Oktoberfest Beer and Blood: Interview with series director Hannu Salonen

Oktoberfest Beer and Blood - Photo Courtesy of Stephan Pick/Lauren Mennuti from Impact24 PR
Oktoberfest Beer and Blood - Photo Courtesy of Stephan Pick/Lauren Mennuti from Impact24 PR /

We chatted with Oktoberfest Beer and Blood director Hannu Salonen about his bold, provocative, and thrilling new series, releasing on Netflix Oct. 1!

As we dive headfirst into fall, Netflix is gearing up to release another German series that is sure to enthrall audiences across the globe. Oktoberfest Beer and Blood is a captivating historical retelling of the bloody events in the famous German celebration’s early years.

I had the chance to chat with the series director Hannu Salonen (Arctic Circle) via an email interview. I also watched the first few episodes of the series, and I think audiences will enjoy it!

Note: There are some very mild spoilers ahead for the show.

Before diving into the interview, let me tell you a little about the series. Co-written by Ronny Schalk of Dark fame, Oktoberfest Beer and Blood centers around Curt Prank, a show master and brewer who wants to change Munich traditions. Beer becomes a mediator between all of the characters as they fight for power. Family battles, secrets, and power struggles make it evident that there is no beer without the cost of blood.

Not only is Oktoberfest Beer and Blood a visually stunning period piece, but it has a lot of surprising comedic moments, heart, romance, and shocking violence. Who knew beer would be so dramatic?

Show Snob: Oktoberfest is such a renowned festival nowadays, we have a theme park here, not sure if you’ve heard of it, Busch Gardens — which promotes Anheuser-Busch — where it’s one of the themes in a section of the park. But I’ve never known much about its history despite its enduring popularity. What sparked the idea to explore Oktoberfest’s evolution, and what made you think it would serve as a great crime drama?

Hannu Salonen: Besides German engineering art, Oktoberfest is one of the best known German brands globally and the largest folk fest on earth. But even here, people are not familiar with the origins of Oktoberfest. It wasn’t always about those huge tents for 10,000 people. It was quite the opposite. It was more of a bunch of wooden huts with some farmers showing off their cows and bulls along with a horse race.

We show the transition from one state into another: a man named Georg Lang came to town and changed everything about Oktoberfest. He was called “Crocodile Georg,” because he wore boots made out of crocodile leather. It was practically impossible for an outsider to operate business-wise during Oktoberfest, but he managed to pull through. In 1898, he built the first huge tent for 6,000 people.

He was also a show business guy and established the idea with the big band, whereas before his era, only some lonesome piano men and fiddlers had been playing in the huts. Additionally, he invented THE drinking song called “Prosit auf die Gemütlichkeit” (“Cheers to the coziness”). Obviously, Georg Lang served us as a kind of a prototype in this social Darwinist game where the survival of the strongest prevails.

It’s interesting to me because it feels like even today there’s a type of a hush about this guy – he was and stayed a stranger. He was like a knife in the flesh of the mighty ones of Munich at that time and scarcely anybody knows this backstory. One of my producers who originates from Munich dug out the character during his search for intriguing aspects about Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest Beer and Blood
Director Hannu Salonen behind the scenes of Netflix series Oktoberfest Beer and Blood – Courtesy of Lauren Mennuti from Impact24 PR /

Show Snob: Watching Oktoberfest Beer and Blood, I was reminded of some of the other big crime dramas like Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos. Did any of those series serve as an inspiration for the show?

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HS: I gain inspiration from series that adventure into the true depths of its characters and lets them dive into potentially dark and murky waters of missing dignity, where moral and ethics share a certain biblical or at least a mythical dimension in terms of its universality.

So in this genre, you quickly end up with the kind of visual language and approach that relates to that “Biblicality”. It’s about very archaic features of the human condition – a touch of Shakespeare always resonates underneath. I didn’t seek to take after any given show, least of all a masterpiece like The Sopranos.

Show Snob: Speaking of, Curt Prank is a really layered, complicated man at the forefront of this show, what were your goals when creating his character?

HS: The process wasn’t black and white. The complexity of life and morals were always bound to stay in the foreground and it was essential to show the inner contradictions of each character. Each of them will become flawed, most of them are stained with blood in the course of the show, at least in terms of ethics.

In the case of Prank, I really wanted to characterize a self-made man with an extremely poor background and a childhood as an orphan without a home. A man who has faced an uphill battle, but managed to entirely become someone else. For me, Prank is like a king of entertainment, a pop star of his time. But it was always about the engine inside of him, the motor – what does this man actually want to compensate?

