Oktoberfest in Munich. Kim and I figured, “we’re so close to Germany – we’ve just gotta do it, don’t we?” We felt out a couple of ex-pat friends. They were game. We booked our flight.
Overall impression? A lot of people, a lot of food, a lot of beer, a lot of inebriation.
Amanda, Jon, Kim and I flew in on Friday night, then took the S-bahn (adorned with the nicest graffiti) to Central Station. Kim and I were staying just a few blocks from both the train station and the festival grounds. We couldn’t wait to partake in appropriate food and beverage, so we headed directly to the hotel restaurant for beer and Wiener Schnitzel.
The next morning at nine we braved the main event. The grounds were already packed, the beer halls turning people away. We met up with Amanda and Jon at an outdoor beer garden where they were busy downing steins with a group of complete strangers. There were dice games. There was singing. Shouts of “Prost!” at every table. After attempting to ingest a stein each (and failing, pawning our remainders off on Jon), Kim and I left the beer garden to walk the grounds and eat bratwurst.
Wandering through the typical carnival atmosphere, we discovered the best thing about Oktoberfest. The outfits! Traditional Bavarian ‘tracht’. Short lederhosen and long lederhosen, new lederhosen and 3rd generation lederhosen, fancy lederhosen and simple lederhosen, giant lederhosen and tiny lederhosen. And somehow, everyone’s butt looks great in these things. Then of course there are the dirndls. Colorful and drab, ornate and simple, conservative and not so much. Photographing outfits became my obsession.
Later we met back up with Amanda and Jon and their beer garden companions, who were no longer strangers. They were Pedro from Portugal, Alexis and Catherine from Brooklyn and Carlos from my own hometown Ft. Lauderdale of all places. These new pals were headed to a beer hall where they had reservations. We tagged along hoping to weasel our way in somehow.
Kim bought two tickets off a scalper of sorts, which still left us two short. Someone said, “just say you have a reservation and drop any German name!” In the long and jostling line Jon and I – both without tickets – ended up far behind the others.
When Jon reached the security guard and was stopped, he announced with great authority, “I have a reservation. Becker.” The guard looked over his list, then waved Jon and I through. Everyone was very impressed with Jon. But soon thereafter we spotted a young guard sneaking a stream of bill-palming people through a side door; apparently there are a number of ways to skin the cat (amusingly I later saw the same guard get dressed down by his superior.)
It was incredibly crowded, loud, smoky, and smelly in the beer hall. After about half a radler (beer mixed with sprite – we had to cut the alcohol content somehow) and a roast chicken, Kim and I fled; she was getting claustrophobic and I was getting sick of drunk Pedro stealing my hat.
We wandered to a hill at the edge of the grounds where revelers go to ‘rest’ (read: pass out.) We surveyed the scene. Things were definitely headed south. People were being carted away on gurneys. We layed around in the grass for awhile, then sought out some fortifying carnival food before returning to our hotel to recuperate. The party was by no means confined to the designated area – one guy was passed out in the street right in front of our hotel.
Later that night we walked to the historic city center for a civilized Bavarian meal (schnitzel, roast pork, spaetzle.) Along the way we saw lots of tracht-clad Germans cycling along their fast-growing bike lane network. They seem to be embracing this transportation trend as well and as quickly as they are renewable energy.
On Sunday we wandered back downtown, sat in a park, had a beer and pretzel lunch in Marienplatz. In the late afternoon we climbed St. Peter’s tower, then returned to the festival grounds for a last hoorah – bratwurst (the second best thing about Oktoberfest) and one more stein. Kim declared Oktoberfest a worthy spectacle, though she suspects it falls into the ‘once is enough’ category. While I’m in total agreement, I do owe my new found love of lederhosen to the experience…