The German Beer Festival

Munich, Germany.

Oktoberfest affects people in many, many different ways and some more than others. For instance a gentleman at Munich airport thought it wise to check in the luggage scale instead of his suitcase. It had been a long few days in Munich for my travel companion and I and instead of bothering to join the queues for the check in desks we decided it would be much quicker and easier to use one of three self service kiosks that weren’t overly busy yet was humming with the excitement that a coach load of retired people bring to an airport self service kiosk. As I said Oktoberfest affects us all in mysterious ways. After queuing for an obscene amount of time watching people fumble around trying to work the mysterious touch screens we were finally awarded with tickets. Then came the waiting around as people tried to check in their own luggage. This is usually relatively straight forward. 1. Check yourself in and print ticket. 2. Check in luggage, print off sticky label, apply to bag. In front of us an old gentleman and his wife were in the process of checking in their luggage. Out came the label which was taken and perfectly applied. The button was pressed to move the luggage towards the mysterious ‘conveyor belt to nowhere’ at the back before the next bag was checked in. The problem was that the bag moved but the luggage label did not for the luggage label had been attached to a metal bar that went over the weigh machine. A bar that I would deem pretty useless but I assume it has some structural purpose. We looked on in amazement while the gentleman continued to check in his second piece of luggage before I finally came to and decided it wise to alert the assistant that was basically checking in everyones luggage for them anyhow. I can only imagine the misery that must be caused to many people when a bag enters the handling system with no label. I think the gentleman just made an honest mistake but in my head I like to think he had spent the last few days in a beer tent with his wife and old buddies getting absolutely smashed. Don’t think I’m being ageist! I had  almost thirty hours of flying ahead of me which, combined with several days of drinking beforehand nigh on finished me off. Age it would seem, is catching up with me. So let’s take it back three days.

Oktoberfest is world renowned but I still didn’t quite know what to expect. After an overnight flight and several breakfast beers we headed straight from Munich airport to a bare little shop down a side ally where we would be collecting our uniform for the next few days aka lederhosen. There is good reason why the store was tiny and unexciting. That being it charged €80 to rent a pair of shorts, socks and a shirt for three nights and the place was never empty of customers. It was worth it of course. Who wouldn’t want to strap on some leather shorts with leather braces, thick, long woolly socks and a check shirt? Footwear? Adidas trainers of course. After a quick visit to the hotel we got changed and headed to the train station to catch the train that would drop us near the festival site. Worryingly we appeared to be the only two people dressed for the occasion as we boarded the train feeling a bit vulnerable. This sense of vulnerability only increased as we decided on a Mc Donalds before venturing on although there was a slight increase in people on the streets who were dressed a bit odd. It turned out that pretty much everyone was already at the festival at 2pm on a Monday afternoon, fully dressed up and full on beer.

Upon entering the festival you have to go through the standard security measures which were basically nothing unless you had a bag. On the other side we were met with what can only be described as a big carnival, otherwise known as a festival. The main drag is full of food stalls and games stalls. Huge marquees line either side, one marquee for one brand of beer. An expansive fairground lights up the rear of the festival and the place is full of locals and tourists alike dressed up and having a laugh. The incredible thing is that every last piece of the festival is dismantled leaving behind nothing but a bare patch of tarmac once the festivities come to an end. Upon entering one of the main beer tents you wouldn’t think it would be something that can be easily constructed. They are far from a two man tent. We were part of a tour group but had arrived a day late and so through the wonders of Facebook we ventured into the beer tent where our group were anxiously waiting our arrival (or so I like to picture it anyway). My faithful Irish sidekick and I were determined to join the group in a blaze of glory. Ultimately this failed, quite simply because we couldn’t find them. Upon entering the tent we were treated to endless rows of wooden tables and benches, all of which were full. The place was humming with the chitchat of people which was periodically broken up by the live band who were staged high up in the middle of the tent. If not the band then some brave sole would stand on the bench and down his beer to which the 8,000 strong crowd would all turn around and cheer him on. I felt this was a slight sham though because more often than not the ‘brave sole’ in question was simply standing up to finish his drink, not down an entire litre. Just for reference, standing on the benches is perfectly acceptable. Standing on a table however will provoke the response of a very efficient German security team who will instantly remove you from the marquee. Stricken still by awe we were finally met by a beer wench who happily took us to a standing table and dutifully fetched us two  steins of beer (although they are not called steins, they are called something else which eludes me at present). Now before you get all PC and emotional on me as the world tends to be these days, a beer wench is what the ladies who serve the beer are commonly referred to as far as I know. They are middle aged German women in traditional dress who take no nonsense but will happily serve you beer all day long, so long as you tip them with a smile. When I say all day long, I mean all day long, 10am-10pm. Working through crowds of drunk people carrying 8-10 steins at a time. A stein holds a litre of beer which would equate to around a kilo. I reckon the glass it comes in could kill a man and so probably weighs nigh on a kilo also. This means that these ladies could comfortably walk around carrying a good 15 kilos, no tray, no spillage. Respect.

Oktoberfest being as it is we soon got talking to various groups of people, largely Americans and Australians and the stereotypes were in full swing. One strange thing I have picked up on this summer is that the Americans are far more insecure than normal. As a rule an American on the travelling circuit is a damn good laugh and can even understand basic sarcasm but right now even these guys appear to be really insecure about what the world thinks of them and their president. Top tip, don’t ever joke about American politics in front of an American right now. For those who know me, you can well imagine me spending a lot of time trying to dig myself out of a hole. I mentioned my Irish friend. Again I don’t want to stereotype but there was no way this chap was going to drink at a steady pace and before long he was a drink ahead of me. Not so long after that he was peer pressured into downing a stein, a full stein which of course he heroically did, all while some lass ended her afternoon by spewing all over the floor just behind us. After getting bored of/upsetting our local surroundings we made the effort to find our group which resulted in walking up to every table and asking if they were part of our tour group until one person finally said yes. After a good four hours in the tent we had finally found who we were looking for and the night spiralled from there. I think the one thing I learnt that day was that a full stein of beer, when downed in one, after several litres of beer beforehand will ultimately silence a man and deem him incapable of walking home unaided.

The next few days continued in the same weird yet fun vein. I think I ate three times over the three days, we went on a city bike tour with some mental American guide who told me off for sitting on a bike backwards, the second night we lost what remained of the group but drank on regardless and ended up chatting to some random locals and, the final day began at 10am which gradually escalated to people drinking out of shoes, singing at the top of their voices and me getting head butted by an arrogant Australian. As I boarded the plane to my next destination, New Zealand, unable to speak due to the soreness of my throat, I sat there and began to question the appropriate age at which such antics should end in one’s life. I decided that so long as I can apply a luggage label to my bag, I am good to continue with the status quo!



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