Sober Oktoberfest

beer, sober oktober

One of the things you notice when you give up drinking is that it’s harder to find fun things to do with your former drinking buddies.

A lot of people who become sober can’t hang out with their former drinking friends anymore, and I totally understand why. The peer pressure — and the temptation — can be immense. However, I live near mine and still enjoy their company outside of bars, so I’ve chosen to keep them in my circle. (And I’m determined to show them that I ‘m just as much fun without booze!)

So as September rolled around and the leaves started to fall, I began thinking about one of my favourite annual events: Oktoberfest.

Now, you might be thinking: Why would anyone who’s sober WANT to go to Oktoberfest?!

Well, you’d have to have been to the real Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, to understand.

Germans either love it or hate it, and I loved Oktoberfest when I lived in Germany. I always went at least once a year (if not several times a year) even though I lived hours away. (There’s nothing quite like waking up from a drunken stupor on the train to realize you’ve missed your stop by about an hour and you’re truly in the middle of nowhere.)

I love that millions of strangers from all over the world don traditional Bavarian dress and sit at long tables, clinking glasses with people they’ve never met. They sing and dance and generally have a merry time. Yes, it can get sloppy, but the overall mood is always festive and good-natured.

The first Oktoberfest was celebrated in 1810 as a wedding party for Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The party is still held every year in the Theresienwiese (“Theresa Fields”) near the city center between the third weekend of September and the first Sunday of October. The beer is brewed especially for Oktoberfest and served by the liter in a large glass called a Maß (pronounced “mass”).

The thing that most people don’t realize is that Bavarians view Oktoberfest as a family affair, and they actually bring their kids (albeit in the early afternoon, before things get messy). It’s also common for business people to arrange meetings there (mostly in the early evening, during the week.) That’s why the huge party tents serve Apfelschorle (a fizzy apple juice popular with children and adults alike) and alcohol-free “Weizen” (Hefeweizen).

So when I saw adverts for an Oktoberfest in London at a restaurant that I knew served alcohol-free beer, I figured it was the one place where my drinking buddies and I could have an equally good time. And I’d get a chance to wear my beloved dirndl, the traditional Bavarian dress that’s flattering on every girl (mainly because no one looks past your seemingly ample cleavage.)

The waitress happened to be German and didn’t bat an eyelash when I ordered a liter of alcohol-free beer. In Germany, it’s common for restaurants and bars to have at least one “Alkoholfreies Bier” (alcohol-free beer) on the menu, unlike in the U.K. (And German bartenders don’t laugh when you order it, either. It’s actually considered healthy!)

As the German musicians began playing traditional songs like “Ein Prosit,” I started to forget that my beer was alcohol-free. I ordered a schnitzel and a pretzel and taught everyone how to properly toast a Maß by looking into each other’s eyes. (Every man at Oktoberfest will tell you to look into their eyes when you clink glasses or you’re doomed to have 7 years of bad sex.)

I was having a great time until the stag parties showed up. They climbed onto the tables, stomping their feet and singing their own English drinking songs, drowning out the German band.

Now, if I’d had a few full-proof beers in me, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed they were getting obnoxious and irritating. The German musicians smartly gave up and retreated to a corner to drink their own beers. But I became that bitter old sober lady complaining about the loud drunk kids to the staff.

No, I don’t think it mattered that my beer was alcohol-free. I was just at the wrong Oktoberfest, and being sober I realized it.

Next time I go to Oktoberfest, it’ll be in Munich. But I’ll start and finish early in the day, just in case.

(Can you identify which Maß in the photo is alcohol-free? It’s the one on the left, but you can’t tell the difference, can you? Please note: this “alcohol-free” beer contains 0.05% alcohol or less.)

DryChick lives in London. She started DryScene to show people that they can have fun without alcohol. She wants to promote a healthy lifestyle and connect like-minded people through her events, where the focus is on the fun and not what’s in your glass. Contact her at drychick@dryscene.com.

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