November 26, 2007

Remainders: Oktoberfest, Pt. I

I few months back – October to be exact – I finally did what all of my German friends and colleague warned me not to do: I went to the Münchener Oktoberfest. My German school friends who went last year all vowed never to go again. My teacher warned me about the inevitable bar brawls, and a friend who lives in Munich actually witnessed one, broke it up, and handed the culprits over to the police – before vowing never to go again.

Still, I don’t think one can live in Bavaria for a year and resist the pull of such a world-famous event. Even far-flung friends of mine succumbed to its draw. Jesse timed his visit to coincide with it. Jeff, Dan #1 and Dan #2 came over from Boston for it. And Paul took the night train over from Prague. (I like to pretend they were all coming to Germany to see me, but I guess I know better.) Anyway, I figured with five strapping lads escorting me to the Theresienwiese, I would be all right. Little did anyone suspect that in the end it would be yours truly who saved the boys from angry mobs. But, I’ll get to that later.

Just getting there nearly proved too much of a challenge for us at first. We had decided to take the 4:00 am train to München – in order to beat the crowds, you see – only to find that we had booked a ride on the Oktoberfest Express. Pimply-faced youths in traditional Dirndls and Lederhosen seemed to have come to the train station straight from the diskos, and they brought the party with them. It was standing room only on our train, and everyone had a case or two of beer, which they emptied over the course of the 5-hour journey while singing folk tunes till they were hoarse. And to think, I brought along a pillow, so that I might catch a few Z’s! Too tired to join in the fun, Jesse, Jeff, Dan #1 and I stared at each other through puffy, sleep-encrusted eyes and cursed the energy of the young.

By the time we reached München, though, even we were raring to go. We met up with Paul and Dan #2 and followed the exodus of people from the train station to the fairgrounds. It was truly a migration of Biblical proportions, but we didn’t need a prophet to show us the way to the Promised Land.

However, the popularity of Oktoberfest is nearly its downfall. There are roller coasters, carnival rides, and games of chance, but the real attractions are the beerhalls, dozens of massive tents run by each of the major Munich breweries: Augustiner, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, etc. Each tent can seat thousands, but as we quickly discovered, they filled up within minutes of opening. We arrived at a quarter past nine and were turned away at every single door. Finally I managed to sweet talk our way into Ochsenbraterei – at last my German skills were useful for something! – but even though we were “in” we couldn’t get a table, and without a table you can’t get served.

Discouraged but not defeated, we moved on to “Oktoberfest Plan B” and headed across town to the original Hofbräuhaus. As I mentioned before, every day is like Oktoberfest at the Hofbräuhaus, with a full Oompah band, steaming Weißwürste, and never-ending rounds of Pilsner, Hefeweißbier and Dunkelweißbier. You could have fooled us that we weren’t at the “real” Oktoberfest – especially after the third or fourth Maß!

Later in the afternoon, we moved the party over to Chinesiches Pagoda in the Englisher Garten for giant pretzels and even more beer. I considered that I was doing my sex proud by matching the boys one-for-one with the five liters of beer we drank that day. Only later Jeff informed me that they hadn’t wanted me to feel like a lightweight, so they had been taking drinks from my glass whenever my back was turned. Everyone except Jesse, that is. Jesse was doing no team proud that day. But what happens at Oktoberfest, stays at Oktoberfest …

At about 6:00 pm we threw in the towel and took the train to Augsburg, where we had rented hotel rooms for the night. Oktoberfest is such a big tourist attraction – some 6.4 million people attended the two-week event this year – that every hotel room in München had been sold out for months, and we were forced to overnight some 100 km away. But we weren’t the only ones, the train to Augsburg was packed full-to-bursting with fellow Oktoberfest revelers.

So, we ended the day much the way we began it: positively swaying under the combined excitement of a couple thousand people. The second-class cabins became so overcrowded that the normally law-abiding Germans ignored the strict seating rules and moved the party into the first-class. The conductors gave up trying to chase us out. And this time, the boys and I were wide awake, partying with the best of them.

Next: Oktoberfest, Part II …

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