Trip Start Jun 12, 2006
62Trip End Nov 28, 2006
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Since we are so far behind in our blogging, we'd like to send the following October wishes first since most have passed already:
- Happy birthday Granny!
- Happy birthday Uncle Larry!
- Happy birthday Bethany!
- Happy birthday Zoe!
- Happy anniversary G&G Gelwarg!
- Happy anniversary Mom and Steve!
- Happy anniversary Gellers and good luck with the move!
- Happy third birthday Dustin
We've been in countless religious buildings in the last four months, but if you add them all up and multiply by five, they still won't come close to producing the heavenly feeling I got in the Lowenbrau Tent at Oktoberfest. The whole world was celebrating - fellow Americans, Italians, old people, loud people, Canadians, white people, black people, Jamaicans, middle school people, quiet people, Asian people, non-drinking people, Peruvian people, dancing people, Aussie people, working people, green people, cuckoo people, funny-hat people, pretzel people, music people, and most of all, German people and friendly people. It was pure elation, about being as happy as possible while having the best time possible. It was humanity at its best, completely void of hatred and anger with the only sadness being at Last Call. It was the pinnacle of our journeys, and as I stood up with a fresh liter and surveyed the tent full of festivities, I was so proud that such a joyous event was created by my roots and my Bavarian ancestors.
For those of you that don't know, my last name - excuse me, our last name - is German, and it basically means "the trunk of a tree." There are other variations and usages, the most common being "a large, wooden table where you're used to sitting" that is basically reserved for regulars so they can sit down and discuss life over a few beers
Our overnight train from Vienna arrived a few minutes before Brian and Cissy's overnight train from Venice (Brian is a friend of mine from college, and Cissy is one of his former co-workers who we became friends with in New York). The entire station reeked of beer, and the obstacle course on the way to a cup of coffee consisted of: an initial section of sticky tile similar to the Pi Lam hallway where we had to peel our shoes off the floor just to take a few short steps, a second section of motionless bodies scattered across the ground next to half-emptied bottles and Burger King bags, a third section with staggering stragglers in Bavarian-style top hats trying to hold one another up, a fourth group of janitorial workers waking up some of the aforementioned scattered bodies with broomsticks, and finally, busy employees of the station's makeshift beer tent who were setting up for the day's activities. The time was 6 A.M.
Because it was so early, we couldn't check into our hostel
Oktoberfest. The Theresienwiese was massive, longer than three football fields and on the original grounds used in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. There were rollercoasters, bratwurst stands, a Ferris wheel, kiosks of sweet-smelling candied almonds, water flues, a carousel bar, games, balloons, pretzel vendors, and there were beer tents, massive halls of revelry built by Munich's six different breweries. It seemed so crowded even by then that we probably gave up too early on an inside spot, and we took seats in the garden outside of Hacker-Pschorr. Within a few minutes, Team Bavaria had our first liters.
I'll spare all the details that I'm sure others will mention, but we enjoyed the warm Bavarian morning and made it all the way through early afternoon
Oktoberfest: 1, Me: 0.
I really needed that good night's sleep, and though we got off to a later start, we immediately snagged seats inside the Spaten tent to begin day two. Again there were many locals, and we learned that Oktoberfest 2006 had been extended by a few days to coincide with German Reunification Day, which is like our Fourth of July. Many people had taken time off from work, so the fest had a decisively local appeal. Our new friends in the Spaten tent explained much of the fest's history, translated some of the popular songs, and pointed out the sign displaying how many Oxen had been eaten thus far inside the tent, along with the name of the ox currently being eaten. Those four hours were very informative and allowed for the creation of the following list of German drinking rules:
- After Prost
- Never drink the backwash. Only homeless people drink backwash.
- When you Prost! in conjunction with Exen!, all parties involved must finish whatever is left in their glass no matter what its contents.
- Bavarians don't like Austrians, one reason being that Hitler was Austrian. Surprisingly, though, all of the big, glass, German beer steins are made in Austria. Do not point out this fact to a Bavarian.
- How do Austrians conceive a child? They poke a hole in the condom.
