It’s Tuesday, day four of Oktoberfest in Munich. There are still 12 days left of the beer festival and Vanessa, a waitress, is lugging huge beer steins around a giant tent.
Ever since she was little, she wanted to lift the curtain and see what it’s like to be a Wiesn (Oktoberfest) waitress.
“You don’t always have to be a guest,” the 33-year-old told Euronews when we caught up with her shortly before her shift.
A relatively quiet Tuesday lay ahead of her — at the beginning of the week, customers don’t really arrive to drink until the early evening and the tent fills up around 4 pm. On weekends, the tents are full to the rafters early in the morning.
Vanessa is on her feet for between 11 and 15 hours a day and pedometer on her smartphone reveals that she does between 20,000 and 25,000 steps a day — that’s around 15km. And even though she changes between two pairs of shoes, her feet still hurt.
She works 16 consecutive days without any days off and has taken leave from her everyday job in order to work at Oktoberfest.
This is her fourth year in a row working as a waitress in the Bräurosl marquee where she and two colleagues are responsible for 10 tables.
Vanessa works in one of the large tents on Munich’s Theresienwiese — the square where Oktoberfest is held each year — but there is no fixed hourly wage.
She buys beer from landlords and then sells it to the guests, which customers buy for €11.80 per Mass (one litre of beer) this year.
The price is set by the restaurateurs and varies slightly from tent to tent, but the waiters are not happy with their rate this year.
From the €11.80, €1.06 goes to Vanessa and for her remaining earnings she depends on tips. The wait staff would have preferred a price of €11.10 or €11.20 per beer when customers usually round up to the nearest euro.
Vanessa must also factor in expenses for her work clothes: The Dirndl, or the traditional apron and blouse she must get from the tent’s management.
Taking leave to work on the Wiesn is not so unusual. An astonishingly large number of the wait staff work in professions that have nothing to do with gastronomy.
Sigi, who pours the beer from the wooden barrels in the Festzelt Tradition — the biggest tent in the Oide Wiesn, a more traditional area of the festival — is a civil servant in daily life.
Stephanie has been working in the Augustinerbräu tent for five years but is a physiotherapist, while Richard runs a holiday settlement in southwest France and has worked in several festival tents over the last 10 years.
Vanessa has swapped her office chair in the marketing department of a large IT company for a stint in the Bräurosl tent.
On her feet all day long, carrying heavy beers, being bumped into, discussing the beer price with worse-for-wear customers and listening to music blare from morning until night — what motivated her to volunteer as a waitress at Oktoberfest?
“I need it to really let off steam for 16 days,” Vanessa told Euronews. The exact amount of money the waitresses take home varies but in a good year it can go up to five figures.
Income from the festival is also dependent on which tent wait staff work in (party tents where you drink a lot are more lucrative than traditionally quieter tents), which area of the tent they are responsible for (reserved sections where things are quieter make less than non-reserved areas where guests change more frequently and consume more).
But the salary was not her this waitress’ only motivation. For many, Vanessa included, working on the Wiesn is “a pleasant change from a normal office job”.
In order to keep up and even enjoy the work, you have to be motivated. Maybe that’s Vanessa’s secret — she likes meeting people and forming connections quickly.
Of course, there are times when you have to deal with more difficult customers. “I think if you just have good banter, or a ‘mouth like a sword’ as they say in Bavaria, you can actually get by quite well with that.”