Oktoberfest… What More Can I Say?!

The title says it all.  What commentary can I possibly add to a post who’s pictures tell the entire story?!  Normally, I envision my readers hanging on to my every word and each carefully crafted pun (I said that I “envision” it… I know it doesn’t really happen) – but this time, I think I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  Of course, I do have to give some sort of framework around the pictures (hey, it is my blog, after all).

Crowds fill the streets during Oktoberfest 2013

You may have just read about Josh and Abby’s visit where we ate too much, indulged too much and just did… too much!  You know, the norm.  We were lucky enough to also have Dave and Jill drop in for part of their trip and join us again in Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest.  We were excited to get to the party – but before we could drink our first liter of beer in Munich, we needed to get there.  There is no better way to travel through Europe than the train – and when you have an overnight-train option, it’s a win.  You get your “hotel room” for the night included in the cost of transportation.  But travelers be forewarned – the Ritz… It.  Is.  Not!

We took up four of the six bunk beds in our tiny room – luckily our “neighbors” were normal and smelled fine
Plenty of headroom in the top bunk
I settled in nicely

I couldn’t figure out why Google Maps said that the capital city of the German state of Bavaria was only about 6 hours by car and nearly 11 hours by train.  We figured out the mystery when our train stopped in Verona for four hours – and they cut the air conditioning to conserve energy (I’m sweating just thinking about it).  Josh and I were wide awake when we pulled into Verona at 11:00pm, so we opted to hop off the train for a few minutes and inhale some fresh air.  Since we had plenty of time, we thought we’d go for a short walk.  Forty minutes later, the Arena di Verona appeared before us and light up the night’s sky.  We certainly didn’t envision being in the middle of Verona just after midnight, but all of a sudden… there we were.  In fact, we were so unprepared that we were wearing our pajamas and flip flops, with very little money and no cell phones on our person.  The fact that I couldn’t take a picture of us in our tank tops and shorts in front of the colosseum was depressing (I had the blog in mind) – but it was quite a fun adventure.  We certainly stuck out more than any normal American tourist possibly could – the place was packed with people as a concert had just let out.  We took a cab back to the train station and experienced a moment of panic when we discovered all the doors to the station had been locked with heavy chains and deadbolts (meanwhile, the girls were asleep on the train with no way to contact us).  We found the one open entrance and still had plenty of time to share some whisky with people from our train, as our feet dangled over the tracks.

The arena in Verona – I borrowed this image from a trip I took earlier this year.  We were walking around this main piazza in our pajamas

When we pulled into Munich the next morning, we were actually feeling quite refreshed despite a horrible night’s sleep.  We were blessed with an early check-in at the hotel, so we quickly showered and got ready for the day.  We ended up arriving in the Theresienwiese (the fairground where Oktoberfest is held) by a respectable 11:00am.  There have been a few things in my life that have completely overwhelmed me.  Seeing my bride walk down the aisle.  Witnessing the birth of my daughter.  And now I can add to that list… Oktoberfest.

Passing under the main gates for the first time in our lives
Each of the tents had their official wagon of barrels in front as part of the display

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair, held each year over a period of 16 days.  The fair is host to over six million visitors from around the world.  That’s like inviting every single person in the country of El Salvador to come stay in your city for two weeks!  A staggering seven million liters of beer are consumed during the festival.  Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot (beer brewed within the city limits of Munich and containing 6% alcohol) may be served at Oktoberfest.  There are only six brewers that meet this requirement and have the right to serve their beer.

Our first four liters of official Oktoberfest beer

How did this all get started, you say?  Well, on October 12, 1810 King Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  The good citizens of Munich were invited to attend the joyous festivities in the fields in front of the city gates.  The fields adopted the name, Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow).  The festival grew significantly in attendance as well as production value over the next two hundred years.  The modern festival is all contained within the current Theresienwiese – an enclosed fairground in the southwest portion of the city.  The fair is broken into a maze of streets divided by large tents (the Hippodrom, the Armbrustschützenzelt, etc.) and small tents (Ammer Hühner & Entenbraterei or Bodo’s Cafezelt, for example).  The tents are where most attendees spend the majority of their time – where all the beer drinking, rebel rousing, singing and chaos takes place.  The rest of the fairgrounds are comprised of the food vendors (serving traditional foods, such as Schweinebraten, Würstl and Käsespätzle), souvenir stands (where you can purchase a traditional steinkrug – beer stein) and carnival games and rides.  Take it from me – you do not want to get separated from your group after consuming half a dozen liters… the grounds all begin to look exactly the same.  You might decide to break down and cry like a 9 year old girl who got separated from her parents (I’m not confirming or denying this actually happened).

