Oktoberfest – German Ingenuity at Work
Oktoberfest glows far below the grand church steeple, its carnival secondary only to beer.
For more blotto pictures of Germany, click here.
“Oh man, I love Germany,” Matt tells me. The trains are flowing like beer at Oktoberfest: quickly, freely, and with a regularity that’s both beautiful for its efficiency and scary for its monumental size. Matt eyes are strafing the platforms, shooting back and forth, wide eyed and fascinated.
“German ingenuity at work,” I say.
“German efficiency at work,” Matt corrects. It’s the same thing, in my mind. Ingenuity and efficiency in this case go hand in hand. One without the other would make both lose their luster. Together, however, they make even the most mundane discovery seem incredible.
I hear a freight train slowing to a stop at the end of Munich’s main hauptbahnhof (train station). I haven’t been watching the trains. I’ve been watching the people. It’s kind of hard not to. The station is thrumming with footsteps. Heeled shoes clatter and clack, echoing across the massive space. Everyone is moving at New York speeds, only with smiles and beer goggles on many of their faces. It is, after all Oktoberfest.
A trio of girls dressed in the traditional beer wench garb wander by beneath us and I try to snap a picture. My hands are shaking. Despite being inside the station, it’s all connected to the outdoors and it’s freezing. Matt and I spent several hours wandering outside in the rain and I’m soaked through and shivering. He wanted to find the DeutcheBahn museum. We found the DeutcheBahn regional headquarters, but no museum. We ended up right back here at the station, huddled around cups of coffee on the balcony.
Three hours later, we’re sitting in the Augistiner restaurant near Marienplatz, Munich’s city center. Unlike our first day in Munich taking in the sites, the tables out front are folded and hidden, the chairs gone, and the clientele hiding inside. I don’t blame them. Despite having ditched my soaked 1190 sweatshirt for my dry fleece jacket, I’m still cold.
With us for dinner are Florian, one of our prospective hosts from couchsurfing.com, and Krista, his Canadian guest. Damien and Marina, two of his other guests, had to catch a bus back to Lyon. Florian’s newest guests, an Austrian couple I haven’t met yet, have been at Oktoberfest since the early morning despite not getting in until 2 in the morning. That’s dedication.
Since being in Germany, finding water has been hard. It’s not just Germany, but Europe if I’m being honest. Everywhere we go, the restaurants serve beer, soda, and mineral water full of bubbles. I can ask for water no gas, but it’s just as cheap to buy beer, so I do. After all, why should I pay 3 Euros for 500 ML of water when I can pay the same for 500 ML of fine German beer?
It’s beer all around for us. Florian orders a variation on something called a radler. Radler is the German word for bicyclist and is a half and half mix of beer and lemon-lime soda. The purpose is to give nutrition while not getting a bicyclist too drunk for his ride through the Bavarian Alps. Florian orders the Russ, which uses weissbeer (wheat beer, generally called a hefeweisen in the US) instead of the normal pilsner. We all try a sip. The lemon-lime soda adds a sweetness that’s strange, but not bad.
Dinner, as always, is amazing. It’s been a strange shift from the vegetable heavy diet in Turkey and Greece to the meat and potatoes grind that Germany has sent our way, but it’s simply too delicious to resist. Our meal is accompanied by a white cabbage salad, reminiscent of a simple cole slaw.
“This is way better than cole slaw,” Matt responds when I make the comparison.
Our first time at the Augistiner, we ordered meatballs. They came dripping in the most deliciously spiced sauce, almost more jus than sauce. Tonight, we’re eating the most tender pork chops I’ve ever had, drizzled in a devilishly good gravy. This is merely beerhall food. I think I’d die from the quality of a fine restaurant in Germany.
Across the hall, a group who left Oktoberfest chant and cheer throughout their meal. There’s no music here. There doesn’t need to be. The din, the atmosphere, is more than enough. It rubs off quickly on me. I don’t have a felt hat or any of the gear. I look more like a hippie in my Nepalese jacket than I ever did living in Boulder. And yet I fit in.
