Monday, October 18, 2010

Eins, zwei, drei - Oktoberfest in Munich!

I was pretty excited to travel to Munich for Oktoberfest. How many crazy big parties are there in the world? Carnivale in Rio, the running of the bulls in Pamplona - what else? Oktoberfest is right up there - one of those things you need to do before you die.

I've been to Oktoberfest in other cities. Chicago has a couple festivals. I've even been to Oktoberfest in Stuttgart, Germany. These experiences should have prepared me for Munich, right? Not at all. Munich's Oktoberfest dwarfs everything else. Imagine seeing a local cover band playing a U2 song and then seeing U2 for real in a large stadium.  It's a huge difference.  Oktoberfest in Munich was impressive! Not to mention - 2010 is the 200th anniversary of the festival.

Oktoberfest is located in a very large field called Wiesn, fairly close to the central train station in Munich. We went on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, we arrived at 7am. Yes - in the morning! The above photo is of a lovely sunrise over the Augustiner beer tent in Wiesn. We were told to go early, hence the 7am start. But even at this time, there was a packed crowd waiting to get in to the popular Hacker-Pschorr tent. I would show you a photo of the crowd, but it was packed in so tightly that I couldn't even lift my arms to reach my camera for a photo! After waiting almost two hours in line, I still couldn't get into the tent! We had to go to another tent.

As a veteran of Chicago festivals, I'm used to big crowds.  The Taste of Chicago boasts something like a million visitors.  Can you believe Oktoberfest is bigger?  Five million visitors come to Oktoberfest every year.  Wow.  In fact, it's the world's largest fair.  I can believe it.  It's a huge carnival atmosphere.  There are rides, ferris wheels, and games for everyone to enjoy.  You are drowned in a sea of people from dawn to dusk.

Even though you're in the largest fair in the world, the fair is not even the main attraction to Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest is about the beer, and you celebrate beer inside beer tents and beer gardens.  Wiesn features a bunch of large tents and beer gardens, hosted by the major Bavarian breweries such as Hofbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, and Paulaner.

The experience inside the beer tents is crazy. We spent most of our time inside some tent or other. Each tent is huge - the size of a football field.  Actually, the "tent" is not really a tent - it's a solid, wood-and-steel structure, even with platforms for a 2nd story on the ends.  It's packed with people. You have to be aggressive to find a seat at a table - and you have to be at a table in order to be served beer. Here are some photos from the Pschorr and the Hacker-Pschorr tents.

Alex, Mo, and I were joined by Mo's brother, Salim, in Munich. Not only was he a cool guy, he speaks German! It was nice to have a Mexican-with-Middle-Eastern-name-who-lives-in-Germany friend and tour guide hehehe. Can you believe the resemblance between Salim and Mo? :)

At Oktoberfest, everyone gets the same beer.  It comes in one size - one liter.  This size beer stein is called a mas.  "Ein mas, bitte!"  Yummy.  German beer is so tasty.  And German beer quality is awesome - you never get a hangover!  Hmm, how many mas did I have???

A key to a successful day of drinking is to eat well.  And eat well we did!  You may be familiar with the large German pretzel and wiesswurst.  Very tasty!  What was new to me, however, is an even more traditional item.  It's a roast chicken called Hendl.  So good!!  Yum yum yum....

Oompa-loompa bands kept us entertained at the beer tents. We in the USA are used to small bands of 2-4 members. In Bavaria, they have full bands of over 10 members! It was fun singing along on top of the table, while occasionally chanting "ein prosit" or "eins, zwei, drei, g'suffa."

Just outside the beer tents were the biergartens. It was nice to hang outside, especially when it was warm and sunny. The biergartens were usually less crowded than the tents.  Here are some photos of us at the Hofbrau biergarten, with some of Alex's friends (German peeps he knows from Mexico).

When you're drinking beer all day in a tent, you're bound to make some new friends.  It was a very friendly place!  There were obviously many Germans around.  But we met other Europeans - Dutch, Belgian, etc.  Also met some Americans and even more Mexicans!

The final thought I'll leave you with is about all the cool clothing people wore to Oktoberfest.  You've probably heard of lederhosen before - the leather breeches than German men wear, typically with some kind of checkered shirt.  German women wear these dresses called dirndl - very pretty!  These costumes are quite expensive - I hear they run you $200 or more!  I had to train my camera to the  ladies in dirndl to appreciate some... cultural awareness....

Whew! Oktoberfest was quite the experience! I will definitely remember the time here. Maybe I'll brag about it to my grandchildren one day...

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