At Munich’s Oktoberfest, an hour-by-hour account of the emergencies, medical and otherwise, when all the beer-drinking and dirndl-chasing go too far. (Note: Watch out for the Aussies.)
MUNICH — This year's edition of the world's favorite beer party, Oktoberfest, is underway in this southern German city. For a unique perspective on the darker (and drunker) side of the annual event, Suddeutsche Zeitung monitored one day from the celebration's state-of-the-art Red Cross first-aid station, where 100 volunteer paramedics and 10 doctors look after the inebriated and otherwise wiped-out, worn-down and beat-up.
Here's an hour-by-hour chronicle:
Noon. The security man at reception shows his damaged thumb, saying "more and more guests pinch and bite." Right now it’s still quiet, and most patients can still stand.
1:10 p.m. A man wearing lederhosen and a bloody headband is brought in. He fell off a bench. Behind a grey door marked "Akutbehandlung" (Acute Treatment) lies an older man hooked up to a lot of tubes — heart trouble. He’s going to have to go to the hospital. More complicated cases can’t be dealt with here although last year they did reanimate a man whose heart had stopped.
2:05 p.m. English-speaking Lucy, in a red dirndl and “Kiss Me” necklace, arrives ripe for a lie-down, although she claims not to have drunk all that much. Are there really people willing to spend their free time looking after drunks? The station’s head of operations looks offended by my question. We like to help people here, she says. Anyway, guests are nicer here than they are in the beer tent, where she used to work. "Sure, you need to be determined," she says. "But hardly anybody is aggressive. On the contrary: I've never seen so many men crying before in my life."
2:10 p.m. In the monitoring area, only 13 beds are showing green lights. Green means not occupied. Yellow means occupied. Red means send home. Blue means hospital.
2:20 p.m. The paramedics are in constant radio touch with colleagues working the Fest grounds with stretchers. Bulletins come in non-stop, like "Moritz 3 — over." Moritz is the code word for poisoning. Moritz 3 stands for an inebriated person.
2:25 p.m. A team in the beer tent radios. They need a rescue vehicle. Spine injury. The Red Cross has been working the Oktoberfest for 130 years. They wore uniforms in the old days, and pushed wheelbarrows. Nowadays things are more comfortable for patients — stretchers are usually used, covered so that the patient has some privacy, unless as in this case an ambulance is needed.
3:01 p.m. "You need to take a cold tablet." That’s been the most-heard recommendation at reception all day so far. Certain things the infirmary can’t help people with, but they do give out free headache pain relief and tampons, along with blister plasters. "There must have been another delivery of new shoes," says a helper fetching another pack. In 16 days, the Red Cross hands out some 1,500 free bandages.
4:10 p.m. From the monitoring room, a girl calls out in English, "Oh, this is horrible." She then falls asleep. Next to her Lucy wakes up and runs to a mirror. Not a good idea, but luckily there’s a bucket within reach. Lucy doesn’t want to go back to sleep, though. She wants to party. "No beer, just to socialize!" she says. She applies lipstick, jams some gum into her mouth, and is off before anybody can make her aware of the vomit stains on her dirndl. The team hopes they won’t see her again, but "we have a lot of regulars here," says one doctor. "Some people come in several times a day."
4:26 p.m. At the back entrance a surgeon, an orthopedist and a cardiologist wait for new patients to be brought to them. All three have been working here for three years, and they know all the horror stories: about the American who bit off his girlfriend’s whole lower lip, about the Australian who got his penis caught in his zipper. Or what happened just yesterday: the tongue that had to be disentangled from some braces. "It’s great working here, there’s always something going on," says a young doctor. "Personally, I only go to Oktoberfest before 8 p.m. After that it’s just too dangerous."
5:30 p.m So far, reception has handed out five headache pills, 60 bandages and has dealt with seven "other" cases.
6:48 p.m. Space is getting tight outside the treatment room. A drunk American woman is looking for her boyfriend, then her cigarettes. One young girl feels so sick she’s crying. And "Julius-three-steins-found-lying-in-the-Bavaria-area" is delivered on a stretcher. Julius doesn’t look as if he’s going to wake up anytime soon. "You can still get through to him, he just can’t say a lot," a paramedic explains. The gong signaling that a stretcher is needed is now going off regularly and the cleaning team has gotten very busy.
6.50 p.m. A man collapses onto a chair in front of the treatment room. His eye is watering. A beer stein hit him full on. "Cornea, this is dangerous. We can’t do anything here," the doctor says. To the patient he tries to get across in English. "Eye. Krankenhaus hospital. You understand?" Anyone working at the station must speak some English. Most of the patients are Australian, the doctor relates, followed by Brits and quite a few hysterical Americans.
7.06 p.m. The police bring in a man with blood on his shirt. "Watch out, here’s the guy who threw the stein," an officer calls as they lead in a brawny Australian in handcuffs. His ear looks mangled, and blood runs down his neck. Both he and the man he attacked require stitches and their beds are separated only by a blue curtain. It’s starting to get very tight in the treatment room, and the officers stay to make sure the men don’t start fighting again. Nobody can say what really happened, only that the Australian seemed to have started it.
7:30 p.m. Now it’s full out in the hall, too. An exasperated mother fetches her 17-year-old son who after several hours in the monitoring area appears surprisingly sober. The Australian with the bloody ear is led off. "He’s in for one hefty sentence," a doctor says. The man is laughing, blows a kiss at a female paramedic and disappears singing.
8:15 p.m. Adam is pissed off and keeps repeating "Fuck." Then he starts to cry. He has a black eye and his nose is bleeding. It is everybody’s fault but his, of course, and now his friend has gone and disappeared. Near him, two young men are looking for their British friend – she couldn’t get into the tent, she was too drunk. The WC attendant reports that she fell in the toilets and had to be carried away. "Name?" the person at reception asks the two men and looks at his computer screen. Then he says the station has five patients that weren’t in good enough shape to give their names, maybe she’s one of them. "Come back later," he tells the men.
8:17 p.m. There’s a happy end for Adam. His friend suddenly shows up. The two hug and head off to the beer tent.
10:50 p.m.: The beer tent may have closed, but not the first-aid station. The police are now bringing in all those found out cold on the ground. The day’s tally runs: 402 patients, 114 persons requiring stretchers, 36 cases of alcohol intoxication, 34 wounds requiring surgical procedures, 39 transfers to nearby hospitals. At the station they call this a quiet day, nothing special to report.