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Munich ‘flirt cards’

Sept. 19: The message is simple, so simple that it can be deciphered in the midst of an alcoholic haze at the world’s most inebriated beer party.

Du g’foist ma, Bavarian for “I fancy you” — is one of a dozen “flirt cards” that can be wielded as part of a desperate attempt to raise the tone of the Oktoberfest. There is not much scope for meaningful conversation at the trestle tables of this annual beer orgy that has just started in Munich.

So the cards — another favourite is “Carry me home” — written in Bavarian dialect, English and Italian — have become an indispensable visual aid for the six million visitors, most dressed in lederhosen and bodice-busting dirndl dresses.

The Oktoberfest outstrips most of the world’s carnivals, including Mardi Gras in Rio, in terms of numbers and its swollen appetites. Ten oxen were guzzled last weekend and 900,000 visitors downed almost one million litres (1.75 million pints) of beer during the opening ceremonies. “Everyone is still living with the spirit of the World Cup and the Pope’s recent pilgrimage to Bavaria,” said Gabrielle Weisshaeupl, one of the organisers. “We just want to be among people.”

For many Bavarians it is the highlight of the year: young women, enlisted from farms to serve as waitresses, train throughout the summer to carry eight full litres of beer.

There is, however, a dark side to the Oktoberfest and it is this that the authorities are now trying to combat. By day, the beer festival is more or less a funfair. But as night falls, the singing grows more strident, the strong Bavarian beer sends heads spinning and revellers dance on the tables until dawn.

Men and women drinkers expose themselves with gusto. Behind the tents, there are Hogarthian scenes of couples, who were strangers a few hours earlier, groping each other.

A Munich child born in June is often said to be a Wiesnkind — that is conceived, in or out of wedlock, between the tent pegs at the Oktoberfest.

Every year several rapes are reported to the police but women’s support groups claim that the real, unreported figure for sexual assault is probably 60 or more.

Prince Luitpold of Bavaria, who owns his own brewery, has been calling for a crackdown. “People around the world are beginning to think that we have an oompah-oompah culture — it’s getting to be like the worst bits of Majorca.”

The flirt cards are supposed to encourage some kind of verbal exchange rather than the traditional drunken male lunge.

Some of the cards are almost genteel. Hogst no was vor — Do you have any plans' — was being tried out yesterday (Monday), albeit mainly in the tent used by gay drinkers.

A rape crisis team has been set up at the first aid centre near the main entrance.

Women are offered a reliable escort home if they look unsteady on their feet.

Women are offered a reliable escort home if they look unsteady on their feet.

“Our advice to women is don’t let strangers take care of you and never drink more than you can hold,” said Maxi Dierauff, of the Safe Festival for Women campaign. Women in particular are often overwhelmed by the potency of the Bavarian beer. Among the first reported incidents in this year’s festival was the case of a 22-year-old American woman tourist who threw two heavy tankards at her neighbour and another woman, a German, who bit a police officer.

The authorities are also clamping down on songs that have whipped up passions in the past: Hey Baby and Living Next Door to Alice, sung by a tent full of 10,000 beer drinkers in leather shorts, breaks local noise pollution laws and is said by some commentators to fuel Bavarian testosterone levels. They have been removed officially from the singalong repertoire.

New guidelines state that songs should be sung with sufficient restraint to permit snatches of conversation between men and women — and take some of the rustic roughness out of the celebrations.

The Oktoberfest — which dates back to a royal wedding celebration in 1810 — will continue until October 3, the official holiday marking German unity.

Last year 6.1 million litres of locally brewed beer were drunk, 95 oxen were eaten, as

were 55,913 knuckles of pork, 479,610 fried chickens and 179,557 pairs of sausages.

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