BERLIN // The world-famous Munich Oktoberfest opened in glorious sunshine at the weekend and Charles Reinbold, 60, who runs the festival's lost property office, is bracing himself for another turbulent two weeks.
After 19 years on the job, he has seen it all. The thousands of items left behind each year, which have included false teeth, dachshunds, prosthetic legs, wheelchairs, rabbits, trumpets and a Superman costume, testify to the intensity with which people embrace this celebration of Bavarian culture.
In 2010, 4,500 objects were handed in by visitors or cleaners mopping up after closing time, including 1,290 jackets, 472 wallets and purses, 366 sets of keys and 450 mobile phones.
"It's totally stressful, but it's still fun," Mr Reinbold said. "We get one or two dentures handed in a year. It used to be more. I think the adhesive must have got better so the false teeth don't fall out when people are chewing their ox meat."
"The first year I did this, we got five or six dentures. An elderly man who had lost his came and tried them all on. A few women in the office went a bit green at the sight of that. Unfortunately, none of them was his."
The list of lost items is so eclectic that the city of Munich, which organises the event, makes a point of publishing it each year, along with other statistics revealing the scale of the party that attracts visitors from around the world.
In 2010, the 200th anniversary of the festival, 6.4 million people flocked to the 14 giant tents and the adjoining funfair near the centre of Munich, and drank a record seven million litres of beer as well as devouring 505,901 portions of fried chicken, 119,302 pairs of sausages, 119 oxen and 69,293 pork knuckles.
It takes a sense of humour to cope with the hundreds of inebriated people a day, over a thousand at weekends, who crowd his office desperately seeking their smart phones or plane tickets back to Australia.
"We get a lot of Italian visitors during the second weekend of the Oktoberfest and when one of them loses something, you get four of them showing up at the counter all talking. And Italians can speak quite loudly, especially when they've had a few," said Mr Reinbold. "But I get by with my Bavarian Italian," he added.
Born and bred in Munich, Mr Reinbold speaks German with a heavy Bavarian accent.
So many wedding rings get handed in that he has a standard response when a man comes looking for his: "Did you lose your wife too?"
The Oktoberfest - which always takes begins in September - was first held in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Its opening on Saturday was marked, as usual, by a traditional parade of oompah bands and Bavarian folk groups dressed in dirndls (traditional German women's dress) and lederhosen and giving startling displays of rhythmic whipping and thigh-slapping.
Unsurprisingly, they flock to the beer tents after the parade, which explains why Mr Reinbold receives an array of abandoned musical instruments a few hours later.
"They have a few too many and when they get home they say, damn, where's my trumpet?" he said. "Last year we got a tuba."
But despite his years of experience, some objects still baffle Mr Reinbold. Like when a lady came asking if her diving goggles and snorkel had been found. "I asked her if she's a beer tank cleaner."
The items that do not get claimed are auctioned off after six months, and the proceeds are donated to charity. "We once got a false leg which no one ever came for, no idea why. Maybe one's sense of balance improves after a few hours celebrating round here."
The festival was opened at midday on Saturday and will run until October 3. Despite all the entertaining moments, and the grateful bear hugs from New Zealanders reunited with their passports, Mr Reinbold will not exactly be sorry to retire.
"It can get a bit much at nine or ten at night when people come in smelling of booze. You have to learn how to deal with them in that state, explain everything three times and if that doesn't work, tell them to come back the next day. Sometimes we need to call security to help them leave the building."
Mr Reinbold has two more Oktoberfests to go. After that, he may get a chance to partake of the delights of the festival himself. "I've only been once since I began working here," he said.