Why Oktoberfest is a Tourist Trap
I don’t know what I expected, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it. For years I dreamed about attending Oktoberfest in Munich. Years. And when I finally made my way there a few weeks ago, I was sadly disappointed. It was a weird combination of a state fair meets renaissance festival, with really cool beer halls mixed in. There were carnival rides, souvenir stands and tons of people donned in Lederhosen and Dirndls – yes, everyone really wears them. The only thing missing were the turkey legs. It was a very commercialized tourist trap and I fell right into it.
Now of course there were some great things there: the lively beer halls, drinking beer, live music with brass bands, community seating and camaraderie. But in essence it was just a large, overrated state fair. So why is it so popular, and why do people continue to attend year after year? I believe it’s due to State Fair Syndrome (SFS), which closely mirrors the definition of insanity.
You see, I have been a longtime sufferer of SFS. Up until a year ago, I lived in Raleigh, NC, where they hold a massive state fair. I cringed every year when it rolled around. Traffic would triple in size, causing my daily commute to be a burden that lasted for weeks. After I paid an exorbitant fee just to get into the fair, I was charged outrageous prices for cheap food and souvenirs, all while being shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers because it was so crowded. But yet, I still made an annual appearance.
Oktoberfest was a very commercialized tourist trap and I fell right into it.
Why? SFS, that’s why. It’s because it’s a fantastic spot for people watching. People you only ever read about and didn’t think actually existed come out of the woodwork, and it’s fascinating to watch them. And because the fair is advertising new “exotic” foods such as a deep-fried mac n cheese and hush puppy ball, which I kind of did want to eat along with my turkey leg. And yes, yes I did want to try the new pumpkin spiced funnel cake, plus ensuing bellyache.
When I finally made my way out of there, with substantially less money than I came in with and severe heartburn, I’d vow never to return again. But of course I will. That’s how SFS works. And that’s how it is at Oktoberfest in Munich too. It’s like living in/near an area with a huge state fair.
In a beer hall one night I shared a table with a couple of guys from Western Germany who confirmed this for me. They just came into town to go to Oktoberfest because that’s what they do each year: drink way too much beer, spend a lot of money, enjoy live music and people watching and then leave wondering where all their money went. And probably vowing that this year will be the last!
I did a bike tour around Munich the following day and my tour guide further confirmed this. He made it very clear that beer drinking was serious business, and that’s how locals spend a majority of their time. He mentioned that his work contract was up on the last day of Oktoberfest and he planned to head straight there after his last shift to binge drink. He then laughed and said (jokingly I hope) that he’d probably wake up in a ditch somewhere the next morning.
That’s what they do each year: drink way too much beer, spend a lot of money, enjoy live music and people watching and then leave wondering where all their money went.
To be fair, the main attraction of Oktoberfest is the beer halls, which are pretty fantastic and everything I hoped they be: waitresses effortlessly carrying 6-8 beer steins, a liter each; drinking tasty beers I’d never be able to get in the U.S.; and a great opportunity to view people in various stages of drunkenness and their interactions with each other. But I still had to go through the fair, deal with the crowds, spend way too much money and head back to my hotel with an upset stomach.
SFS got the last laugh because I spent thousands of dollars and traveled halfway around the world to attend the world’s largest fair. But if I happen to pass through Munich again during Oktoberfest, I’ll most likely make an appearance again. You win, SFS. You win.