Berlin and Beyond: Oh Oktoberfest! | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.10.2018
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Berlin and Beyond: Oh Oktoberfest!

Berlin is about as un-Bavarian as a German city can be, but that doesn't stop Oktoberfest from rolling into town every fall. Tamsin Walker went to find out if Berliners embrace the Munich tradition.

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WorldLink: Oh Oktoberfest!

Bertolt Brecht is alleged to have once said the best thing about his native Augsburg was the train line to Munich. The words have long been contested, not least by his hometown, but it hardly seems to matter, since it was neither one of those Bavarian cities, but ultimately Berlin, that he chose to make his permanent home.

I get that. My first ever experience of Germany was Bavarian. Augsburgian, in fact. I spent 18 months there, much of it plotting to leave. Though I appreciated the beauty of the Alpine peaks and shimmering lakes, the wooden crosses and polished villages and towns left me cold.

I preferred what were, at that time at least, the old East Berlin streets lined with crumbling, bullet-pocked facades. So I moved here, to a building that had been touched, for many decades, by nothing but time. I've been back to Bavaria often enough since, and I'm happier to sample the region as a visitor. And at this time of year, I can almost visit without actually leaving the German capital.

Read more: Berlin and Beyond: Moving to East Germany

A woman dressed in a traditional dirndl stands in front of a candy stand at the Berlin Oktoberfest

Some come dressed for the part, some don't come at all

Raise your glasses

I'm talking about Oktoberfest. The sprawling beer-filled party whose beginnings date back to 1810 when King Ludwig I of Bavaria invited his subjects to celebrate his nuptials on the meadows before the gates of Munich.

Over time, the festivities have grown beyond all recognition, and have managed to sweep most of Germany up into their annual hop-soaked fever. Berlin, never being one to miss out on a party, offers a number of nods to the original celebrations. Albeit all on a much much smaller scale.

Even the main tribute here, now in its 68th year, is a modest affair compared to the real Bavarian deal that routinely attracts 6 million visitors to drink, dance, eat and be merry across an area of 30 hectares (74 acres). Berlin's biggest Oktoberfest is more a case of a few carousels, connected by a handful of booths selling sausages, gingerbread hearts and toasted almonds.

Oh, and a beer tent, where on Sunday when I went along, the endless rows of tables and benches inside were empty but for a couple of couples, a musical duo in Lederhosen and a party of eight Berliners playing at being Bavarian. Costumes and all.

When I asked them about the appeal of Oktoberfest, they said it was the atmosphere. Bavarians, they told me with giddy enthusiasm, know how to party. Their sentiment echoed that of half the other people I questioned.

Read more: Berlin and Beyond: Now I'm German...

Lines of wooden tables in a big white tent at the Berlin Oktoberfest. Two members of a band play on a stage in the background

Not exactly a full stage

The rest considered it important for reasons of tradition. Traditional dress, traditional food, traditional music. And that, you could also argue, ultimately creates atmosphere. A Bavarian atmosphere. Which, if the lack of bums on seats are anything to go by, many Berliners can apparently take or leave.

Read more: Berlin and Beyond: Writing on the wall

Towards early evening, there was a steadier trickle of people wandering towards the even steadier thump of music swelling from the Oktoberfest grounds, but still nothing like as many as the several thousand that had formed the slow-moving crowd at a flea market alongside the strip of the former Wall earlier that morning. And every other Sunday for that matter. But then that's probably not surprising. People don't come to Berlin to sample Munich. Ask Bertolt Brecht.

In Berlin and beyond, British-born Tamsin Walker takes a closer look at some of the quirks and perks of life in Germany, which has been her home for almost 20 years. She tweets as @TamsinkateW

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