The German series Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood is based on the internationally acclaimed Oktoberfest and has just landed at Netflix. Hannu Salonon (director of the series) was kind enough to talk to us about the project as well as the wider topic of Netflix.
Below, we’ll talk about what you can expect from the series, how big the production was, and what Hannu Salonon has been watching recently on Netflix.
Hannu Salonon was a part of many large German projects, including Murder by the Lake (Artic Circle) and Murder by the Lake.
WoN: Could you tell us about Oktoberfest Beer & Blood? It is unique. What can you do to compare it with?
The show is based on a guy from northern Germany named Curt Prank, who’s based on a real person named Georg Lang (aka “Crocodile Georg”), coming to the South with the dream of building a huge tent for 6000 people on Oktoberfest. It’s important to know that until he arrived, the whole festival consisted more or less of a bunch of wooden huts with some farmers showing off their animals and kids having fun on a simple carousel. A businessman could not operate legally on Oktoberfest, and beer from other countries was prohibited. Georg Lang, the real Georg Lang was able to accomplish this feat. He built the world's first large tent in 1898 and made Oktoberfest a reality.
Our show features Georg Lang as Curt Prank. He is an outsider who lives in Berlin and works for a bordello-owner. Oktoberfest was more like a backlot festival before Prank arrived. Prank is determined to make all of this change and his vision for the future is eye-opening. He’s an entertainer and a show master – he wants the GRAND thing! Like George Lang, Prank creates the idea for the big band. He also invented the Oktoberfest's most well-known drinking song. In comparison, the small beer huts had mostly a lonesome guy fiddling on a small stage, in some cases together with a drunken piano man, while people got wasted having openly sexual intercourse. Because their wages were limited to the tips they received, poor waitresses could be sold off as prostitutes. It was certainly a harsh world – which we also portray in the show.
Beer & Blood's story is so unique that traditional categories such as period pieces or historical drama are inadequate to describe the content and style. Beer & Blood is almost a physical experience. I wanted to dive deep into the real thing – it should be dirty, bloody, and violent, but also emotionally compelling and character-driven. It’s basically an epic journey through a mythically supercharged world, in which basic virtues are constantly being antagonized by the flaws, even inside the mind and the soul of each character. The show explores lost dignity and moral decay combined with endless greed and hunger for power, defining the rules of the game “survival of the fittest”.
When we look at the new century's political and economic developments, one historical detail stands out. Around 1895, Munich had still 150 breweries. By 1905, there were 10. They were all large, and the few that remained were small. In ten years the entire way of living had changed. The tradition was destroyed and replaced with an industry that resembled a syndicate. This was real, truly existing Darwinism – and one of the core aspects of the whole show.
WoN: Oktoberfest looks like a huge production – how long did it take the series from get to pen to paper and then to the end of filming?
Yes, it was a very big production, but the thing is, money isn’t everything. It doesn’t buy you a story, it doesn’t really buy you love. Although a small budget may present some challenges, I think you can still make a great story with it.
The project was initiated by me in 2018 while I was working on my Nordic TV show Arctic Circle, Helsinki. Although I was initially skeptical of the location, I quickly realized that it was the right choice. This was precisely what I wanted to do with my filmmaking. It’s about things bigger than life. It transcends the local. it’s global and yet it’s still a very unique Bavarian thing. It’s murky in a sense, but it has some light moments and dark humor – Beer & Blood describes very well the core of the story. Curt Prank was a great character!
WoN: From the trailer, we can tell that Oktoberfest goes into great detail with its set and costumes, but just how true-to-history is the story as it’s portrayed?
We did extensive research on the period for the costume and setting. The show's setting and costumes are very true to the reality we now know 120 years after it was created. The rest of the show, aside from Georg Lang's story, is largely fictional. It was essential we waged further on into the fiction to get this “biblical” dimension to the whole story. It was not my intention to create a documentary. It wasn’t about observing the events from a distance but enabling the audience to be real participants instead of just casual observers.
WoN: People have been celebrating Oktoberfest around the globe in recent years. Why is this so special?
People want to get back to basics. In the world of social media and instant communication, it’s certainly appealing to return to the ‘real word’ once in a while. Oktoberfest is a place where you can meet new people and taste, feel, and smell the best of all things. It’s human beings getting together. Many people miss this greatly even though they were not involved in Covid-19. Oktoberfest is really about the haptics – make the people feel the party in their guts. This was my primary goal in regards to the overall look and feel.
WoN: Dark has been a global phenomenon and other international titles continue to do well outside of their original language – what do you attribute this to and does the way you create knowing you’re reaching a bigger global audience with different languages and cultures?
That’s a really interesting question; it’s a relatively new phenomenon that we all keep studying and it’s great that American audiences embrace shows like Dark (and hopefully Beer & Blood!). It has been a great improvement in the level and quality of storytelling. We’re getting there, thanks to streaming, in our case Netflix. It is impossible to stop the revolution that has begun. It’s a true shift in the paradigm of classic TV.
WoN: How will you channel the Oktoberfest spirit this year?
Since no real Oktoberfest takes place this year (due to Covid-19), the only thing remaining is to watch our show – but I mean this in a positive way. Our show is more than a folk festival. This series explores Oktoberfest, and shows you the true dimension of it. It is not a substitute for the actual feeling, however, we try to get it in a higher gear so that you can feel it.
WoN: What is your current Netflix viewing? Do you have any recommendations for us?
Ozark is my favorite show and I am looking forward to the final season. Mindhunter was also amazing. Cameron Britton's portrayal of Ed Kemper was a great example of cool and distant stylistics. I don’t have to mention Dark. I’m a big fan. These projects aren’t that new, but that’s the great thing about Netflix. It’s always there, nonlinear, as you want to have it. Hidden Figures was the last Netflix movie that I saw. My wife and I just loved it – great storytelling, great acting. It is something I look forward to watching on Netflix.
Hannu Salonen was kind enough to answer our questions. Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood streaming worldwide on Netflix from October 1, 2020.