Here it is, the moment we all (especially Josh) have been waiting for… OKTOBERFEST!!!!! We spent 2 of our days in Munich at Oktoberfest and both were completely different experiences. I wasn’t as prepared for this trip as I am with most. While super excited to see our friends, beer doesn’t excite me and so I will admit to being a bit of a slacker when it came to planning things like getting a spot in a beer tent (I use the word tent loosely as it’s an actual building). So suffice it to say, we did a lot of winging it during those two days but in the end, it worked out well and was relatively stress free.
I believe this is Marienplatz, the center of Munich
Before I get to the actual experience, I should probably give you a little background info on why the Germans celebrate Oktoberfest as before this, I had no idea. I just figured someone had a party in September, had a little too much to drink and decided under the influence to call it Oktoberfest since he was too inebriated to know what month it was. But alas, that’s not why they celebrate it nor is that the reason for the September celebrations rather than it’s assumed October ones.
And in fact, the Germans don’t even call it Oktoberfest (though you wouldn’t know that given all the Oktoberfest paraphernalia all around) but “die Wies’n” which is the name of the fairgrounds. It has been held it runs mainly in September only crossing into the first weekend of October and has been celebrated since 1810. Initially it was held in October but as time moved on and it became an annual celebration, it was moved to September since the weather is better. It is the largest fair in the world with almost 6 million visitors and (shockingly) almost 7 million liters of beer served during the 16-18 day festival. That’s a lot of beer!!
So anyways, back in 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese. There were celebrations held in the fields in front of the city gates – the fields named Theresienwiese (die Wies’n is the shortened name still used today). Initially horse races were held to close the festival celebrating their marriage and it was decided that in the following year there would be horse races again to celebrate the anniversary of the wedding, with each year more and more traditions being added in.
As I mentioned in my other Munich/Oktoberfest entry, we purchased our “costumes” the day we arrived in Munich. While ambivalent at first about wearing a dirndl and leiderhosen to the festivities, once we were in the stores and walking around Munich we knew that this was a MUST! Everyone was wearing them, from super cheap throw away type of attire (which by the way were still pretty expensive) to high end, likely wear every single year and probably costs you thousands of euros types of getups. It ran the gamut. And so here we are before we left the hotel that morning 🙂
Josh, Me, Kyle and Kelly
Can’t help but giggle every time I look at this picture… how cute are they??
Since we didn’t have a beer tent reservation, we decided to head out early on the first day. The first day doesn’t start until noon when the mayor of Munich taps the first keg and says “O’ zapft is!” “It is Tapped!” We assumed that this meant that you actually couldn’t get into the fairgrounds until noon and so we were planning to position ourselves at the entrance around 11:30AM in the hopes of not getting stampeded by the crowds on our way in.
Day 1 was a rainy cold day that was equivalent to the dead of winter in Barcelona. Yes my hearty New England blood has thinned. However, we lucked out with the crowds because of the rain – we didn’t realize how much until day 2. On the other hand, when I looked at the weather, supposedly the worst had passed before we left the hotel and so with only my dirndl and a light sweater and umbrella, off we went – completely and totally unprepared for class. Because yes, the weather was fine then, but once we were actually inside a building, it started to downpour outside.
Because I did so little research I really had no idea what to expect. I knew there were some rides since I had a few friends who had been. I knew people would be wearing dirndls and leiderhosen. I knew people would drink lots and lots of beer at beer tents. What I didn’t realize was just how much of a carnival this actual is including roller coasters, carnival food (as in cotton candy, fried goodies of all sorts, caramel/candied apples and of course, much much more… heaven to me!), games and more. This to me was a bit of a shocker as I was expecting it to be a bit more old world looking down to the rides and games and it wasn’t. Yet everyone was decked out in their Oktoberfest attire, some more formal looking than others – in a way it was a bit surreal but at the same time it just shows how like most things, this carnival has also changed with the times but keeping elements of the original celebrations.
The view as we entered the fairgrounds
Cute little food chalet
Wildstuben (where we ended up on day 2) – yes, these are temporary structures!!!
Lot of nut vendors all around…
View along the fairway
Horses coming in at the start of the parade, right before they tap the keg
The trailers were all decorated festively
One of the beer tents
Gingerbread hearts are very popular for Oktoberfest – who knew???
