I wasn’t quite sure how I felt going into the 167th Canstatter Volksfest, or “Wasen”. I had heard so much about it, how it was like Oktoberfest only smaller, less jammed with tourists and rowdiness. With everyone talking it up, and the sense of obligation that, as a North American in Germany, one must go to Oktoberfest, what would happen if it wasn’t fun or enjoyable?
It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many happy people in one place before, even outside Germany! Half-midway, half-beer festival, everything was decorated and people dressed in Dirndl and Lederhosen walked around in small groups, enjoying the late afternoon. Dirndl and Lederhosen have been everywhere in the shops recently, but I still underestimated how popular it’d be. While we didn’t’ stand out in our civvies, I’d say a good quarter of the people there wore Trachten.
Coming over the Neckar on the tram from Stuttgart-town, you first see the large Ferris wheels – the largest moveable examples in Europe, I’m told – followed shortly by some of the other “high altitude” thrill-seeking rides. It’s all a bit much when you first enter the grounds from the tram, and you don’t quite know where to start. After bumbling around for a few minutes captivated by the awe, the scale, the experience of it all, we decided to jump into the queue for an absurd death trap that flings you back and forth and almost upside-down, just the thing to get your heart-pounding and the adrenaline going (have no fears for my safety though – the ride was inspected by the German TÜV, the organization responsible for many safety standards in Germany).
Similar to a Weihnachtsmarkt or a German flea market, some stalls sold Trachten, socks, brushes/brooms, condoms, bibles – really, anything a person could need at the Volksfest or want as a souvenir. Other stalls sold sweets or roasted nuts, including those ridiculously kitschy gingerbread Oktoberfesthearts, now common-place at all German markets. Whitney and I bought some delicious roasted almonds from one of these stalls that were so good, your teeth started hurting before you finished the bag!
More famous however for visitors are the massive beer tents. The Canstatter Was’n apparently has eight or so, but I could only see six when we were on the Ferris wheel above it all. Calling them “tents” as well is a bit of a misnomer or disingenuous, as they are really massive halls capable of holding 1000+ people. Indeed, they hardly resemble tents at all.
And what a feeling those 1000 people give off, what an atmosphere! Everyone chums up at long tables to enjoy a good time together. The Germans call it Stimmung, which can also mean “mood” or “disposition”. You can reserve tables, or gamble like we did. Luckily we found space next to a quiet though nice-enough old couple, who shoved over to give us room. They then obliging took our photo, and then put up with our incessant photo-taking, laughing, and singing, which we did in concert with everyone else around us along with the rock band in the centre of the tent.
The band played a variety of music, from reggae to American rock to Karneval songs. Whenever they played a crowd favourite, which to be honest seemed to happen more and more towards the end of the night, folk would climb up on their benches or tables to dance and sing along. Whitney and I also went around the tent playing our part as North American tourists, making new friends and taking photos with folk in their Dirndl and Lederhosen along the way. And, of course, there was the requisite Maß of beer!