By Michaela Schiessl in Munich
Every spot in Krätz's tent has been booked up since April -- completely and utterly sold-out. There's not a seat left in the house, he insists. "You can see what I mean," says Krätz -- pointing to the packed crowds in the festively decorated tent, which dates back to 1902. At 2 p.m. on a normal workday, there are 3,200 guests jostling each other on the benches.
Krätz's mobile phone rings and he extracts it from his traditional suede Bavarian outfit. "Hi, Doreen. How are you?" he answers. "Of course I saw you in Playboy. Exquisite." Within three minutes the cover girl and her entourage of ten have a table reservation. "She just happens to be a nice girl," says Krätz. More important, of course, is the fact that Doreen is a celebrity, a minor starlet, but a celebrity nonetheless.
A Billion Euro Business
As old-fashioned and rustic as this event may seem, it is a really efficiently organized affair, a veritable Oktoberfest, Inc. Last year it attracted a record 6.5 million guests, who consumed 6.9 million liters (1.8 million gallons) of beer, 58,000 liters (15,320 gallons) of wine, close to 500,000 roast chickens and 102 oxen.
Last year's beer-gulping orgy brought in 955 million ($1.35 billion). Of that, 449 million came from the festival itself, 301 million from lodging expenses for out-of-towners, and 205 million for food, shopping and transportation expenses. This year's Oktoberfest run is expected to rake in revenues of 1 billion.
In recent years, the festival has discarded its traditional image and become hip once again, especially for the younger generation. Sixty percent of visitors are under 30. The new generation has shown an enthusiasm bordering on fanaticism when it comes to dressing up in the full traditional garb, the men sporting knee-length stockings, lederhosen (the traditional leather shorts cum suspenders) and stout shoes, and the women decked out in dirndls, the flowing dresses with aprons and puffy-sleeved blouses that push their breasts up to the point that they look like the dumplings being served at Oktoberfest.
Keeping the Advertisers at Bay
This stimulating environment has also aroused the desires of the corporate world, whose companies would kill for the chance to advertise at the event with its cult-like draw. Indeed, in some ways, you can say that most of the tables are already in corporate hands since Munich employers traditionally invite their employees and business partners from around to world to join them at their reserved tables at the Wiesn. Legend also has it that several major contracts have been sealed over beer and ox roasted on a spit.
PR professionals, eager to capitalize on Oktoberfest's appeal as a promotional vehicle, dream of lounges in the tents plastered with company logos and signs, product exhibits and press conferences. But that's not going to happen as long as Gabriele Weishäupl has anything say about it. As general manager of the Munich Tourist Office, Weishäupl is in charge of organizing Oktoberfest, a job that includes making sure that the event remains non-commercial. In fact, Section 42 of the event's rules clearly states that promotional events, advertising, press conferences and fashion shows will remain strictly prohibited.
But not every corporate-sponsored event is as garish, as Wolfgang Bierlein, managing director of Tiffany's Germany demonstrated when he held his traditional breakfast for invited guests at his Munich store at the beginning of the Oktoberfest. Wolfgang Armbrecht, head of the BMW branch in Munich, organizes a shooting contest for business associates in the Armbrustschützenzelt (Crossbow Shooters' Tent), and cigar lovers can sit back and relax in the Davidoff corner of Krätz's Hippodrom tent. But these are the exceptions. Other corporate sponsors must make do with slapping their logos on paper napkin rings and the large glass beer mugs.
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