- How do Austrians conceive two children? If you said - "They poke two holes in the condom!" - then you are beginning to think like an Austrian, and that's scary.
- Never pour old beer into new beer. If you do, that means you'll do just about anything. Most likely, that means you eat children.
- If a nice German woman says - "Attention please!" - that means you probably just spilt beer and are on the way to being sloppy. Don't let it happen again
- If you get sloppy, you will probably be barred from buying another liter, and you might be booted from the table. If you are made to leave the table, you'll probably be sent to Austria.
- And finally, never ever ever tell a Bavarian that German beer tastes like American beer. If you do, first make sure they don't speak any English.
Our table was reserved at four o'clock, most likely by some corporate hotshot who was entertaining his Japanese clients, and our waitress regretfully had to kick us out. Prost! followed by Exen! Apparently waitresses hate to do this because they know they are kicking out the locals to make room for the suits, but since we had become locals, we all quickly regained focus and headed outside to Hacker-Pschorr for round two. I had to make up for my poor showing the day before, but right off the bat we were basically shunned by a table of locals who really wanted nothing to do with us, especially the guy on the end who we dubbed our Bavarian Uncle. Nobody was rude or unkind; they just glared at us like we didn't belong there. Within a few minutes though, Alli and Cissy had them toasting and laughing, and before long, we were all old friends. Even the Bavarian Uncle gave me a big bear hug as we all said our goodbyes and headed to the Paulaner tent for some weissbier
From here things get a bit hazy, but I do know: we had begun to recite German drinking songs using rote memory; we met someone who was the German version of Andrew Wong, a friend of ours from college; Cissy likes Italians; we also met someone who was a Bavarian bugling champion (please see attached video); Germans like Alli; Brian can wander off, get lost, sprain his neck, and still find us again despite drinking Schnapps with locals; Aussies like orange shirts; and finally, I like Bavaria.
Oktoberfest: 1, Me: 1.
We got off to an even later start on the last day of the fest, and on the way, we began to devise a plan for when to go where. I still was holding out hope of making it to the Ferris wheel before the festivities began just to get an aerial perspective of the grounds, but when we got there and briefly paused for some reason or another, I said, "I'll be right back." We hadn't been in the Lowenbrau tent yet, and I just wanted to peak my head in to see what it looked like, never thinking that there would be open seats at around 2 P.M. Well, it was our lucky day, and within ten minutes we had beers, a pretzel, two chickens on the way, and four seats for the remainder of Oktoberfest.
Things started off kind of slow, as we were drinking with a guy that didn't speak much English and a fifteen-year-old kid that had just stopped by the tent on his own to hang out for a while. My opinions on the drinking age and the taboo status of alcohol will have to come later, but this kid was just about lapping us with his drinking speed
The band in the Lowenbrau tent was great. They played what were probably 20-minute sets, all themed according to musical style. Following an early afternoon of Bavarian favorites, the stakes were raised after, believe it or not, an American set. It turns out that everyone loves drinking to John Denver, and the whole place went crazy. Everyone knew the song, and with each word, the temperature rose about half a degree - country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong (please see attached video)... This set was followed by the jazz set, including Benny Goodman and a favorite from Frank Sinatra, which prompted our first group session atop the benches in the Lowenbrau tent - I want to be a part of it...
After each set, the band ended with the traditional Ein Prosit (please see attached video), and before long, the Ein Prosits seemed to be occurring more and more often as the night seemed to be racing on and on. Outside we noticed it had begun raining, and inside we noticed the doors of the tent had been shut. Cotton Eye Joe, the German World Cup song, 99 Luftballoons, and songs we had heard over the past three days almost made the roof blow off of that place
Robert had joined our table about midway into the evening, and since his wife was working in one of the other tents, he decided to take his mother-in-law to the last day of the fest. As is the rest of Germany, it seems, he was as nice and welcoming as anyone could ever be, and he was happy to talk with us about the history of Oktoberfest, Bavaria, and Germany. Near the end of the night, he stood up next to me at the end of the table, and we surveyed the room.
"Is it always like this?" I said.
"Yes, especially on the last night."