Of course, he’s a “the end justifies the means” type of guy, but he certainly just wants to be a good father and an accepted and beloved member of the establishment. It’s tragic that he probably never will achieve that status by not having the right pedigree.

Oktoberfest Beer and Blood
Oktoberfest Beer and Blood – Photo Courtesy of Dusan Martincek/Lauren Mennuti from Impact24 PR /

Show Snob: I was surprised by how many genuinely humorous moments there were in the series, did you guys create the series with the intention of blending genres?

HS: I see myself as a big child in a sandbox playing with my characters. The sandbox is the setting, in our case, Oktoberfest. The shovel is perhaps the molding device, it defines the style and the genre. I just love having different shovels. I make them go together although they differ in size, color and form.

Humor and irony are, to a certain extent, essential to the whole series. I wanted to be free and stay childish about the fact that it’s a period piece. Lots of times the period stuff tends just to be awestruck by history or the setting alone not waging into the dimension of being courageous enough to mold that world according to your needs. I didn’t want to make a documentary, it wasn’t about observing the events from a distance. The opposite was my goal – to dive into the middle of the whole mess. I wanted the audience to really feel it, not just be casual observers.

Humor is the funny thing here. This isn’t an easy subject in Germany. I originate from Finland which culturally has a very dark, kind of low-profile and very ironic sense of humor. Self-irony is not really a very German character trait. Nobody understood my jokes when I first came here, but my friends here are totally different though, modern, self-reflecting people with tons of humor.

I find it kind of funny when this murky character Glogauer gets the beer tap struck straight into his leg at the end of episode one. The blood starts pouring from the tap and he struggles to turn it off. That scene was cut to a bare minimum for broadcast. I hope we get more confident with what we show on TV because in the tests the audience loved it.

Show Snob: Could you foresee Oktoberfest Beer and Blood running for several seasons?

HS: There’s definitely a bunch of intriguing stuff still to be told, but sometimes there are moments where things tend to repeat themselves and the conflict ceases to vary.

As far as I’ve understood, the fourth season of Ozark will be the last. I love Ozark but I think it’s reasonable to bring it to a grand end instead of repeating the same conflicts manifesting similar predicaments. Head writer Ronny Schalk, DP Felix Cramer, and I would love to keep having other adventures and accept new challenges.

Oktoberfest Beer and Blood
Director Hannu Salonen behind the scenes of Netflix series Oktoberfest Beer and Blood – Courtesy of Lauren Mennuti from Impact24 PR /

Show Snob: Do you think there might be a difference in the way American audiences respond to Oktoberfest Beer and Blood versus German audiences?

HS: I think this might be the case, even in Germany since the country is extremely heterogeneous. The North is very different from the South. The Bavarians will see the show with different eyes. Some people that hate the folk festival Oktoberfest might not even take a peek because they despise the beer drinking and bad behaving of today.

But, of course, the show isn’t about that – it’s really about much bigger things that might be considered as universal. That’s why the series might then again be perceived in a quite similar way in America as in Europe despite the cultural differences. The difference is that to the Bavarians it’s the holy cow here.

I’ve always said I’ll either be made an honorary citizen of the free state of Bavaria or I’ll be expelled. But seriously, I could imagine Oktoberfest Beer and Blood being quite accessible to American audiences. Ultimately, it’s a Bavarian western.

Show Snob: Was there anything you guys wanted to have in the series you were unable to do because of budgetary constraints?

HS: A whole bunch of things! If I started to specify them, it’d take days. It’s always about the thin line between storytelling and production value. Neither one must suffer whatever financial constraints you might have. There’s just no excuse, you have to fulfill both.

It’ll always mean struggle but that’s what I like about it: you stay creative in the search for optimal solutions. The silver lining is that struggle forces you to be innovative.

Show Snob: What are you most excited for people to see and what do you hope viewers take away from the show?

HS: I am very thrilled to see if large audiences embrace such a radical approach to a period piece, which, for me, was the only proper way to approach the series. How can you make a show about a character like Prank without having his energy level? I want to be fearless. If you have fear you just don’t get there.

I could imagine that some people might reflect upon our story in terms of what it means to a society when morals and ethics eradicate. What it means if you selfishly just pursue your own benefits. We see that the characters have in some way stepped over to the dark side.

There’ll always be an excuse for doing the wrong thing. It’d be great if Oktoberfest Beer and Blood manages to provide a remedy for a plain but difficult task: doing the right thing.

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Are you planning to watch Oktoberfest Beer and Blood when it debuts on Netflix next month? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Oktoberfest Beer and Blood will premiere on Netflix on Oct. 1.