For many, the German election this weekend was way down the list of priorities as the Oktoberfest beer festival roared to life once more in Munich with 17 days of alcoholic revelry on the schedule.
Four beers down the line and Oktoberfest starts to look like this
The keg was tapped on the 172nd Oktoberfest beer party at the weekend, which is expected to draw some six million people to the fairgrounds in southern German city of Munich during its two-week run.
Munich Mayor Christian Ude cracked open the first barrel at the stroke of noon on Saturday with the cry "O'zapft is!" ("the keg is tapped") and presented a giant glass to state premier Edmund Stoiber of the Christian Social Union. A 12-gun salute signaled to the people out of sight that it was time to start the beer flowing.
Thousands of revelers gathered in the Schottenhamel tent -- one of 14 on the fairgrounds -- cheered despite a steady drizzle.
"We want two weeks of beautiful weather and a peaceful festival, without violence, and everyone to have a great time," Ude said.
German hosts dressed to booze
Bavarians donned their traditional Tracht -- Lederhosen (leather shorts) and embroidered suspenders for the men, long pleated smocks and low-cut blouses for the women -- as tourists from around the world came to glimpse a peculiar slice of German culture.
"I love the outfits, the costumes, and I especially the size of the beers," Jonah Hartley, a 24-year-old builder from Cambridge, England said.
Despite the general election on Sunday, nearly a million people flocked to the festival during the first weekend, consuming lakes of beer and mountains of sausage all served up in giant tents to the oom-pah-pah of brass bands.
According to the organizers, each visitor drinks around one liter (1.8 pints) of beer on average, although the state of many of those there for the opening suggested this was a conservative estimate.
The world's biggest beer-drinking festival, Oktoberfest is always a huge tourist draw with beverage fans from around the world flocking to Munich's sprawling 31 hectare (77 acre) Theresienwiese festival grounds to sample the brews, cuisine and entertainment.
The festival runs 17 days this year instead of the regular 16, extended to take advantage of a convenient national holiday.
The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of the prince of Bavaria, the future King Ludwig I, to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen for whom the park grounds are named.
Few things can stop it
The Germans take Oktoberfest very seriously and have only cancelled the event 24 times in its long history. Only war and cholera have prevented the beer flowing in nearly two centuries of celebration.
For the 172nd year of Oktoberfest, restrictions on the volume of music have been imposed until 6:00 pm, although at its newly-set level of 85 decibels it is still as loud as a tractor-trailer rig.
Traditional folk music will be preferred in the beer tents, with disco and rock music banned until late in the evening.
The price of a giant stein, or "Mass" of beer, has soared to a record high 7.25 euros ($8.90), a six-percent rise over last year. Oktoberfest is famous around the world and the format is now being exported. Oktoberfest festivals are to be held in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and the Taiwanese capital Taipei and Bavarian authorities have struck an agreement with the southern Chinese industrial province of Guangzhou to hold one there.