I'll never forget that view. I have never seen so much happiness in my entire life
"You know," I said to Robert, "it's not that complicated. Things just really aren't that difficult."
He patted me on the back and sat back down.
Final Score - Me: 2, Oktoberfest: 1.
On Wednesday, after getting off to such a late start it almost felt like night, we all decided that we should do some sightseeing in Munich since our only journey had been the 20-minute walk between the hostel and the Theresienwiese. An hour later, we were in the Hofbrauhaus with four more liters, six new friends, and about 100 different "Stammtisch" signs, of which I took a picture with about 40 of them. We solidified plans to attend the next two Olympic games, as we were joined at our table by a couple from Vancouver, and we made friends with two tables full of Chinese tourists after Cissy defeated one of them in a chugging contest - Exen! We enjoyed the band, though they weren't nearly as good as the Lowenbrau crew from the night before. And, finally, Alli got to hear her song (please see attached video). We were there a long time. I'm not sure how long, but it was long enough. The next morning was rough
We chalked up the Hofbrauhaus to 'touring', but really, three back-to-back-to-back days of Oktoberfest are just about all one can handle if those three days are done right. Luckily, our scheduled overnight train to Prague allowed us one more day to redeem ourselves and see the highlights of Munich. We finally saw the Glockenspiel chime in at 5 P.M., as its dancers spun around and around to commemorate the end of the plague. We also ventured out to the Olympiapark, where we went up the Olympic Tower for a 360-degree view of Munich and its surroundings. And, I know it's crazy, but at some point, I think every single one of us decided against the idea of going to another beer hall for a few more rounds of helles.
Taking an overnight train, without getting beds, was probably not the best way to start Oktoberfest. Between our excitement and the text messages we gratefully received from my sister with Gator scores, we probably only got about three hours of sleep. We arrived to the Munich train station at around 6:30 a.m, and as we looked around, my fatigue quickly turned to excitement
As we downed two cups of coffee, we compared travel stories and read an article about the craziness of Oktoberfest. I was glad I wasn't the only one who was a bit nervous (being 4'11" in a crowd = smelling armpits, getting pushed around, and potentially getting lost), so we talked about ways to make sure we were all safe and stayed together. We remembered the warnings and words of advice given to us by previous festival goers, and I felt better prepared, at least mentally! We decided to try and check into the hostel and hoped for quick showers and naps before heading to the tents. We couldn't check in until 3 p.m., but the hostel allowed us to lock our stuff up and even gave us a free breakfast. It was then that we saw their sign of warning, "Oktoberfest beer is very strong, so we suggest you eat a lot before going." We heeded their advice and filled our stomachs with food before leaving
We followed the masses to the Theresienwiese, site of the festival, which was only about a fifteen minute walk from our hostel. When we arrived, I was amazed at the size of the grounds and how many rides, vendors, and food stands there were. I had really only heard about the beer tents and didn't expect this carnival-like atmosphere. After our initial exploration, we headed for the first tent, Augustiner. Since we arrived "late" as per festival standards (basically after 9 a.m. is too late for a table), we couldn't find a seat anywhere. You cannot get a beer without a seat (which is a rule I came to like very much as it eliminated the masses of people who would otherwise be standing between and around the tables), so we left and headed for another tent. Hacker-Pschorr, a smaller tent, was also full, but we successfully nudged into four seats of a picnic table outside filled with locals. We ordered our first round of liters, clanked our glasses, and said our first of many "Prosts"! I felt like we were horses coming out of the gate with the announcer yelling, "And they're off!"
We met locals to our left and to the right of us, each one friendlier than the next. We commented on how impressed we were that people from Munich were actually at the festival with so many tourists present
We paced ourselves as best as we could given our initial excitement, and ordered some traditional roast chicken and bratwurst to try and absorb some of the huge liters of beer we were drinking (which I needed two hands to pick up most of the time). Chad began to flash his ID to anyone and everyone, and confirmed that his German last name "Stamm" did in fact mean "tree trunk". But, when we found out that "StammTisch" meant "a table reserved for a meeting of friends or collegues, usually over a drink", his smile widened exponentially as he thought of weekly Gator games in which he always reserved a table for our friends. He told everyone I, too, was a Stamm now, and the congratulations and well wishes from people we didn't even know began to come.
