With October round the corner this could only mean one thing: Oktoberfest! After much deliberation (or looking at train times and prices) my fellow Swans in Mannheim and I decided to go to Stuttgart to experience the biggest Volksfest in Baden-Württemberg and second largest Volksfest after Oktoberfest in Munich. Now, you maybe wondering why I said Volksfest instead of Oktoberfest? Well, both festivals are exactly the same in terms of fun fairs, music, dancing, and of course, the copious amounts of food and drink. However, the origins of each festival are completely different.
On the 12th of October, 1810 King Ludwig I of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in the front of the city gates to celebrate the royal event. The following year it was decided to repeat the spectacle and celebrations which launched the annual Oktoberfest tradition. In Stuttgart, the harsh winter of 1815/16 made it impossible to bring in a harvest which for King Wilhelm I of Württemberg couldn’t be any worse as citizens throughout Germany starved. Deliveries of grain were sent from Russia on the orders of Tsar Nikolaus I, King Wilhelm’s brother in law, to help relieve the famine. In 1817 when the first harvest wagon was brought in, King Wilhelm and his wife Katharina had the idea to sponsor a harvest festival, designed to encourage the farmers with cash prizes and honorary awards for outstanding agricultural accomplishment. It was decided that it should take place annually on the King’s birthday on the 28th of September in the area of Cannstatter Wasen.
In wanting to have ‘the full German experience’ at Bad Cannstatt, Katie, Tara and myself decided to invest in Dirndls but due to our hectic schedules at uni we left it quite late in sourcing Dirndls. A last minute dash to the life saver that is C&A, we each found Dirndls that fitted us perfectly and even got discounts which was very useful for us students!
Finally the day had arrived and it was an early start for us to catch the 9:20 am train from Mannheim to Stuttgart, which actually arrived late. Whilst waiting on the platform there were many people dressed up in their Lederhosen and Dirndls, waiting to either go to Munich or Stuttgart to enjoy the festivities, with some drinking beer to either pass the time whilst they waited or as pre-drinks to the main event. An hour and a half later we arrived at Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and by this time Karl realised that he wanted to join in with wearing Lederhosen after saying earlier “no one will be wearing them!” Luckily, in the middle of the station there was a traditional Lederhosen and Dirndl stall where he was able to invest in some Lederhosen. After a quick change and buying U-Bahn tickets to Bad Cannstatt we went to navigate the underground to get to the right track. Having experience navigating my way around the Rome, Paris and Barcelona undergrounds I was completely stumped in Stuttgart as there was absolutely no signs or directions to where each U-Bahn went. So in my best Hochdeutsch with an undeniably Scottish accent, I asked an attendant which track we needed to go to in order to get to Bad Cannstatt. Disappointed in the English reply, at least we knew where we were going.
10 minutes later we arrived and, oh boy was it busy, or as we like to say in Scotland, hoachin’, but the atmosphere was fantastic, either due to the cultural traditions or the amount of beer that had been drank! We began to explore the festival, wandering by the many food stalls filling our nostrils with the fabulous smells of curry wurst, savory crêps and candyfloss; stalls selling sweets and traditional Lebkuckenherzen; and ginormous raffle/tombola kiosks, whilst taking notes of what rides we wanted to go on later. We couldn’t experience a traditional Volksfest without having a Maß of beer and we ended up in one of the free entry beer tents, as most require you to either purchase a wrist band either in advance or at the door. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I hate beer and lager as I find them too bitter BUT I had the best litre of beer ever, during our stop. Inside the tent there was traditional music playing and dancing with loads, and I mean loads, of people dancing on the benches and tables, which was rather amusing as clearly some of them had drank a lot yet were still able to get up and dance.
After spending a good 2 hours soaking up the electrifying, party atmosphere spreading around the tent, we went on some rides before heading to the big Ferris Wheel where we got some fantastic views of the festival, Bad Cannstatt, the Neckar River and the many stadiums and arenas situated next to the river. We wandered back through the crowds and headed towards the U-Bahn in order to catch our train.
However, the trains that day continued to not being our friend. We boarded our overcrowded, loud and stale alcohol smelling train only to be delayed for over an hour meaning we missed our connection in Karlsruhe to Mannheim. Worried that we would have to buy another train ticket as we’d missed our connection we found the ticket office in Karlsruhe station. The ticket office reassured us that we would be able to get back to Mannheim, so with half an hour to kill we waited in the warmth of the ever-reliable McDonalds.
Eventually, 4 exhausted but happy Swans made it back to Mannheim and I’m really glad that we got to experience a bit more German culture. Perhaps next year there’ll be an unofficial organised 3rd Year German trip to Oktoberfest in Munich!