If there is anything that I’ve learned during my time abroad, it’s that you just have to say “Yes” to every opportunity for an experience. So when some high school friends (who were also studying abroad in Europe this semester) suggested we all meet up to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany–I couldn’t say “No.” And it’s a good thing we got the ball rolling on Oktoberfest planning back in June. Booking transportation and living arrangements for opening weekend of Oktoberfest (Saturday, September 22, was this year’s opening day) is difficult not only because of limited availability, but also because of what booking last minute for Oktoberfest will do to your wallet (a.k.a. Take whatever is left in there and run).
Despite this head-start on planning, a crash course on Oktoberfest–even one on how to book hostels when traveling by yourself in Europe–would’ve been helpful. Though I somehow convinced my friends I was more than prepared to organize the trip, I was the furthest thing from it. I had never travelled by myself before, so I pretty much had led my friends to believe that I was more than qualified to handle traveling arrangements than I actually was…But as I was saying, a crash course would have been nice because there are apparently some “no-no’s” of traveling to Munich during Oktoberfest opening weekend, which is the height of tourist season. One that tops the list of things NOT to do is booking a hostel/hotel room for two people when you plan on cramming four people in the room. Though everyone will save money and comfortably fit in the room (even if they have to share beds), it is ILLEGAL. I’m not exactly sure where my common sense was in June. It must have taken a summer vacation as well. But just to clear the air (and not spoil the rest of the post), no laws were broken this weekend. Two of my friends unfortunately had to bail from our plans last minute, so fortunately my high school friend Dani and I did not run into any trouble in Munich–though we did end up having to pay a bit more than we anticipated for our hotel. One last helpful piece of advice (it has definitely come in handy in planning trips to other places in Europe this semester) is running a google maps search of your living arrangements for the weekend. I booked a double room in a Best Western-branch hotel that CLAIMED to be centrally located in Munich. When I pulled the map up of the hotel on the website, it also made the hotel look centrally located in Munich. To my unfortunate discovery, hotels do have the capabilities to photoshop maps to attract business (in particular foreign and naive tourists like myself), especially when said hotels end up being located in a rural farming suburb called Parsdorf–actually located 40 minutes away from Munich–whose main attraction is a strip mall that sells overpriced lederhosen. Yeah…common sense, where were you?
Despite the “innocent tourist falls trap to German business machinations” cliche I’m using to describe my circumstances, my stupidities became tourist-savvy accidents–to everyone’s surprise (especially mine). The suburb of Parsdorf was spacious and luscious, and the hotel accommodations could not have been nicer for the price we paid. The hotel also was 1 km away from an S-Bahn train station (free transportation was provided for hotel guests to and from the train station), which allowed my friend Dani and I to hop on a regional train and arrive in München Hauptbahnhof (Munich’s Central Station) in less than 30 minutes. Staying in a hotel outside the city also allowed us to avoid the noise, chaos, and crowds that accompany this city-wide celebration…always a good thing when you want to get a good night’s rest.
Speaking of Oktoberfest…
Imagine waking up to an alarm at 7 AM on a cold, rainy Saturday morning. Then imagine you’re dressed, out the door, and on a train by 7:30 AM. Then finally imagine that you’re standing in a massive crowd people gathered outside a beer tent’s doors at 8:30 AM–knowing you will be standing out in the cold rain for a good while until the tents open to visitors at 9 AM. This was just the beginning of what was probably the most chaotic and absurd–yet overwhelmingly fun–day of my life.
