Giant pretzels, one-liter glasses of beer, and getting to dress up – how can you go wrong with Oktoberfest? As festivals go, Oktoberfest is in a category of its own. I’ve never seen a festival so large, and with so many happy and tipsy people adorned with leather overalls and busty lace-up dresses. We traveled to Munich to meet up with our friend from San Francisco, Erik, and went to two days of Oktoberfest festivities. A friend described it as an “adult Disneyworld”, and I couldn’t agree more with her description.
Before we gave into the hedonism of Oktoberfest, we got to know Munich better. We took a guided walking tour of the main areas – Marienplatz, the market and maypole, the original Haufbrauhaus, and a couple churches. Munich is very flat and very low – there is a city ordinance against buildings over a certain height. Walking around, we bestowed “German” names upon each other – me as Ingrid, Erik as Herr Staab, and Grant as Count von Ausgezeichnete (count priority excellence – named after the first class section of Vueling airlines, which we flew on the way there).
The shops downtown were overflowing with dirndls, lederhosen, and hoards of people. It reminded me of Christmastime on Powell Street in San Francisco! Even the Tommy Hilfiger store had its own take on dirndls and lederhosen.
After the tour, we headed to the English Gardens, which is a huge city park – larger than Central Park in NYC. Although the mornings and evenings were chilly, the sun had heated the afternoon pleasantly for a beer and lunch in the biergarten at the Chinese Tower in Munich. My first lunch in Germany had to be spaetzel, the adult version of macaroni and cheese. We chowed down on pretzels, spaetzel, currywurst, and other treats as we chatted with an Australian mom and daughter sitting next to us. Afterwards, we strolled around the English Gardens, including the lake and the spot where people surf a water inlet in the park. The surfers in the park was probably the most random thing I saw the entire time in Munich. These hang-ten’ers were in full-on wetsuits.
We headed to get the guys outfitted properly with rental lederhosen and turned in early, anticipating a full day at Oktoberfest the next day. They look dapper, don’t you think?
Oktoberfest – Day 1
Oktoberfest is a festival that originated from a marriage celebration of a Bavarian king over 200 years ago. It has grown to include over 12 large beer tents, holding thousands of people, and a huge theme park with legitimate roller coasters and rides. Here is an aerial view I got at night from the large ferris wheel:
You can see just how crowded the festival got! The large rectangle buildings are the beer tents. Beer tents provide beer, food, and live music. Each of them is decorated inside differently. You can see how many people these tents can hold from these photos of a few of the larger ones:
We had heard that in order to get inside the beer tents, you had to get to the festival before 11 AM on weekends. Once we German-ed ourselves up, the first thing we did when we arrived at 10 AM, then, was to head to Cafe Kaiserschmarrn tent, which serves coffee and pastries all day long. One latte and a delicious flaky apple strudel later, we were fueled up and ready to prost in the beer tents.
We headed to Hacker, one of the more popular tents known as Bavarian Heaven for its ceiling covered in clouds. However, we were too late! We had to wait just to get in the biergarten surrounding the tent. When we got in, there were no tables to sit at! You have to be seated at a table in order to be served. In addition, there was a large crowd of people waiting to get inside the tent.
Time for Plan B! We jumped ship on Hacker and started wandering through some of the other beer tents. Unfortunately, all of them were just as crowded! I was desperate to get us a table, and every table I could find if they had room for three people to sit. We wandered into the biergarten of the tent that is known for serving wine and hard liquor (they also serve beer). We went up and down every aisle until – someone finally said yes – we could sit at their table!
We each ordered a one-liter glass of beer (because that’s what you do at Oktoberfest) and started to feel the magic of this fall festival.
I ordered us three large pretzels for lunch. I had no idea the pretzels were larger than my face! So big!
We were so lucky to meet the two charming northern German couples who let us sit at their table. They were about our age, and after everyone had a beer, all inhibitions went down – including the language barriers from German to English! The girls asked if I wanted to go to the bathroom with them, and my friendship with them was sealed. We came back from the bathroom laughing and chatting to the guys at the table, also now prost’ing.
It wasn’t long before all five of us were best pals. Our Oktoberfest definitely would not have been nearly as fun without having met them. We drank, talked about life, and generally laughed about everything from grumpy cat to cheek-to-cheek photos to Mr. Burns from the Simpsons saying “Ausgezeichnete” or “Excellent”. People are really not that different around the world – at our age, we share the same feelings of confidence and insecurity. Songs were sung, glasses were chinked, and promises were made to visit Barcelona and northern Germany.
Our best grumpy cat face:
Grant and our new friend totally winning at life by each holding six glasses in one hand (the waiters and waitresses at Oktoberfest are freaking amazing at carrying a lot of glasses at once):
All together, the perfect way to spend Oktoberfest. I’m so glad I got to share the experience with Erik and Grant.
Oktoberfest – Day 2
Unfortunately, Grant was not feeling well enough to go out (fighting a bad cold!). Erik and I were supposed to wake up at 7:30 AM to make it to the tents early enough to get inside. A jar of beer at 8 AM just did not sound good, though, so we slept in. We headed to the last day of Oktoberfest in the late afternoon to find the tents much more clear! We could actually find a seat easily.
Gingerbread cookies shaped in a heart are very popular at the festival. People write things on them in icing and then give them to someone else to wear around their neck. The whole tradition reminded me a lot of homecoming mums from high school in Texas – the act of wearing the heart around your neck was like a symbol that somebody loved you. Since Grant couldn’t make it, I bought him a heart that said Count von Ausgezeichnete (his German name). Hilariously, the woman who helped us with the icing told us we had been saying it wrong the entire time, but that didn’t stop me from cementing the nickname with some colorful icing.
A highlight of our second day at Oktoberfest was finding the beer-carousel, which basically was a bar that slowly turned in a circle. What a brilliant idea! Turning tipsy people in a circle – what could possibly go wrong?
Farewell for now, Oktoberfest! I will miss thy delicious beer, sweet apple strudel, savory spaetzel, and spicy bratwursts!
On a more serious note…We had one more day left in Munich, and I thought it would be an important experience to visit Dachau, the notorious Nazi concentration camp, just outside of Munich. Grant was still feeling low, so I went by myself and did the audio tour.
I have never felt like I felt standing at the gates of Dachau. I felt physically ill standing on the ground where over 200,000 victims suffered. I could feel the weight of the 40,000 souls who perished there. Walking around between the bunks, the showers, the heavily-guarded gates, and most disturbingly through the crematorium, stories from the twelve years of this monstrous place’s history whispered and shook me right to my bones.
Never again a sign there declares. I know I will never forget.