Between the end of September and the beginning of October in Munich, Germany, the Oktoberfest is always held, the great festival of Bavarian culture dedicated above all to beer. For about two weeks the lawn of Theresienwiese, the public space in Munich where the festival is held, is filled with huge stands of breweries where they drink beer, eat typical food and listen to Bavarian folk music: they work at the tables every year hundreds of waitresses for each stand, with demanding, stressful and tiring shifts.
Obviously men also work at the Oktoberfest, but with different roles than serving tables: part of the tradition and image of the festival are the waitresses in traditional Bavarian clothes who go around the stands carrying stacks of beer mugs. The amount of beer consumed over the course of an entire Oktoberfest is enormous: in 2014 it was estimated at 7.7 million liters.
During the festival the beers are served in huge mugs, the Maß, which individually contain about a liter of beer: they are served eight to ten at a time, or more, at tables often occupied by large groups of people, and transported by hand. Added to the weight of the beer is that of the glass mugs, which weigh over a kilo each: this means that a single waitress may have to spend the day carrying loads of at least 20 kilos with two hands, in shifts that reach 12 on the weekend -14 hours a day.
There are many videos online of Oktoberfest waitresses stacking stacks of enormous beer mugs on a counter and then lifting them all up at once with a series of juggling and balancing. A move seen in several videos involves picking up a series of mugs with one hand, grabbing all the handles at once, a series of mugs in the other, and then stacking them on top of each other, perhaps fitting a final mug in top, to then push himself with his back and carry a sort of scenographic and very heavy dome of beer and glass to the tables.
The strength of Oktoberfest waitresses is truly remarkable! pic.twitter.com/d7ktnYaPyx
— Tansu YEĞEN (@TansuYegen) September 21, 2023
Physically all this is obviously very tiring. Angela Hopper, a 25-year-old waitress at the Oktoberfest, told The Local that every year she prepares herself with several weeks of physical training in which she does exercises for her core, back, biceps and triceps. She is 1.67 meters tall, weighs 54 kilos and says she can carry up to eight mugs of beer at a time. She does this by going back and forth from the kitchen to the tables many times a day: Euronews has estimated that every day the Oktoberfest waitresses walk 20-25 thousand steps, about 15 kilometres.
Hopper said his feet always hurt a lot at the end of his shifts and that every year, before the festival starts, he goes to the pharmacy to buy bandages, plasters and painkillers, which he knows he might need to continue working. The pace is frenetic and in the midst of the festival he only stops at the end of the day: “You can’t feel tired or feel pain,” he said. During the entire duration of the shift there is also music in the background, constant, repetitive and at a very high volume, from all the Bavarian folk music groups that play.
Being a waitress at the Oktoberfest also involves having to manage an audience that often becomes annoying, as it is largely made up of groups of drunken males. The waitresses’ traditional Bavarian clothes show off their breasts quite a bit, and in addition to glances that can be very annoying, they also frequently suffer harassment. It’s a topic that has recently started to be discussed more. At the Oktoberfest there are security personnel who intervene in cases like these and force any patron to leave, but every year dozens of cases of harassment by women who work at the festival are reported to the police.
It can be difficult for Oktoberfest waitresses to manage the public for other reasons too: there may be people who refuse to pay or give a tip (when reserving a place at the Oktoberfest you can pay for some things in advance but not others: it may not be be easy to make this clear to drunk people), or others who feel ill. Hopper also told of when a drunken customer vomited on her: she changed and went back to work because her pace was tight and she couldn’t stop.
“Working your way through 10,000 sweaty, beer-craving revelers 12 hours a day for 16 days straight tests the limits of even the most crowd-loving extrovert,” wrote journalist Erin Snell in a report on Thrillist, a website deals with food, travel and culture.
There are also those who prepare themselves psychologically to work at the Oktoberfest: there are groups of waitresses who work together every year and who organize group activities to build a more close-knit team, capable of withstanding that type of pace, fatigue and stress. However, the demands for working at the Oktoberfest are many: between the percentage earned on the sale of beer (around 10 percent, writes Euronews) and the tips, just two weeks of work can be very profitable. Some women are professional waitresses, others are not: 2018 Hofbräu stand manager Herr Steinberg told The Local he had received over 1000 applications for 250 places.