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MUNICH,Germany — At 10. a.m., two hours before the lord mayor of Munich was to tap the first Oktoberfest keg, the huge Hofbräu tent was already packed.

The young, mostly English-speaking crowd inside played cards, drank cola and ate soft pretzels in the warm morning as they waited for the beer to flow.

Jason Shaffer and four friends from Sembach Air Base, all wearing identical green T-shirts so they could find one another, had arrived at 6:30 a.m. to enjoy their fourth and probably last Oktoberfest together.

"Three of us are about to PCS out next spring," said Shaffer. "What better way to celebrate?"

There were more T-shirts than the traditional dirndls and lederhosen in the Hofbräu hall, and though it was his third Oktoberfest, Shaffer swore he would never go full Bavarian. "I don’t look good in a bikini," he said.

Other Americans had no such reservations about wearing knee-length suede pants and suspenders. First-time attendee Frank Tedesco, a 28-year American engineer working in Germany, spent more than 200 euros on his lederhosen, which he bought a little loose "so I can drink more beer," he said.

Some American servicemembers, like Staff Sgt. Julius Herzfelb and his wife, Tech. Sgt. Shanna Herzfelb, made a family affair out of their first Oktoberfest, traveling from Ramstein with their 5-year-old son, Julius Herzfelb IV.

"It is a carnival, after all," Shanna Herzfelb said, adding that she would be taking her son on "as many rides as possible," so that he would be nice and tired while they enjoyed a few beers.

Some 6 million visitors are expected to attend the two-week party, and while the same number of liters of beer will probably be drunk — "Some drink one liter, some drink ten," Oktoberfest official Erwin Talirsch said — the littlest visitors will be able to satisfy themselves with soft drinks, ice cream and heart-shaped cookies.

Then there’s the food. Traditional fest fare — roasted chickens and half-meter bratwursts — were joined Saturday by weirder offerings, such as garlic and hot-pepper-flavored pickles, which were said to be a good complement to beer.

"Good before, during and after drinking," bragged a pickle vendor, who also called his wares an aphrodisiac. "Viagra for poor people," he claimed.

Shortly after 11 a.m., the crowds outside the Theresienwiese festival area greeted the grand entry of the procession of Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, led as always by the Münchner Kindl, a girl in monk’s costume riding horseback with a beer in hand. At noon, Lord Mayor Christian Ude tapped the keg with the traditional cry "O’zapft is" — Bavarian for "It’s tapped" — and a 12-gun salute signaled the taps were open

Inside the beer halls the beer began to flow and the volume got instantly louder. Waitresses grimaced as they hefted eight, 10 or more one-liter mugs at a time. This year’s beer price, 8.60 euros a liter, drew a few groans when it was announced, but didn’t seem to slow anyone down, and soon all the complaints were drowned out with shouts of "Prost!"


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