in which I travel down to Munich for a day to partake in the most hallowed and touristy of German traditions, Oktoberfest, and even manage to drink a bit of beer (which is not so easy as it sounds).
Sometimes, when I look back at my time at Harvard, I am struck by how ordinary I often felt while there–that is, not so particularly good at anything (not to say I felt particularly bad at anything, except perhaps multivariable calculus and physics). Of course, I realise this is all on a very skewed system, and certainly I am not fishing for anyone to say anything to the contrary. But there was, however, one exception. One area that I believe I have an extraordinary gift for: traveling. And what more, maximizing travel while minimizing cost. And to be yet more specific, if there is one thing about traveling that I have particularly mastered, it is the art of traveling within Germany. And thus, true to form, I managed to have a very authentic Oktoberfest experience for the grand total of around 40€. And, considering the cost of a normal train ticket (on my 50% card) would be just over 30€ round trip, that says something.
Desiring to get to get to Munich at some point during the Oktoberfest period, I consulted Matt, the other English Teaching Assistant (ETA) placed in Erlangen. Knowing already he had at least some interest in beer, we established that we both wanted to go and were free the upcoming weekend, coinciding perfectly with the opening weekend of the famed festival. And, after a brief look at the weather forecast and train schedules, we settled on Saturday and met at the train station just before 8 am, in time to catch the train on to Nuremberg and then on to Munich. The ticket in question? A “Bayern Ticket” (Bayern being German for Bavaria, of course), on which up to 5 people can travel freely on all Bavarian regional trains for 28€. Of course, it would have been better with more company, but there was little we could do about lacking friends. I have a feeling the Bayern Ticket will make a strong showing in the next year, especially as there is a “single” version available for 20€.
Anyway, all systems go, and by 10:45, we found ourselves navigating the crowded Hauptbahnhof in Munich, amid scores of Lederhosen and Dirndls (making me almost second guess my decision to leave the dirndl I have at home… but then again, it is pink). We got a bit caught up in the crowds, but eventually found ourselves on the famous “Wies’n”–the grounds for the annual festival. Let’s just say the atmosphere was intense…
We proceeded to some of the “Beer Tents,” first inside the Paulaner tent, then into the Löwenbräu one, desperately in search of two spots at a table, quite difficult to come by since noon had already come and gone. Not to mention it being the first day, and thus the crowds were somewhat larger than normal. But our desperation certainly didn’t stop us from capturing some of the atmosphere of general merriment.
Finally, after a couple hours of hoping, we managed to score a couple seats outside the Löwenbräu tent. Sure, not the classic experience inside a tent, but quite frankly, with the sun shining and it being more than a few degrees cooler, it was probably a more pleasant experience, all things considered. Besides, we had spent a couple hours within the tents. I might add, “tent” is somewhat of a misnomer, as to me it implies small and temporary. While temporary is technically true, it obscures the fact that these are built in such a way that they could easily be permanent. They are just set up annually. And small is, as can been seen from the picture below, certainly NOT the case.
Having secured seats, however, we had only completed the first (and more difficult) of the two part challenge. Next up: actually ordering beer. Which took quite a while, since the waitresses are necessarily overworked and covering entirely too many tables. But, Ende gut, alles gut, as the German Stichwort goes (all’s well that ends well, as we say). And we each successfully ordered our own Maß of beer. Or, for the uninitiated in Bavarian drinking culture, a liter. Mmm. Oktoberfest beer.
And, with an extremely large pretzel to go with it, we were excessively satisfied. Particularly after the second Maß and second large pretzel. And, pleasantly feeling the effects of the two liters of beer (over a couple hours–seriously nothing absurd), we headed out to wander the grounds and take in the scene. Starting, of course, with the legendary gingerbread cookies.
For the most part, the general atmosphere at Oktoberfest might be compared to a cross between a large state fair and an amusement park. With, of course, a lot of beer. And traditional dress. There were lots of rides, lots of merriment, lots of tourists. Quite a scene, really.
We then set out to wander Munich proper while we waited for dark to fall and Oktoberfest to take on a bit of a different feel. I have a deep love for Munich, as a whole, and I picked Bavaria as one of my top choices for location largely in the hopes I would be placed somewhere in or near Munich. Of course I lost that gamble, but Bavaria is still Bavaria, I suppose. After a couple hours in the city center, we headed back and saw Oktoberfest by night.
And then, exhausted from the long day, we caught a train that left Munich just after 9, arriving in Erlangen around 11:30, and bringing me back to my apartment just before midnight. A major success. And now, having experienced Oktoberfest, I no longer feel any particular need to go back. I wouldn’t be necessarily opposed. But certainly no obligation. It had been a most excellent day.