Journal (22Sep11)by Tourguide on Thu 22 Sep 2011, 11 PM CEST, Views: 1625
Willkommen friends and family to Hofbräu Tent! It is only 10am and already I’m lined up 10 deep on a bench, sharing backspace with someone directly behind me. We were here right as this tent opened, (somehow still behind this class of school kids) and the beer garden went from empty to all of this inside of 15 minutes. Thank God, it is only Tuesday. If it were a weekend there would be people standing on this table by this point already as well. Clearly there is no German word for “Fire Code.”
Is it a little early to be drinking 1 liter (33 ounce) steins of beer? Sure, by normal standards. But normal standards wouldn’t call for me to wear this ridiculous hat and flashing glasses. But normal standards got checked at the door, 32 hours ago. Besides, what a better way to shake the hangover from last night’s version of all this. That all got fuzzy, but I’ve got a receipt in my pocket for 23 liters of beer, so it must have been fun. Funny, according to some picture I found on my cell phone it appears we started drinking four at a time. Buckle up, things are gonna get crazy fast.
Such is life at the 201st annual Munich Oktoberfest, the Guinness Record Book undisputed beer drinking party of the world. This place will put away 114,000 gallons of beer a day, *every* day for 16 straight days. This is 1.82 million gallons of beer. Stein swinging sing alongs, beer wenches carrying six plus liter beers at a time, girls in “drindles,” …yep this is the place. And man, can these people drink. I get warm & fuzzy after a single liter (which is still 3 beers), and the 18 year girl next to me just tossed back her 2nd like it was soda pop. Makes sense, she could drink beer at 16, so this is probably her 3rd Oktoberfest. What goes for “drunk” here is vastly different. Basically, non-comatose = sober. Last night we even passed a few rugby teams literally carrying their over-intoxicated comrades with them over their shoulders, as they proceeded to the next tent. Looked like a European version of Weekend at Bernie’s.
Now that isn’t to say there aren’t any rules here in Oktober-ville land. But most of them relate to who can be served beer. And, surprisingly this has nothing to do with age or level of intoxication. The rule here is that you have to be *literally* sitting down at a table to be able to buy a beer. And here in lies the rub. With 10’s of thousands of people at every turn vying for a bench spot, this is the hard part. There are just too many asses for seats. The organizers tried to fix this problem years ago by requiring “reservations” for nearly all but a few general admission tables. Reservations are free, but unfortunately, they all get scooped up by the thousands ahead of time by tour groups and local hotels, looking to turn a profit. By restricting access even further, this has actually just made things worse.
Even though nearly six million people will pass through here in a 3 week period, all but a pitiful handful of those table reservations are gone 3 plus months prior to Oktoberfest opening their tents. During our first visit to Oktoberfest last year we had heard horror stories about how people had come all the way to Oktoberfest (sans reservations), toured all 14 tents for 10 hours and *never* found a seat, …and literally *never* got served a beer. Yes, you’ve got a tent that must be a football field wide, and 3 long, filled entirely with benches and there is not one square inch.
So what do you do? Well, your options are suck it up and pay a hotel or tour group hundreds of dollars to get one of their “combo packages” which include the golden seat reservations, or you get there early enough during the week (forget about the weekend) to score one of the general admission tables.
Well, last year Rachel and I tried the free route. We hopped on a cheap bus set up by the USO at 1am, and drove six hours here and queued up for some of the unreserved tables. Hoping in line a good hour before the tents opened we thought we had a chance. Well, as it was the weekend, we didn’t get there nearly early enough. We sat outside another two hours *after* the tent opened just to get the chance to start circling the sardine packed unblocked tables. Which we did, for hours. It sucked.
It got pretty aggressive in those areas as people tried to shove their way into open spots left by folks stepping out to use the bathroom. Fortunately, Rachel and our friend Meghan were able to flash their cute eyes at some German boys and got the edge of 2 seats. Just enough bench space for the beer wench to serve them beers, which they secretly funneled over to us stuck out at the edge of the tents. But, we made the most of it and as this video shows, we ended up having a *great* time. Of course after six hours of drinking we had to get back on the bus and drive six hours *back* home. Yes, that is a long 18 hour day. But all things considered, knowing what we know now …how we pulled that off was a miracle.