I didn’t know much about Oktoberfest before going (except that beer is served in mass quantities, everyone dresses up in traditional Bavarian garb, and you have to line up outside the beer tents super early on opening weekend so that you’re guaranteed entry into the tent by the time it opens), so I was generally surprised by the Carnival atmosphere of the Thereisienwiese-Oktoberfest grounds and the mass amounts of people that would actually show up at 7:30 in the morning to get a spot inside one of the 18 beer tents. Fortunately for Dani and I, one of my friends from my study abroad program happened to be in line at the Hofbräu Festzelt tent, so we navigated our way there. Once the tent doors opened, and the screaming Germans in costume pushed their way through the crowds, and the intimidatingly brawny security guards stripped searched as many people as they could, we found ourselves lost in the middle of the most chaotic and humorous scene: people of all different ages and sizes, dressed in 14th Century German costumes, scrambling to claim a table. After the tent had reached capacity (9,000 people) in just 25 minutes, Dani and I found ourselves table-less. Amongst the 9,000 rowdy Oktoberfesters that had taken refuge in Hofbräu Festzelt, I somehow located my friend Jackie from my study abroad program in Copenhagen at the end of a table–and she so kindly made space for us. And the chaos was only just beginning…
The beer maids soon began to make their way around the tent with food to tempt the rowdy beer-goers. The waitresses spoke the best English I had heard in Munich (though I may be biased just because I’m so accustomed to everyone being completely fluent in English in Copenhagen). An important detail worth mentioning is that beer is not served until 12 PM on opening day of Oktoberfest. Ceremonially, the mayor of Munich must come into the tent and tap the very first keg of the festival at 12 PM before any beer can be served. What this means is that everyone is sitting down at a table by 9 AM (after starting the day at 7 AM–sometimes earlier) to only wait 3 more hours until beer is served. You can imagine why people are so rowdy that early in the morning…
Anyways, the beer maids came along serving a variety of savory and sweet foods, from deeply fried donuts to cheesy croissants to bratwurst. After about 2 cheesy croissants and a fried donut, I was ready to call it a day. Sleep felt so tempting, especially after an early wake-up that morning and a busy travel day the day before. Finally, loud screams erupt throughout the beer tent, and everyone jumps onto the tables. It’s finally time to tap the first keg of the festival.
As soon as the first beers are served, the entire atmosphere changes. All the childish rowdiness fades and is replaced by cheerful dancing and plenty of German drinking songs. Check out this video of one of one of those songs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0Ul7xpMeQ8&feature=related
It’s evident that within the first 30 minutes of beer being served (the beer maids get around to the tables quite efficiently, carrying about 10 pints of beer each to serve needy customers), Oktoberfest is in full swing. Since you cannot get served beer unless you are seated at a table, seats are highly coveted. You can almost guarantee someone will steal your seat if you get up to use the bathroom. By 3 PM, the crowd got much rowdier. It became very difficult to control everyone, leaving the security guards with little option but to push crowds outside the tent. I unfortunately found myself under the arms of one brawny security guard who decided to pick me up and throw me out of the tent, while I was in the bathroom (not exactly a pleasant experience). It didn’t help that he was yelling at me in German the entire time…
I then found myself stranded in the cold rain once again with all my stuff still inside with my friends still sitting at a table. By some Oktoberfest miracle, Dani decided to leave the tent to find me after about 30 minutes, and we happened to bump into each other outside the tent…and she had all my stuff with her. It’s amazing to think that the only thing I lost all weekend was my umbrella. Soon enough, Dani and I found ourselves walking around the fairgrounds–seeing what there was to see outside the beer tents. Remember when I said earlier that there are just some things you just don’t say “No” to? Well, a roller coaster was apparently one of them, because I found myself on one immediately after leaving the tents. To take a more relaxed approached for the rest of the day, Dani and I then decided to take a ferris wheel ride to get an aerial view of Munich. And it was the greatest way to end the most exciting/non-stop day.
While our travels took us to Munich because of Oktoberfest, we managed to squeeze in time Friday afternoon/night and all of Sunday to see (and more importantly to eat our way through) the sights this historic city had to offer. We ventured around Marienplantz and saw the picturesque Rathaus-Glockenspiel:
We also made time on Sunday to check out the English Gardens, where we happened to run into the giant Oktoberfest parade that occurs on the first Sunday of the Oktoberfest festivities:
From there, we made our last stop in Olympic Park–where one can find the BMW Welt and the Olympic Stadium, where the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics were held:
Looking back on this weekend, I would have to call it a weekend of contradictions. Nowhere else could I experience so much chaos and yet have the time of my life but at Oktoberfest. As the Germans would sing, “Ein Prosit!” (A toast to you!). And a special toast to Munich, a city with enough vitality to overcome its shadowy past while still holding on to some of its most cheerful traditions–like Oktoberfest.