Woke up bright and early Friday morning to meet Amber. We connected without any problem and then both made our way to the U.S. consulate so she could apply for a replacement passport. After a long bit in line we connected with our ride, a cool carpool service that they have in Germany. Cost us 20 Euro instead of the 100 a train ticket would have. The driver was a German headhunter from the area on his way to party with some friends. The other guy in the car worked with a local financial firm. The drive across the countryside was beautiful and took about 5 hours. When we eventually arrived in Munich we found our hostel quickly, got checked in, tossed our bags down, made our beds, and headed off to find food and explore a bit.
*side note* Initially the plan was to spend the night at Oktoberfest, then wake up in the morning and explore the city and the countryside before I headed to Prague and Amber headed back to Cologne. The reality was we discovered room rates were normal the next night (first night was ridiculous) and both extended our stay before leaving late Sunday night.
The first stop was a supermarket for a bit of water. From there we wandered our way toward what we thought was Oktoberfest. Luckily, the closer we got the bigger the crowd and it became easy to find our way. After winding over railroad tracks, across bridges, through small tents, and between buildings we eventually made it to the fairgrounds.
It’s a pretty incredible sight. The grounds are massive and I cannot even begin to imagine how many people were there. You hear talk of tents…which they are, but they don’t look it. With large wooden facades they are buildings in their own right. Each one able to hold thousands of people. It’s not just tents though… there are amusement rides (everything from a roller coaster to bumper cars), food, souvenir shops…take your pick! The smell of beer, people, and most of all German food is heavy in the air. I was really surprised by the number of people in traditional garb! Despite a ton of tourists, there were still lots of locals dressed in the dresses and leiderhosen for which Oktoberfest is famous. I’m not sure if it was the population, the outfits or the beer, but I was really surprised and impressed by just how attractive most of the girls were in their outfits=) The closest thing I’ve seen is the Renaissance Festival with all the corsets and leather etc…Oktoberfest had more flattering outfits, more cleavage, and better looking girls by far!
Anyhow, we wandered the grounds for a while and eventually found a tent that was not closed off. What I didn’t know is that Oktoberfest actually starts about 8 in the morning and shuts down at about 11 at night. The tents themselves are open for a good part of the morning, then close their doors to newcomers as they fill up. This means that to get in a tent you have to start your day sometime before 12. Luckily for latecomers there are tons of beer gardens attached to the tents which are almost as good. In addition to being unable to get into the tents, we walked around and didn’t see any available seats. It’s a hell of a sight. The tents are huge and typically have a raised area in the middle that has a full band playing. As far as I could tell they only play about 7 songs but the atmosphere and songs are such that you don’t mind in the least. Given that most of the songs are drinking songs and the steins are a liter each it works out perfectly. We made our way to the beer garden at the Paulner *SP* tent and found a small space we could both squeeze into.
The guy sitting across from us was a German from one of the tourist islands in the north and spoke a little English. We ordered our first stein of the night and set to getting acquainted. The whole thing is just a big area full of picnic tables end-to-end in long rows. Everyone is mashed in together, and you just fit as many people at the tables as you can. *You wont get served if you are standing*. The trick to surviving is to eat constantly while you drink, which is made all the easier by the food. It’s incredible, from the best rotisserie chicken I’ve ever had to stuff I’ve never even heard of.
As we sat there and got to know Hanz he took a liking to us and told us how I reminded him of his son who was 26. He had traveled around a good bit and owned an Irish Pub in the north. Apparently he also had a line of tourist souvenirs he was working on. He had a few of the slightly defective samples which he gave to us. Each was a small bottle of powerful schnaps with a figure on the top. One for Oktoberfest was a beer maid with ample cleavage and hands full of steins. The other was a big soccer ball – presumably for the world cup. As the night progressed we ended up sandwiched by a group of German girls who had studied in the US…All had excellent English. There was also a middle-aged Italian couple. Hanz would explain some of the toasts, talked about Bavarian culture, Germany, and other random things while we all drank and listened to the music.
To accompany my 2nd stein I ordered a half chicken. It was incredible. A mix between rotisserie and seared, it was moist but crispy, chicken but well seasoned. I plowed through it while Amber ordered some veggie-friendly thing I couldn’t pronounce. I guess the best way to describe it is as the original mac and cheese….but it was something totally different and a lot better. As the night progressed, I talked a bit to the Italian couple who spoke a little English, trying Spanish words when English failed us. They came from the northern part of Italy and as a result spoke Italian and German fluently. Both were incredibly friendly and warm and eventually ended up ordering a big table platter and a large pretzel. It had sausage links, drumsticks, a full thing of radishes, pretzel sticks, cheeses, etc. The whole thing was piled on a cutting board about 3 feet long and about 8 inches wide. They insisted we help them with it and we all spent the rest of the evening drinking and eating. Around 11 pm things started closing down. I looked at the damage I’d done…about 3 steins…and we started the walk back to the hostel.
The fantastic thing about Oktoberfest was that almost everyone seemed happy. Just about everyone we met and/or saw were in happy, friendly, and jovial moods…that and just about everyone was absolutely trashed which made the walk home pretty hysterical. As the night was still early, Amber and I decided to wrap around into the inner city a bit and check out the Cathedral and some of the stuff between the fairgrounds and our hostel. At night, gently lit by the moon, with lights cast to accentuate it, the Cathedral located was an incredible nighttime sight. The air was crisp and clear. It was an almost surreal walk home.
Once back to the hostel we relaxed a little bit before calling it a night. So it was that day one ended. But, that was just the start!
Going to go try and find some food, then get a bit more hammered out. So for now – bye bye!