Apparently this beer “tower” is there year after year
We just chose a beer tent at random. I should also note that the beer tents are not tents but actual structures and they are taken down every year and rebuilt, some of the larger ones taking up to 3 months to construct. I’m not sure why they don’t just leave them there year to year???? To see it, check out http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/ and look at the section for construction. The “tent” was huge and consisted of two floors and I believe it held at least 1000 people. I’m not sure of the actual tent name but people kept calling it Nymph so let’s go with that.
Not knowing what the process was, we walked in as though we were supposed to be there and headed upstairs. The kegs were not yet flowing as it was before noon – so we just kind of took a look around trying to get a lay of the land. We found a bar upstairs that had some empty space. The boys asked if we could stand there and what the process was. The bartender in response said, “you order the beer, you pay for the beer, you get the beer” or something to that extent. And so we staked our claim at the edge of the bar – no seats included, just standing room.
When the keg was tapped at noon we could hear the fireworks but we had to wait for the beer. Wait for the beer? Why yes, because there was no beer keg on the second floor. There were young men who carried up beer mugs in milk crates on their shoulders – probably 1-2 dozen very large beers at a time (I can’t imagine how much their shoulder must hurt at the end of the day) up the stairs and brought them to the bar. Somehow this doesn’t seem like an efficient way to distribute beers to thousands of people. But apparently it works and I’m not going to mess with tradition. There was a bottleneck at first given the much higher demand than supply but as people got drinking (and given how huge the beers are, they take some time to get down) the demand slowed down and they were able to keep up. There were other beverages that you could get other than beer but that was the primary one and this particular tent (or at least this bar at this tent) only gave you one choice of size and beer type which I’m sure helps in the efficiency.
One of the cool things about this trip were the people we met along the way. None of which we exchanged information with but it was fun nonetheless. We met the Texan family who lives in Saudi Arabia because “that’s where the oil is” – they’ve lived all over the world and their kids go to boarding school in the US. We met a bunch of servicemen on day leave from their base (and my guess is that they did NOT make it back on the 4pm train based on their condition). And some British girls out celebrating their friend’s 21st birthday.
View of the festival from inside our beer tent – those clouds are pretty ominous!!
Hell froze over and I’m drinking a beer… and no, I didn’t finish it…
Kyle and Kelly staking out our part of the bar!
The downstairs of the tent – a live band playing things that ranged from Hell’s Bells (AC/DC) to Ai Se Eu Te Pego (Michel Teló)… quite the range!
View out the window of our beer tent – it’s pouring rain
In the distance you can see the incredibly high swings – you couldn’t pay me enough money to go on those on a normal day much less a rainy one!!
Kyle and Kelly with their first beers
Josh and I with our first beers (my only for the day)
A picture of the beer so we don’t forget what we were drinking… and a picture of the bar, look how ornate this is…and it’s temporary!!
Jagermeister on tap????
Staking out our corner
My kind of eating!!!
Downstairs in our tent near where the band played
We stood at the bar for several hours, eating only the giant pretzels that the pretzel girl was selling as she walked around the beer hall. Being a bit (ok a lot) on the food focused side, this was getting to be a bit much for me and I needed FOOD!!!! Around this same time there were a few German woman who decided they wanted our part of the bar and weren’t shy about it. First one hung her jacket under the bar right on top of Kelly’s. I didn’t think much of it at first figuring they were standing to the outside of us and she just wanted somewhere to put her jacket and there were no bar stools. But then she started to put her beer on the bar quite frequently which meant standing between our group essentially splitting us up. She continued to do this until Kelly (thankfully) spoke up. The woman actually had the nerve to tell Kelly they had been here first. Now, I’m not one to argue, but seriously??? Lady we were there before they were even serving beer and for quite some time our part of the bar was relatively empty, do you really think we are going to believe you. Regardless, shortly after the confrontation (which we won) we decided the time had come to move along and get some “real” food.
The search for “real” food at that moment was carnaval food – some kind of fried apple yummy goodness. Some woman grabbed my ass and then started yelling at me in German… all par for the course that is life in Europe for me. And then we tried to get into another beer tent … did I mention it was pouring rain out at this point and it’s about 50F? In the end, we decided to go back to our hotel, Americanize ourselves and hit a bar/pub in the city where we figured we would be able to get some good food, more beer (because 4 hrs of drinking wasn’t enough) and perhaps be able to sit since everyone and their brother was here at Oktoberfest.