One of the larger tents – Hofbräu-Festzelt (Hofbräuhaus tent)
Another of the large tents – Armbrustschützenzelt (Paulaner Beer)
A street scene in the fairground – carnival rides and games as well as various vendors
Food stand
Carnival game – knocking cans over
Another carnival game – rifles

Since we had arrived at a respectable hour (before noon) we took a chance on one of the more popular tents, Hofbräu-Festzelt – the counterpart of the famous, Hofbräuhaus.  We settled into a wonderful spot, with plenty of space to spread out and enjoy our first tasty bier (beer) and brezen (pretzel). Some Aussies sat down next to us and the real party began.  Our new friends were hilarious, fun and really made the party!

Walking in to the Hofbräu-Festzelt
Josh and I smile for a photo while we wait for our first beir
The delicious first “taste” of Oktoberfest
Jen’s first beer
Abby’s first brezen
A group shot at our first table
Aloisius waits patiently for the girls to start throwing their bras up toward him
Our crazy Aussie friend, demonstrating his “angry dolphin” and his torn lederhosen

Despite the fun we were having, I had one harrowing thought repeating over and over in my head – “I’m not wearing any lederhosen!”  The garment of Bavarian working-class men has become the traditional garb of the festival… and there I was wearing a stupid sweater and a pair of jeans.  I felt as uncomfortable as if I had shown up to an interview wearing sweatpants and an REO Speedwagon tee shirt.  I was able to convince Josh to head to the “lederhosen outlet” we saw adjacent to the fairground’s entrance.  We found a Turkish businessman that owned a booming store with plenty of folks in the exact same predicament as us… people that showed up not realizing everyone gets into the spirit of tradition.  I asked to see his cheapest pair of lederhosen, I tried them on and selected a matching shirt.  After some quick negotiating, I was all dolled-up for €60.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  You see, Josh had tried on the same pair, but it didn’t compliment his butt properly.  So he tried on another pair.  The color of that pair didn’t compliment his eyes (or something like that).  A third pair didn’t flatter his calves properly.  Finally, he ended getting the perfect pair, a traditional shirt, socks and who knows what else.  His total?  €150 (about $210)!  I’m laughing to myself all over again as I’m typing this.  He was so mad at me the entire walk back (for “making” him buy lederhosen) that he barely talked to me.  His temper was further exasperated when Abby couldn’t believe how much he spent for such a “stupid shirt”!  He ended up throwing his new shirt away and putting his original shirt on under his lederhosen. Now that we were properly dressed, I could relax and start drinking!

I came back ready to really join the party
A local photographer for a Munich paper got a photo of this beautiful couple
Now that I’ve got my lederhosen, I’ve got a big grin
Jen and Abby got to work while we were out
Silly girls
If someone stands up on their bench, it means they have to “skull” or drink their entire beer
Finishing it will earn you cheers; falling short will land you public shame and jeers from the crowd
My new buddy helps me track my consumption of steins
Abby poses for a picture in a picture in a picture…

Dave and Jill found our spot in the tent while Josh and I were buying our lederhosen and the party really started to take off.  We spent some more time in the Hofbräu-Festzelt, before deciding on a change of scenery.  We walked toward another tent (I couldn’t tell you which one if my life depended on it), stopping only for some würstl (sausage) and to pick each other up off the ground.  All the carnival games had gotten Josh and my typical competitive  juices flowing – and so we left the group momentarily to compete.  He took me in the first competition (knocking pins over) and I crushed him in the next (shooting ducks with a rifle… how I was able to hit 8/10 I’ll never know).  While we were decided what the tie-breaker should be, we somehow just devolved into wrestling in the middle of the festival.