A few hours later, I felt Chad's head on my shoulder and noticed a slight color change in his face
When we checked in, we agreed to take naps and regroup before heading back out later. I was extremely impressed with the cleanliness of the hostel and again praised Chad and Brian for finding and reserving the cleanest rated hostel in all of Europe. Although I felt pretty good, I slept anyway, already seeing that stamina was going to be required for the next three days. When we woke up, Chad felt much better, but I began to feel the effects of a hangover-headache. I opted to sleep more, but within thirty minutes, my headache progressed to what felt like a migraine, and I also got sick. It was unanimous to call it a day and begin strong in the morning...Yeah, that beer is stronger!
We woke up refreshed, and once again, made sure we took advantage of the free breakfast provided
A few hours later, we were sadly evicted from our table as it was reserved. The waitress told us they hated kicking people out, but the "rich people" had pre-paid for the table and they were forced to do so (apparently, it's quite expensive to reserve a table). We followed some of the guys from our table to another tent we knew well, Hacker-Pschorr, but at 4 pm, we didn't have a prayer of finding seats inside
So, after a few more hours and beers, they warmed up and were clinking glasses with us. They were telling jokes and taking pictures with us, and when we got up to leave, I think they were a little disappointed! We ended up in the Paulaner tent, taking outside seats where we could still hear the band playing inside. We met a new group of people, some from Rome, and some from Germany. We danced on the tables and enjoyed our first round of Weiss-beer. We met a young musician who was playing songs with some rolled up paper and a mouth piece from his horn (which was in his pocket for some reason).
When we left there, we were all feeling good and praised ourselves for good pacing. We stopped for some brats and kraut, and some other food I really can't remember, and when we began to see some fights, we decided it was time to go
We knew that since it was the last day of the festival, we needed to be there early to get seats. Chad, A.K.A, Clark Griswold, threatened us all that we were to be downstairs by 10 a.m.! Yeah right...he was the last one out of bed, and we didn't end up leaving for the festival until about 1 p.m. Although we heard that Lowenbrau was one of the crazier tents, we thought we would try it out anyway. I was amazed that we got four seats inside almost immediately, and it was borderline calm! It was 2 p.m., and our table mates consisted of an older man who didn't speak English, and a fiftenn year old boy who was drinking faster than I was. We actually saw many younger people drinking, and one father told me that he let his son drink beer as soon as he was able to hold a cup
As the hours passed, the crowd grew exponentially and our boring table mates were replaced with some of the nicest and most genuinely fun people. One guy in particular, Robert, spoke with Chad and I extensively about German traditions, politics, and history. When he talked of WWII and the Holocaust, he became serious and firm in his convictions. He said, "Germans know their history...it will NEVER happen again." If only that could be true... His mother-in-law was there with him (his wife was working in a tent), and she quickly became our new Bavarian grandmother. She gave me her card and made me promise to write her, which I did, and she promised she would write back. She hugged me a thousand times, and when Chad asked her to dance, I never saw a smile so big.
The band got progressively better, and when John Denver's "Take me Home" came on, the place went wild. This brought us to meet another couple, seated one table over from us. They were probably about sixty-five years old, and upon hearing we were on our honeymoon, they got so excited because they too were on their honeymoon. They had been together for about twenty years and just decided to get married all these years later. He had lost his voice from partying so much, but refused to let me go for even one dance
At 11 p.m., the festival was over, and as the tables were being broken down and the band disassembled, I took one last look around. Chad and I hugged and decided that this was the perfect finale to what ended up to be three of the most fun days of our trip. As if to officially end the festival, it began to pour, and one by one, the tents closed. We went back to the hostel and hung out at the bar comparing festival stories with others. As we said goodnight, we vowed that the next day we would get up earlier and see some of Munich.
As quickly as Oktoberfest ended, so did our free breakfast. So, we headed out for some breakfast before our touring began. It was still raining and much colder, which didn't make sightseeing very easy. We went to the Glockenspiel Tower to try and catch the show, but missed it by a few minutes. We walked around and tried to find something that would suffice as "touring" for the day.
