"Sometimes things don't go, after all, from bad to worse", said Welsh poetess Sheenagh Pugh, implying that more often than not, things tend to go downhill. The Oktoberfest, however, is one of those rare times when things have worked out as well as they possibly could. Everyone get ready to cheer: the biggest public festival in the world is a beer festival. The only thing that could possibly make it better is if it were a year long as well as annual, but it does last for long enough for visitors to consume at least their own weight in beer and various kinds of Wurst.
From 16 th September to 3 rd October the Theresienwiese meadows on the outskirts of Munich are filled to the brim with beer-loving Bavarians. And not just Bavarians - each year the Oktoberfest (shouldn't it be the Septemberfest, really?) draws 6 million visitors. That's equal to the population of Paraguay, or alternatively the number of pot bellies in Europe.
Edmund Blackadder may have thought Crown Prince Ludwig was a "fatheaded German chamber-pot", but the people of Munich have much to thank him for. On the 12 th October 1810 he married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. This happy event gave rise to celebration across Bavaria that year, and in the Wies'n the festivities were repeated annually thereafter. Not that the Oktoberfest of the early 1800's was quite the spectacle it is today. In 1818 the organisers proudly unveiled the Fest's first amusements - two carousels and a single swing. The field must have looked barren, with only a few small beer stands dotted around. They began to increase in number until in 1896 the landscape underwent an irreversible change with the introduction of the forefathers of today's monolithic tents(the Hofbräu-Festzelt tent alone can accommodate 10 000 people).
Each year the Fest brings in a major chunk of Munich 's budget. Hence the celebrations of recent years have become highly commercialized -where there's money to be made, people will try to make as much as possible. In fact, people in the know suggest that you're really better off visiting March's Starkbierfest(which translates, promisingly, as 'strong beer festival') if you want to see a 'real' München Bierfest. But beer snobs notwithstanding, there's plenty to draw you to the Oktoberfest. Particularly the parades marking the beginning, which appear to have been designed to reinforce just about every stereotype you might imagine of Germany. The Rifleman's Parade on September 17 th is a colourful 7km-long procession of historical 'troops', marching bands, thoroughbred horses, cattle and goats, drays decorated in the colours of the Munich breweries, floats featuring local traditions and riflemen(obviously). Lederhosen and plaits are also bound to abound. The two carousels have evolved into a full-blown, ferris-wheeled fun fair. And flitting amongst the merrymakers will be entertainers such as last year's 'Vogel Jakob', who enabled lucky customers to chirp like birds by selling them a small piece of circular cardboard to place in their mouths and blow through. well, there's always the beer.
Soak up the atmosphere in the huge, brightly-decorated tents as oompah band music fills the air and waitresses weave in and out of the tables with the determination and biceps of professional wrestlers. They need to be strong. Even lifting one Maß (a litre glass of fine German lager - they don't come any smaller) is enough to risk back strain, but they manage to juggle 4 or 5 at a time. Visitors don't just come for the ale. There are spit-roast oxen(probably the same ones that happily marched in the opening processions), the ubiquitous Wurst, and local delicacies such as Saltzstangen and Steckerlfisch - small salt rolls and grilled fish skewers, the perfect accompaniment to a cool beer. Munich is one of the nicest cities in Germany, and if you're ready for more when the Fest closes down(the last tents give up the ghost at 1am) there are several clubs and restaurants in town which don't shut until the sun comes up. Children won't get bored either - the Fest prides itself on its provision for families. Whether you want to pat ponies, brave the roller coasters or simply guzzle lots of beer, you'll come away satisfied - if lighter of pocket.Tables can be reserved online at Munich 's tourist website www.munich-tourist.de/ or you can simply turn up with the 5,999,999 other visitors.