Volume 3, Issue 2, Fall 2011
“Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” The German Beer Hall as Place of Cultural Performance
Festzelte are the beer halls (actually tents) of German Oktoberfest style celebrations—generally called Volksfest. Being transient buildings, the tents can be massive and intimidating. 5,000 or more visitors may find a place to drink, eat, sing, dance and celebrate wildly. Chants proclaim the “Gemütlichkeit” [coziness/snugness] despite an atmosphere supercharged with wild behaviors and heavy drunkenness. Norm breaking, liminal behavior is not only tolerated but even expected and intended (up to a certain point).
Victor Turner’s concept of cultural performance helps explain the revelry in a beer tent. The tents with their specific rural and folkloristic decorations, spatial structure, and furnishings facilitate the joyous actions. Their staging, as well as the celebratory actions themselves, provide a sacred play-space for anti-structure and communitas, flow and performative reflexivity. The active celebratory participation creates a place where alterity reigns and enables a sense of belonging.