It’s not raining anymore by the time we wander under that grand welcome sign. We head back to the same small building we were in last night. The lines at the big tents are even longer than they were without the rain. Everyone wants to be inside.
Though they’re called tents, it’s not the right word. Stephan, a guy we drank with last night, explained that they start setting them up in the middle of June, nailing planks in place, wiring lights and heaters. In the course of three months, the tents because these huge wooden buildings able to hold several thousand drunk revelers with no problem. Security waits at the doors and restricts the number of people that get. Even the small tents can hold several hundred.
The “tent” we went to last night, Florian tells me, is too small to even qualify as a tent. It holds only eighty people or so-and that’s if they squeeze in tight. There are 10 tables, each packed, but there’s just enough room for us when we get there. The walls are adorned with animal busts and paintings and the trim makes it feel like a cozy beer hall. Though it’s less raucous than the night before, the crew of dancers and singers replaced by a crew of dedicated drinkers, the atmosphere is much more up my alley than any of the big halls would be. After all, we can actually hear each other talk.
I order a large mug of weissbeer. It is, after all, my favorite. The gentleman sitting next to me, decked out in full on regalia including lederhosen and some of the warmest looking socks I’ve ever seen, leans towards me and smiles.
“Sorry, I don’t speak German,” I say as he reels off a long German sentence.
“You are American!” He’s surprised. “But you have been here before.”
“Yes. Last night was my first night at Oktoberfest.”
“Oh,” he looks a little confused. “I assumed you had been here previous years. Only real Bavarians or veterans get the big mugs of weissbeer.”
“It’s my favorite kind.” All my favorite beers back home are American brewed hefewiessens. It’s much harder to find a good import. Beer does, after all, go bad much faster than wine, especially when it’s unfiltered and not homogenized, as most German beers are.
“Yes,” he says. “It is the best beer. My name is Stephan.” Another Stephan.
“Ben,” I say, extending my hand. In an instant, he’s lost me in explaining the nuances of German beers. The Oktoberfest brews, brewed especially for the event, are higher in alcohol content, but go down like water, similar to an American domestic beer. Beyond that, I’m in over my head.
SIDE NOTE: I love beer. I really do. Not in mass quantities, but in small, controlled doses. I love ales, I love lagers, I love tripels, I love weissbier. I love beer or bier or however you want to spell it. The Oktoberfest mug supposedly holds 1 litre of bier, though Florian told me it’s more likely to be 850 ML. After all, that’s close enough. 1 litre of bier is nearing the qualification of mass quantities. I’d almost rather get five 200 ML glasses, each filled with a different kind of beer. But it’s Oktoberfest, not a beer tasting. When it comes to American beers, I know more than your average beer drinker. Most likely, this is because I’m rarely drunk or trashed and actually pay attention to the flavor instead of swilling the piss known as domestic beers. But her in Germany, I know shit. Even the slowest six year old could probably talk circles around me when it comes to beer. And you what? I’d love every minute of it.
Two beers, some intense discussion, and a pile of the most delicious sauerkraut I’ve ever had (along with some excellent sausages too), Matt and I are bouncing through the streets, grabbing our gear, and heading to the train. The glass I snatched is tucked inside the pocket of my jacket, my lone souvenir from Oktoberfest.
Two men compare leg hair in a contest as the ladies point and judge.
Munich is a fantastic city. It’s clean, easy to get around, beautiful, and filled with nice people. It’s liberal and has a great university and is home to Oktoberfest. I love Munich. I want to go back and live there, more than Istanbul, more than anywhere I’ve been so far.
The last thing Stephan told me before he left for the night was about this great city: “This-everything you see around you-the beer, the costumes, the food, the party-this is not Munich. This is not Bavaria. This is Oktoberfest. This is two weeks a year. Munich-Bavaria-she is more than just this. Remember that. This is amazing, but this is not Munich.”
I understood. I told him I did. But somewhere there’s a little part of me that wants to believe that this is Munich. After all, it’s one of the best times I’ve had.