Beer, brat, and breasts. Whichever facet of the Oktoberfest hat-trick pleases you most, the short fall celebration that stretches back nearly 200 years is undoubtedly Germany’s greatest PR coup. Entering at 6PM to artillery of drunken laughter and warming tuba bleats, traces of sunlight still dying off around the enormous tented beer hall in Torrance’s Alpine Village, there is a dreadful sense that the coming hours of Bavarian Oktoberfest are something to be survived rather than enjoyed. Maybe that’s just my Polish blood talking, but last year it did not take long for our whole crew to be kicked out for putting shoes in schnitzel, among other beer-soaked violations.
A yearly celebration spanning mid-September through October, this mega-bacchanal unites about 2,000 shit-faced Angelenos in the South Bay every night with surprisingly few rides to the E.R. Laden with lederhosen, oompah bands, dirndles on the cusp of bursting at the neck line, and fists full of Styrofoam cups supporting nearly an entire 40’s worth of frosty homebrew inside, the scene is an Epcot-esque landler shuffle through the glory-days of Bavarian culture. A time when the hills were alive with the sound of people hitting the floor and swaying tables singing goofy shanties for more booze.
Oktoberfest at its chaotic peak moves like a Tokyo street corner at full-crossing. Thin lanes separating crowded wooden tables tremble with conga lines and square-dancing couples going full bore at anything in their path. As the main objective here seems to be getting as faded as possible, more than a few newcomers get tangled in the suspenders of hot-hoofing vets, creating a Katamari-like juggernaut of glee that keeps on dancing.
Rookies carefully etch a place among the seas of uplifted mugs, careful not to disturb the delicate balance of German hospitality and rowdy movements. More seasoned pros come in their own fraulein and herr costumes, doing their damndest to slop beer onto everything and everyone while attempting to throw themselves on stage for stein-holding and yodeling competitions.
While a smattering of older broads attempt to turn Alpine Village into Chippendale’s, sticking dollars into a trumpet player’s shorts, two lovely young lasses in full costume take pleasure in mock-sawing the unit off of a shocked Hansel on the main stage, a strange pantomime that comes entirely too early for anyone’s comfort. It is these broken-in revelers who come prepared for an impromptu chicken dances and tote their own ceramic souvenir steins bought in years past.
The real pros, mostly old German/Austrian ex-pats and the kind of gang-minded elders one imagines belong to The Secret Society of Caribou and Elk, seem to manage the rollicking peace with the help of burly security guards (the pre-9/11 kind). Horn players, in a row about 15 deep and backed by a rock trio, stand at attention while an aged, slightly stooped version of Werner Herzog mumbles in his foreign tongue between hardy tunes. There is only one thing he says that anyone understands, fortunately it comes often.
“Oi! Oi! Oi!” the crowd chants back, scarily recalling a Skrewdriver show more than the harmonious be-together that surrounds them, as the response increases in intensity and strength. The folksy jams come loud, happy, and almost sickeningly festive, though by the third time “Happy Birthday” comes around; questions about the strength of the band’s repertoire do too.
Every drunken participant here is part of the show, from the hefty ‘banger with the numbers tatted on his head dancing arm-in-arm with a pigtailed milkmaid at the side stage to motley crews of seated seniors celebrating silver anniversaries, lederhosen fully swathed in local honors, war medals, and collectible pins. Spinning, screaming, and capsizing to the sounds of horn blasts, suited in the same outfit and hat Pinocchio liked to rock, bodies splay out from the tables overflowing with brat, knock, Kielbasa, and some thin curved wieners that might just be left-over Dodger Dogs.
$8.50 for 32 oz. of Alpine’s own delectable suds is not a bad deal, considering what one-third that amount of hoppy water goes for at most events. Still, it is best to disembark rip-roaring drunk from minute one, as the more muddied one’s perspective here, the more the senseless rituals, crazy dances, and Bavarian-worship do not need to make sense.
By 11 PM, the place is nearly deafening, a sign it is time to move to the next party. This year our exit comes by choice and is considerably less-soaked in beer, though the path to the parking lot is by no means no straighter. Minus one gender-obliterating drag king named Gunter, our van half made up with characters we didn’t arrive with, the rock has successfully been inserted into Oktoberfest for another year. Alpine Village is possibly the hugest, most-inclusive party in Southern California. Even so, as with the finest meals, in the end it is who you are with, not where you are at.
This guy has the sweetest fucking mullet, but would not turn around!