From surviving to thriving at Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest. The premise behind one of Europe’s biggest festivals is pretty simple. Beer. And as with many successful ideas, often the simpler is the better.

I ended up working at this giant party institution through a ‘why not’ AKA ‘effit’ moment. I had previously lined up a gig at Running of the Bulls. My bestie sent me a ground crew link which I applied for, Skype-interviewed and secured. I went to Greece instead and towards the end of my stay, received an email advising I had been confirmed as ground crew for Oktoberfest, which I hadn’t even applied for,  but minor details. I didn’t know what was next so why the feck not. I booked my expensive flight to Munich, screwed up the trains, cried, was helped by a stranger, jumped in a cab and had my first real hostel experience as a guest.

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I met up with some of other ground crew and the four of us made our way to Thalkirchen Campingplatz. The usual awkwardness was present as we met the rest of the ground crew, although a few people already knew each other from Running of the Bulls.

It wasn’t long until we were put to work setting up the main tent and getting underway on the rest. Nothing bonds you like hard work and getting stuck on newbie pegging duty. Except perhaps drinking. Following a group visit to Andechs Monastery, dressed in our lederhosen and dirndls, the awkwardness was well and truly gone, replaced by nicknames, a sense of familiarity, and thanks to the crew being majority Australian with a pom and couple of kiwis thrown in, a whole lot of shit-giving.

We were taken to an erring on the expensive side store to buy our German garb. But it was good looking stuff and the ladies’ ‘ladies’ looked good. Gentlemen, eat your heart out at Oktoberfest. It’s boobs, beer and bratwurst aplenty. Luckily I had my bonus from The Pink Palace to cover my outfit and majority of expenses. The rest was covered by work. We received twin-share tent accommodation, three meals a day, an afternoon beer fridge, shower tokens, and even some of our shifts were nominally paid. I tented with a lovely fellow Brisbaner, who flew over just for the gig, a ground crew diehard. Initially I was worried about camping out for a month, but I’ve never had time go quicker.

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Work consisted of setting up and packing down hundreds of tents, so you develop a system pretty quickly. There were also rostered shifts like meet and greet, check-in, washing up, helping the cooks, security duty, tent maintenance (re-erecting tents stumbled on by drunks), shuttles mic duty (telling drunks not to spew), shuttles coordination (getting drunk people on buses) and breakfast service (lining stomachs). I can’t report on too many as I was mainly rostered for check-in. They were all a good opportunity to meet people, one I would be taking greater advantage of now I am slightly less socially retarded.

Between shifts, drinking, walking to wifi, eating and laundry, the days went quickly. Naps were few and far between and you learnt to function on small amounts of sleep. Zombies serve the best breakfast I hear.

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I survived coin-operated showers. Seven minutes of bliss. Albeit a very quick seven minutes, although some lovers may have had quicker. Squeals could be heard from the beer halls, as the water ran out mid-shampoo. I thrived finding the shower that didn’t need tokens and had unlimited water. It was a secret amongst a select few. I even threatened a tenter’s life if she told anyone else. These were desperate times. The main shower blocks were heated. A godsend most times. A sauna at others.

The opening day of Oktoberfest was a sight to see. Of course I expected it to be crazy, but not for initial reasons thought. Our crew were up early to feed the hoards their breakfast. We did the usual freezing run to the block to clear our bleary eyes and we were greeted by mayhem. Hundreds of girls getting themselves suitably sexually appealing for the big day ahead. There was a line for the toilet and I scored some shade trying to squeeze in to brush my teeth. Oh I’m sorry would you like a side of morning breath with your eggs. Venturing back later we were assaulted by the mess left behind. There were more clumps of hair than at an alopecia convention. Girls are disgusting creatures.

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But I’m sure it was worth it. The beer halls of Oktoberfest are amazing, phenomenal and every superlative you can use to describe a festival of this magnitude. The atmosphere is the best I have ever encountered and it would be impossible to not have fun in these halls. It’s tough to put your finger on why, but it’s a combination of the outfits, the bands belting out top 40 and German classics you can sing and move along to, the beer, and everyone wanting to be your next best friend. I got to head to the beer halls about six times, checking out several different spots but the local became the Lowenbrau. It was the best spot at the end of the night, playing the same playlist, but there was something about dancing on the tables, waving our steins before stumbling back to the shuttle bus.

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A beer blanket became my best friend. Let’s say I did not acclimatise to Munich well. I was coming from Australia, then Greece then to Antarctica, I mean Germany. I was the resident sook about the cold. I very quickly splashed out on a sleeping bag from the camp shop and woollen goods. I was blessed when a guest left a giant jacket in their tent. Cleaning out the tents was interesting to see what we could scab. People always thought it was great to steal a stein, but then realised the difficulty in packing one in a backpack, so there was always plenty left behind, along with sleeping bags and a lederhosen here and there.

Some days were absolutely stunning at Thalkirchen and occasionally working hard on the campgrounds we even got to shorts and singlet weather. But other mornings we awoke to minus three celsius. During one particular freezing washing up session, I was ready to run away. Maybe that’s why sharing a tent wasn’t so bad.

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Staff all bonded and of course we have drinking games to thank. One particular game was “Dominos”. We were each handed a domino which we were required to have on our person at all times. Someone would pull out theirs at any select moment and you had to quickly get yours out on display too. The last or those without a domino on them had to scull a beer. This provided some messy times in the beer halls. One instance left my poor tentie a little worse for wear. With vomit down the dress she made a swift exit from Augustiner. To this day I have never seen a more casual spewer; like it was nothing to have vegetable soup escaping from your stomach and mouth.

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This was not the only sick present at Oktoberfest. We all shared steins, not everyone washed their hands, and presto gastro hits the campsites. It was going around, swiftly. People were spending the nights camped out in the toilet blocks. It was coming from both ends. We were going through hand sanitiser like we had severe OCD. Some tents were made extra messy. There were a lot of sorry sorts around.

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But at the end of the day it was overcoming my social retardness and making the friends I made that made the trip. That and an afternoon of punch. And beer. The month would be nothing without beer.

This year I’m joining thousands and thousands of punters at Stoketoberfest. Are you ready to tick the greatest {beer} festival in the world off your bucket list? Check it out! The festival within THE festival. Score as much beer and sangria that you can drink at camp for free if you use the code SHARKWEEK when booking with Stoke Travel

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