Drinking in German Culture a Liter at a Time

Thousands of Oktoberfest revelers singing “Hey, hey baby, I want to know, if you’ll be my girl” and “Ein Prosit, ein Prooosit der Gemuet-lich-keit” still rings through the minds of twenty-seven EC students who celebrated Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany over the Columbus Day weekend.

Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Munich every year since 1810, and last year, it drew close to 7 million visitors from all over the world into its huge beer tents, which house up to 10,000 beer-drinkers.

Organizer-in-chief and German song conductor extraordinaire Philipp Hecker (OH) put together an amazing experience for all of us that was part cultural exchange (especially for Andrew Eisner), part recruiting event (Siemens is actually hiring worldwide), and mostly an awesome old-fashioned good time.

The idea for the trip was concocted during the long hot summer that the members of the January cohort spent on the HBS campus.

The main event of the trip was the all-day–and all-night–visit to the festival tents packed shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of people, a large oom-pah-pah band, and a beer delivery system worthy of a TOM case study. The group was greeted warmly by everyone, including many people from around Germany and the world who wanted to express their condolences to the Americans in the group for the attacks of September 11.

In addition, some of the more memorable scenes included: Mike Genstil (OH) shouting German phrases to anyone within earshot, Sally Aaron (OH) performing a public change of clothes, Brian Corbett (OI) twirling the beer waitress every time she brought more beer, Zack Kramer (OI) listening intently to a large German soccer player speaking half-English and half-German gibberish (utilizing the well-practiced art learned in the HBS classroom), Mark Cicirelli (OH) collecting phone numbers on a 100 DM bill and then getting lost, Trevor McCaw (OH) demonstrating his skill at consuming rotisserie chicken, Steve Shafer (OH) and Jeff Wald (OI) wreaking havoc with bumper cars, Philipp Hecker falling off the beer benches several times in his stylish pair of Lederhosen, and many other things long lost to the Oktoberfest haze.

“Oktoberfest is surely one of the highlights of my HBS career” said McCaw. “In fact, I think I may have seen Professor Greg Miller conducting the oom-pah-pah band, which explains his reluctance to dance in the pit last year.”

The second most popular activity (you can guess the most popular) at Oktoberfest is the singing of traditional Oktoberfest songs. My personal favorite was the 10-15 times we sang “Take Me Home Country Roads,” but the most touching was probably everyone singing “God Bless America” or “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” as people remembered the attacks of September 11. Other common favorites were “Eins, Zwo, Zupfa” and various songs by local hero Udo Juergens, the German equivalent of Neil Diamond.

In addition to the main event, Hecker also organized three complementary activities to round-out the trip. Before the trip, we received a personal visit to HBS from the head of the German consulate in Boston. He provided an educational overview of many aspects of Germany, including its history and political and economical systems. In Munich, we were welcomed by Siemens, the electronics conglomerate, at their headquarters for a very informative session on the company, and a champagne reception on the roof of the headquarters building overlooking Munich. Finally, on Sunday we went for an excursion out of Munich through the beautiful Bavarian countryside to Schloss Neuschwanstein, the castle built by King Ludwig II that Disney has used as the model for its castle at Disneyland.

Through the rest of the year, don’t be surprised if you hear spontaneous cries of “Hey, Hey Baby” throughout the halls of Aldrich. And for those of you who couldn’t make it this year, don’t despair–some new RC Germans have already volunteered to organize a follow-on Oktoberfest Trek next year. Prosit!!