Dave and Jill join us in the first tent
Group photo
Dave and Jen cheers
This guy was soaking his dreads and having people suck the beer from them
He tries to get Dave to participate
We shuffle from our first tent to our second…
Our second tent – they were serving Hefeweizen
The girls were dancing… not sure where the bunny ears came from
Three different version of “Blue Steel” and a pretty smile
Another group shot
Josh and I venture to the outside world
Josh does a little shimmy…
…. and a shake
We start wrestling
I think it just turned into big man-hugs
This is what Josh found when he got back – the girls were just taking a short power-nap.  They did rally though

We kept the party going for several more hours before finally heading home.  It felt like 2:00am but was actually only about 10:30pm.

Classic – I couldn’t tell you where this hat came from
One of our last photos of the night

The next day, we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast sponsored by our hotel, the New Orly.  We still had so much of the city to absorb, so we eagerly set out as soon as we gulped down our final freshly squeezed orange juice.  Our first stop – Abby’s lifelong quest to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz (center of the Old Town).  The Rathaus-Glockenspiel is basically a giant cuckoo clock in the Town Hall building – but instead of a bird popping out, 32 life-sized figured dance to 43 bells and tell the story of Renata of Lorraine’s marriage to Duke Wilhem V (the founder of Hofbräuhaus and my personal hero).

Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) in the Marienplatz
The central tower housed the Rathaus-Glockenspiel
A collection of pretzels dangling just out of reach
Josh and I stand under the pretzel tree

After witnessing the dancing figures, we walked around, taking in the sights of Altstadt (Old Town) – including impressive churches like the Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau and Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan as well as the Royal Gardens and so much more.

Beautiful building in the Altstadt
The Frauenkirche (Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau, “Cathedral of Our Dear Lady”)
Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan (Theatine Church of St. Cajetan)
I’m happy to embrace all of Munich at once
Josh and Abby in the Royal Gardens
Me and Jen in the Royal Gardens
We were lucky to have a beautiful second day

At this point we had been in Munich for nearly two days and had yet to visit a biergarten (beer garden), so we asked some locals for their recommendation and set our sights toward the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Beer Garden) located in the middle of the Englischer Garten (English Garden), Munich’s largest park.  We settled in for a beer outside and listened as the band played some traditional German music.  We grabbed lunch and awaited Dave and Jill’s arrival.

Inside the Chinese beer garden
This is where our group reunited for the second time
The Englischer Garten has a unique feature – a man-made wave pool in one of the park’s rivers
We watched the surfers catch gnarly waves for a little while

After everyone had their fill of beer and food, we walked to the train station and headed back to the Theresienwiese for Round 2 of official Oktoberfest festivities (FYI – the Aussies we had been congregating with the day before had been in Munich five days and hadn’t once explored outside the fairgrounds – I don’t think I’ve had stamina like that since I was 18 years old).  We visited a few more tents, drank a few more liters and ate a few more würstl’s.  A highlight of the day was when we were sitting with some proper English lads and recounted the tales of our insane Australian friends from the day before.  Not wanting to be outdone by the offspring of their country’s prisoners, one of the chaps took off his shoe and drank beer from it!  Then they left to go ride roller coasters.  I don’t think they quite reached the same level as the Aussie’s – but they got an “A” for effort.

Round Two begins…
We stop for a photo before settling in to our first tent
We chose the Bräurosl tent for our second day
Inside the tent – it was hard to find seats because it was late in the day
The entire gang on the second day
Jen and I salute another day of fun
I didn’t know Robert De Niro’s older brother would be at Oktoberfest
Having fun
Our British pal
Oh, that’s just nasty
I pretend to do the same thing with a shoe I found – what was I thinking?!
I am about to buy my last würstl of the trip
I ordered the biggest one they sold
We shared our final table at Oktoberfest with native Bavarians
The Hofbräu-Festzelt as our time in Munich comes to a close

As the sun was setting we headed back to the train station and boarded our overnight train back to Como.  Josh and Abby disembarked the train in Verona, venturing on their own to Venice for a romantic day-trip and overnight stay.  We had an amazing time in Munich with our wonderful friends Josh, Abby, Dave and Jill – something that we’ll never forget.  If you have never been to Oktoberfest… add it to your bucket list.  Jen and I will be happy to go back with you!

Abby brought Julia back an authentic lebkuchenherz (heart-shaped gingerbread cookie)