Interview with Gabriele Weishäupl
Show of local pride and cosmopolitan party
Gabriele Weishäupl studied and taught at LMU, and has been in charge of Munich’s famous Oktoberfest for the past 27 years. In the following interview she talks about her unique Oktoberfest seminar and her career as “First Lady of the Wiesn“.
Photo: Michael Nagy, Presse- und Informationsamt Stadt München
MUM: Dr. Weishäupl, last Term, you held a seminar on “Local Festivals as Promoters of Tourism” in the Faculty of Tourism at the Munich University of Applied Science (Fachhochschule). What were the main results?
Weishäupl: We looked at a variety of German festivals, and the result was no surprise. The Oktoberfest had the highest impact factor and is the mother of all festivals. Of course, every festival has its own attractions and values.
Your motto is: Think international, sell global, feel local. What other messages were you, as a former Director of the Munich Tourist Office, able to put across to the students in your seminar?
I talked a lot about myself. Many of them were interested in hearing about my own career. The curriculum also included an excursion to the Spring Fair, and that was wonderful. The students came in traditional costumes, and were able to visit the entertainers and operators of fairground attractions with me, and talk to the officials involved.
How often have people asked you for tent reservations for the Oktoberfest?
They keep on doing it (laughs). But I have always turned them down on principle. I have no desire to play the part of the Central Booking Office, otherwise I’d be in a bad way. The people who handle reservations are the beer-tent keepers. We only ever had a few tables in the Ratsbox in the Schottenhamel tent.
... and how many mugs of beer have you had in your time?
Not one! During the Wiesn (the local term for the Oktoberfest, referring to the venue – the Theresienwiese), we never touched alcohol. When you have to work for four weeks without a single day off, you just can’t afford to indulge in it. I always drank alcohol-free beer or cola light from a stein (laughs). I was always very disciplined at that time of the year. And to my mother’s amazement, I never took a holiday afterwards. As a single parent, I had my son to think of, while he was still in school. He is now studying Economics at LMU.
You succeeded in making the Wiesn a household name. Some sources claim that 90% of the world’s population recognize the term Oktoberfest. Do you ever miss the old days, the Wiesn of 1985?
Even then we had more than 7 million visitors. The fair had reached the limits of its capacity, and security had become a problem. In the years following, I stopped advertising it, and focused on promoting the city’s cultural highlights. And attendance at the Oktoberfest began to fall. Then the arrival of the internet gave the fair a new impetus – and we now have to cope with 7 million visitors every year. But then we don’t have to invest any money in extra advertising for the fair itself. It is what we in the trade call a “self-supplier”. Instead, we now have a more traditional form of the festival, the Oide Wiesn, as well. This section is a sort of refuge for visitors, giving them an idea of what it was like 50 or 100 years ago. The important thing is to maintain the right balance between the show of local pride and the cosmopolitan party. – And with the proper approach, it can be done.
After you obtained your doctoral degree in 1980, you taught for a while at LMU. How did the students at that time differ from their counterparts today?
There were fewer of them around. If you ask today‘s students about their hopes, dreams, visions, their responses are far more pragmatic. The 1968 generation was altogether different. Some of them were madcap revolutionaries. At that time only 10% of young people went to university. Nowadays the figure is 40 or 50%. The group as a whole was smaller and its internal dynamics was different. These days, everyone worries about the next practical.
But today’s students are not the reason why you are now concentrating on politics?
No, it’s not the students (laughs)! I may still decide to continue teaching. My political responsibilities took shape after I had been offered the teaching job.
How have your student years in the late 1960s influenced your attitudes to politics?
I came here from the provinces, straight from convent school in Passau. When I arrived, I was shocked to find that the University was not regimented like a school – as it is now. We had far more freedom in those days. You could decide whether to take this course or that. You only had to make sure you took enough courses to get your semester certificate – there were no exams at the end of the semester. It was much easier for us and I have never had so much freedom since. Then there were the social changes that were underway. And at one point it became impossible to study, because everybody was involved in discussions. Lectures were disrupted and professors were abused and assaulted. The leading agitator was Brigitte Mohnhaupt, who was still a student then (editor’s note: and later joined the Rote Armee Fraktion). I had nothing to do with that sort of radicalism; it was too dogmatic for me. I tried to find my own bearings, and I discovered English Liberalism and the importance of freedom of thought. That’s where I found my political home.
Politician, university teacher, tourism director, mother, Olympia hostess, local reporter, Chief of Staff at the Trade Fair Authority, Member of the Federal Order of Merit – obviously, chilling out is not for you?
Actually, I live a chilled life – thanks be! (laughs). The job as Head of Tourism in Munich came to my attention when I was still at LMU, because I attended a lecture there given by the person who held the post at the time. My alma mater planted the idea in my head: That would be just the thing for me. Every time I pass the Main Building, I recall that moment. And the umbilical cord connecting me to LMU has never been cut. I have often invited LMU professors to become official ambassadors for the city, in the hope that they might attract conferences to Munich.
Is there any chance that we will be able to welcome you as a teacher at LMU sometime?
I don’t know. It would depend on the subject, on what was expected of me. For 30 years now, I have been wearing my tourism hat, not flaunting my badge as a communication expert.
Born in Passau in 1947 in Passau, Gabriele Weishäupl studied Communication Science, Political Science and Bavarian History at LMU from 1966 to 1970. After earning her doctorate in 1980, she taught Communication Science at LMU for four years. In 1985, she became Director of the Munich Tourist Office, a post she held for 27 years. (Last month she was elected to the Bavarian State Parliament on the FDP ticket.)