But this year, we promise we’d do it right. Hotels, seat reservations, tour group, …the whole 3 meters (hey, its Europe ;)). Our planning started 3 months ago, and after soliciting our friends to join us, we pulled the trigger on several ridiculously overpriced group packages (keep in mind all we wanted was the seats, and those were given out free), and counted down the days.
Rachel’s sister, Lisa, and two of her friends, Jess & Will, joined us this year for the debauchery. Lisa is blast and up for anything. Plus I can always count on her to make sure I get back to Rachel relatively unscathed. Her friend Will would serve as my solemn drinking partner across several blackened hours, and Jess was the perfect sparkplug of enthusiasm to keep our motley cru motivated for all that Munich offered outside the beer tents too (Hey Jess, how cool was that Church we stumbled upon?!). Together we were the Fellowship of the Stein, …out to conquer Oktoberfest!
And conquer we did. From our beer crawl across every tent we could get ourselves into, to all of the roller coaters, rides and circling vortexes of death we could find. We walked, crawled and, apparently, skipped our way through 4 days of all the world’s biggest festival had to offer. Beer Tents, check, …girls in Drindles, check, ….midnight roller coaters doing all we could not to hurl, …double check. …What else you got Munich?!
Well, apparently, quite a lot. On our last day, we took a road trip to see the areas around Munich, which are just gorgeous. Like something right out of Sound of Music. Well, now that I think about, considering we were in the Bavaria region, I’m sure it actually was. And you haven’t lived till you’ve had a chance to lay eyes on Neuschwanstenstein Castle. Just look at this thing, could you possible think of a more iconic castle? Apparently Walt Disney couldn’t. Which is why his Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World is based on it.
Seeing it, I actually did get a bit of a flashback to Disney World. I proposed to my wife inside Cinderella’s castle over 8 years ago. And fortunately, …she said yes. Ha, ha. Good times. We all took turns lining up on the precarious “Mary’s Bridge” to get shots overlooking Neuschwanstenstein Castle (again, flashback, LOL), before making our way inside for the obligatory tour. Inside was nice, but they didn’t allow picture, so it wasn’t very blog-friendly (how rude, right?).
Returning to Munich, we decided to roll our dice one more night at one of the smaller tents. You see each of the 14 tents in Oktoberfest are very different, by design. Kind of like fraternities in a sense. Hofbräu house, for example, is very international. Armbrustschützen caters to sports team, while Hippodrome is the tent of young lovers. You kind of think of beer tents as bars. You’ve got all kinds. There are even guides to the flavor of each of Oktoberfest’s 14 tents.
As it was, we ended up finding a spot outside the Spatenbrau tent in a secluded outdoor beer garden. We met some great locals who schooled us in exactly what was true Oktoberfest Music, …Country Roads (“Yaa”), …Son of a Preacher Man ”(Boo.”) And apparently the definitive song is “Fliegerlied” (the ‘la-la-la-la’ song). Which is about animals or something, or so the accompanying dance would suggest. And, of course, like clock work, twice an hour you would hear the “Ein Prosit” (the big toast song). And there would be a big rousing cross table toast, just to kick the party again to a higher level.
Our last night complete and back to the hotels, we awoke early to say our goodbyes to our drinking comrade in arms. Here endith the Fellowship of the Stein, …alas. But there is always next year. You know Munich will be ready to do it all again too. Literally. They tear every nook and cranny of this entire festival ground down and will rebuild it from scratch next year. Yes, this whole city will be unbuilt board for board, beam for beam, till only this remains. I hear it takes 2 and half months to build this place up, and 2 and a half months to tear it back down. And this has gone one for two hundred years. Unbelievable.
Now, we’ve got a 5 hour drive back home and yes, I have to repack for a 4th week in a row. This time next week I’ll be in …Kansas? Oh, …how far from Munich could you get?!
Well, there’s always next year. Here’s to Oktoberferst …Ein Prosit!