We should have been thrilled, but we were feeling a little the worse for wear, I guess. It’s hard to work up much of an appetite for beer first thing in the morning, and they don’t serve breakfast in the beerhalls, even though they do open at nine. Instead, we all ordered the obligatory round of beer and the world-famous Oktoberfest Wiesn-Hendl, or half a roast chicken. (Literally “half” a chicken: Each bird was cut vertically, straight down the middle, as if by a rotary saw.) According to Oktoberfest lore, every year they serve 500,000 chickens and more than 100 whole roast oxen. But we didn’t attempt the oxen, fearing what they might bring to our table.
By noon, though, things finally started picking up. At 11:00, the band struck up the Volkmusik, and the “stars” began crawling out of the woodworks. Rodney Dangerfield sat at the table to our right, and Fabio, with the torso that graced so many check-out counter romance novels, sat at the table on our left – and if not them, then their Doppelgängers. Our waitress even bore a striking resemblance to Kathy Griffith – and was about as charming.
It was exactly as I hope Oktoberfest would be, all Bier and Brezln, Dirndl-clad women and dapper men with extravagant Schnurrbarts (mustaches). There were even a few things I didn’t expect, such as all the little children in Lederhosen, dancing on the tables, and drinking what appeared to be bottles of beer! (Upon closer inspection they proved to be bottles of lemonade.)Before long, every seat in the house was filled, and we were even forced to share our table with a quartet of young people from Oberbayern. I thought the boys might object, but I guess once they saw the buxom blonde Bavarian beauties they would be sharing a table with, they moved over – but not too far over.
We actually had a great time spending the afternoon with the locals. They taught us Bavarian drinking songs, and we got them to join us in a round of “Country Roads.” (I swear, there is just something about Germans and that song!) With every new round of beer, we joined our Maßkrugs together with a loud “Prost!” and cemented our inter-cultural friendship. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to practice my German … at least until the topic turned to politics and the baby-faced Bavarian next to me turned out to be a raging racist. Our conversation went downhill something like this (translated from the German):
Me: What a wonderful day! Isn’t this just wonderful?
Him: Yes, but it’s such a shame. We Germans aren’t allowed to be proud of our heritage.
Me: What do you mean? What could be more German than Oktoberfest, and look around you at how happy and proud all these people are.
Him: You don’t understand. You Americans are allowed to be proud even through you go around the world starting wars and causing all kinds of trouble. But we Germans – we are never allowed to be proud to be German. And do you know why? It’s because we are not “rein.” Do you know what “rein” means?
Me: Yes, I know this word. (It means “clean” or “pure” in English.)
Him: The people living in Germany today – they are not proud to be German because they are not German. They are Turkish or African or Polish, and they are proud to be Turks and Africans and Poles. And so we Germans cannot be proud because we are not “rein.”
The above really requires no comment. Its uncomfortable historic connotations are self-evident. But let me just say that I think such attitudes are really rare here in Germany. This was the only time in my entire year here that I have heard anything remotely like this. However, as a Southern with my own historical cultural baggage, I know that even in societies where racist attitudes have been heavily “reformed” over generations, there are always a few holdouts. At least that’s what I hope this was – a one-off, a throwback—because I’ve really grown to like the Bavarians, and I hate to think of them as holding such poisonous views just as I hate to think of Southerners having them.
Needless to say, after this vitriolic explosion, I kinda lost my taste for Bavarian culture. And anyway, it was getting late. We all had to be on our trains back home by 5:00 pm. So I rounded up my fellow soldiers, and began leading the long march homeward. Unfortunately, we had a little incident on the way back. Without going into details, Dan #2 accidentally broke the sunglasses of a young German fellow who got a little too close during the crush to get out of the Theresienwiese. The offended party and his rather large buddy threatened to cause some serious trouble for us, but by employing deft diplomacy and my hard-won German skills I managed bring about a temporary détente – at least long enough for us to make a break for it and high-tail it onto our various trains.
And so the sun set on our second and final day at Oktoberfest. I left the Paul, Jeff and the Dan’s at the Hauptbahnhof – they were headed to for another week in Prague – and I headed back home, alone. Unlike on recent train trips, there were no revelers headed in the direction of Würzburg, so I could lean back in my seat and finally get some much-needed sleep. I’m glad I went to Oktoberfest. I had a great time hanging out with my friends again, and partying like it was going out of style. But now that I’ve scratched that off my “life list,” I think I agree with my German friends. I don’t feel the need to go back. It was a little too much German culture.
For the others’ version of events, see Jeff’s pictures here and Dan #2’s pictures here.