I had to get a gingerbread heart (or 3)…
First we went to Lowenbrau and had a few snacks and beers, then after wandering around for a bit, we ended up at an Irish/Australian bar. Funny because it was two bars in one – you want the Irish one, you go to “this” side and if you want the Australian one, you go to “that” side. We chose the Irish one of course. There was music playing and we drank some more (there was actually things I liked to drink here!) and got a few snacks to keep us (ok, me) satisfied (why does no one else ever need to eat as much or as often as I do??). There was a band rehearsing and we waited quite some time for them to go on. By hour 2 of them setting up we decided to call it a day and literally as we were walking out the door they started to play and by then our seats had already been confiscated. Oh well, better to go back and get a good night’s sleep so we’d be prepared for Day 2!
On the way to the metro, we saw all the horses and carriages on their way to the festival…
After chatting with a friend of mine that had attended Oktoberfest the last two years, on Day 2 we had a plan. We were going to the much smaller beer tent of Wildstuben (http://www.wildstuben.de). We thought the tent opened at 9 and so we were there at 8:45 ready to go. Yes 8:45 in the MORNING to start DRINKING. Our understanding is that we could ask if they had any free tables and even if they were reserved, was it possible for us to sit there until the reservation arrived. We were the first in line and honestly that line only extended to two other small groups when we entered – so I was a little ambivalent at first wondering if we were perhaps in the wrong place because how on a beautiful day, the first full day of Oktoberfest, could there be no line? Was it too early for the Germans to be drinking???
Apparently it was because although we got our first beers at 9:30 (which was actually when the tent opened, we were wrong), very few others arrived that early. More like 11ish it started to fill up. We had a table to ourselves for quite some time but around noon because there were so many people and the tables fit around 13 people, the hostess would just randomly add in people and like the previous day, we met some interesting people. There were the guys from Japan, from Italy (who Josh became a social butterfly with!), from Serbia and 2 guys from the US who I’m pretty sure were CIA or some equal kind of spy/clandestine service.
Beers at 9:30AM – cheers!
What I drank all day…and no, it’s not vodka…
Live, traditional entertainment…no AC/DC here…
New Japanese friends
Toasting some more… prost!
Girls dancing on the tables…Josh really liked this
Um, think we need to cut him off soon….
Kyle and Kelly
Toasting with our Italian and Serbian friends
Non toasting shot
The boys started drinking hard pretty early. And given that the alcohol content of the beer at Oktoberfest is higher than a usual beer AND the beers are HUGE, by 4 of them, both Kyle and Josh were pretty much toasty. By now it was barely 2PM but they’d been drinking for 4 1/2 hrs. Our table expired at 2:15 much to their dismay (though not to mine and Kelly’s at that point) and we made our way out into the crowds.
These were the crowds outside the tent
I knew there was a picture from Day 1 – here is where we were the first day…
Probably the best picture of just Josh and I in a long time – Love it!!!
And by crowds I mean that we were barely shuffling along, not even at a normal walking pace. It was that crowded. We got a little bit of food and while doing some rides and exploring would have been fun, it was obvious that the boys were done and so we headed back to the hotel for a little R & R. Kelly and I had to lead them by the straps of their leiderhosen to say the least. I won’t go into the details but thankfully no one was throwing up and after a nap everyone rallied. And on the plus side for me, I did some reading uninterrupted by small children … so can’t really complain.
I actually found something on wikipedia that described it perfectly and made me laugh… “There are many problems every year with young people who overestimate their ability to handle large amounts of alcohol. Many forget that Oktoberfest beer has 5.8 to 6.3% alcohol and high sugar content (compared to an average of 5.2% of alcohol and low sugar content in German beer), and they pass out due to drunkenness. These drunk patrons are often called “Bierleichen” (German for “beer corpses”)”… that was Josh and Kyle, to a T.
We finished the day with an Italian dinner that really wasn’t all that Italian in the end but it was what we found in close proximity to the hotel, was open on a Sunday (many restaurants were not open) and looked decent. Just what we all needed, low key, close by and what we hoped would be homestyle cooking. So it met 2 of the 3 criteria in the end but all is good. Sadly we had to say goodbye to Kyle and Kelly after dinner as we had an early morning flight and had to leave the hotel by 7:30 in the morning. It was so awesome that they flew out to meet us and we can’t wait to see them again, in Europe and/or at home!!
I’m pretty sure Josh and Kyle are already working on plans for Oktoberfest 2013 so if you are in, you should let them know!!