We met some great people at our table. A group of Chinese tourists sitting close by challenged Cissy to a chugging contest (after making sure the beers were even, she easily won it). They took tons of pictures and were hilarious to watch. We met a great Canadian couple who ended up sitting with us and shared some beer and travel conversation. I do have to say, though, as they left I spotted a Canadian flag on their backpacks, and they confirmed what we had heard before, they did not want to be mistaken for Americans. UGH-minus one for them!
The next couple we met was there on business from somewhere in southern Germany. They had just finished working and were in need of a beer to reward themselves for a presentation well done. She told us all about her kids and how she used to live in Texas with their father (which obviously led to some Bush bashing all around)
We had one full day left in Munich before our night train to Prague. Brian and I felt fine, so since Chad and Cissy were hung-over and glued to the bean-bag chairs in the lobby, we decided to go and get some food to bring back for everyone. Sightseeing was a MUST today. Outside of beer halls and tents, they had no idea how great the city was. Finally, after some greasy pizza (no more brats or pretzels could be stomached), we peeled them up and began to walk around. We ended up going to Olympic Park and enjoyed the grounds and panoramic tower views. We walked through some main squares, in and out of shops, and took pictures of the architecture. We made it back in time for coffee right next to the Glockenspiel Tower and saw the show at the top of the hour.
Although we were checked out, the hostel was very accommodating and didn't mind if we hung out there
Brian and Cissy Said:
Take train from Venice to Munich. Randomly see Chad and Alli at train station. Check-in to hostel. Hostel is very nice and clean. Signs in hostel warn of strong Oktoberfest beer. Go to Oktoberfest. Drink many beers. Meet many people. Get very drunk. Oktoberfest beer is very strong. Chad puke on shoes. Go to hostel to sleep. Wake up and talk about previous day. Realize it is same day. Eat Burger King. Hang out at hostel. Go to sleep. Wake up. Go to Oktoberfest. Drink in tent. Sing many songs. Eat Ox named Hubert. Cissy conducts tent band. Meet many Munich locals. Get kicked out of table at 4pm for reservation. Proceed to next tent with locals. Lose locals and find more new locals. One new local have bad teeth. New locals no like us. Drink many beers with new locals. New locals love us. Leave and go to new tent. Brian gets lost. Brian finds the group. Meet paper horn blower and Andrew Wong look-alike. Drink many more beers. Go back to hostel to sleep. Wake up. Last day of Oktoberfest. Odds of getting seats are unlikely. Go to Lowenbrau tent and find seats immediately. Locals at table are very boring. Drink many beers. Meet old man blowing cuckoo pipe. Sing many drinking songs. Drink many more beers. More locals arrive at table. Band plays John Denver song. Tent goes crazy. Band plays New York, New York. We go crazy. Meet local crazy old dancing couple. Get mooned by old woman in dancing couple
Note: Due to the language barriers we encountered throughout the entire trip, we somehow found ourselves speaking to everyone in incomplete sentences with various accents (as evidenced in our blog post).
Being that we all just had three of the best days of our entire lives, we have decided that it might be a good idea to make the annual pilgrimage to Munich for Oktoberfest. Therefore, we are now accepting applications for admittance to Team Bavaria for the 2007 season
- New team members must like to party, must like beer, and must be interested in German beer.
- Inhibiting and/or judgmental behavior will not be tolerated.
- No new team members will have children which currently need rearing. We cannot be held responsible for irresponsible parenthood.
- No "Ugly Americans" will be accepted, and all new team members must be good ambassadors of the United States of America based on criteria set by current team members.
- Fighting and troublemaking will not be permitted. Anyone wishing to join the Oktoberfest Fight Club should contact the Aussie in the orange shirt as seen in the photo album for this entry.
- Only one mulligan will be allowed. After overcoming the first day jitters and acclimating oneself with Oktoberfest beer, stamina and durability will be mandatory for all remaining days spent on the Theresienwiese and ensuing beer halls.
- Bonus credits will be considered for anyone with the ability to speak proficient German or with knowledge of any Bavarian drinking songs.