exactly the most enlightened sentiment, but certainly appropriate to the occasion.
Properly fortified the authenticity of the beer and our kulturpessimismus we headed on over to Berlin and Beyond for a special screening of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum, the West Coast premiere of the director’s cut, and part of a tribute retrospective of the work of Austrian actor Mario Adorf, who plays the luckless, venal Alfred Matzerath. The downbeat film sobered us up faster than a plate of Schweinshaxe, and fully rounded out our quota of German-ia for another year. Or at least until Weihnachten.