Prost! Oktoberfest – Year 2

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in the famous and festive Hacker tent, one of Oktoberfest’s 12 main venues.

Ever since I was a kid, Oktoberfest has been a bucket list item.  I crossed that off my list with last year’s trip as featured here on this blog.  However, as it was my first time and a very busy weekend — I didn’t get the full experience.  It was rainy and soggy.  I was confused and unsure about what to do and where to go.  How do you get in a tent?  Any tent?  We were unsuccessful on Saturday night, and tried to see the scene on Sunday around 10:30am.  I was impressed and in awe of the festival atmosphere and how nearly EVERYONE was dressed in a dirndl or lederhosen.  I didn’t want to drop 100 euros on one, especiallly in the cold, rainy weather.  But, I vowed to return next year, and with a dirndl!

This year, I hemmed and hawed about booking.  Did anyone want to go?  Hotels were too expensive, with a 12-bed hostel room costing 160 euros! Airfare was insane.  Then a week and half before the last weekend of Oktoberfest, I went to the train station and booked a night train.  I hopped on booking.com and found an affordable single room in a hotel outside the city in Passing, located a short walk from regional and S-bahn connections to the city center.  My colleague was staying with a friend 45 minutes away in Augsburg, and we arranged to meet up via WhatsApp.

On Friday October 4th, I darted quickly into the staff BBQ held in our school’s courtyard, then back to my apartment to change into jeggings and a comfy top for my night train.  I strapped on my backpack, straddled my scooter, and was off for the train station.  At 1am in Verona, I boarded my night train for Munich.  But . . . it wasn’t so easy.  I walked to the train as it approached the platform, but car 181 was not there.  The conductor said, “Ah, 181?  You must wait.  It’s on the way.”  Odd.  Then a few minutes before the train was to depart, 181 arrived.  A woman approached me and said, “It is a regular car.  We don’t have any beds left.”

“But I booked a bed.  I need to sleep.”

“I know but we don’t have it.  It didn’t come.”  This was a German train.  I was used to this kind of chaos in Italy but was absolutely suprised to see this with the German rail system.

“I need to sleep.  I’m going just for Saturday and it’s going to ruin my day.”  I said it sweet and concerned.

“Ok, I’ll get to you in a minute,” she said.  Meanwhile, fellow Italians in my same predicament started arguing with her.

“We must sleep!”  They shouted.

“Don’t yell.  I don’t have a bed for you.”

“With all these beds?” one man said, gesturing to the empty cabins visable as the curtains were drawn.

She pulled them into the cabin and they disappeared.  Then she returned to guide me to a bed.  They found a room for us, and someone was hustling to throw in sheets and pillows as they set up the beds (6 in a cabin).  I was so insanely grateful not to be spending a sleepless and uncomfortable night in an upright coach seating.  My friend Anna and I did that once, booking a last minute train trip from Amsterdam to Switzerland after unable to find accomodation there.  They were out of beds, so we spent quite a sleepless night  . . .  and at one point, along with an American guy we met, we went into one of the compartments, pulled the curtains, and made sex noises to scare others away.  It worked, and we were able to stretch out and get some sleep while others crowded in the hallway outside.  Overall, it was not an experience I was keen to relive on my short weekend.

I curled up into a ball and started to fall asleep the minute the train started moving.  Ever since I was a baby, I loved to fall asleep in moving vehicles.  Even if I’m not tired, I will want to sleep on a train.  And if I have a bed? Perfetto.  The Italian gentlemen were chatting noisely to each other, snapping photos for facebook, but eventually they fell asleep.  But then, we were interrupted.  “Passports, passports!”

Wait, they are waking us up to check our passports as we enter Austria?  But when I ride the train in the daytime, they don’t check anything!

Then an hour or so later.  “Pardon the interruption.  Is there a doctor on board?”

Then an hour or so later.  “Tickets, tickets!”  Yes, they woke us up to check our tickets instead of checking them as we boarded.  UM!

Then an hour or so later. “Passports, passports!” as we entered Germany.  Luckily, I fell asleep after each of these interruptions, but with each interruption, the Italians started chatting again.  I lost a lot of sleep.  Then of course, the signal in the morning that we were on time and rolling into Munich Central Station in 20 minutes.

Even at 6:30am when I exited the train, the station was coming to life with dirndl and lederhosen-clad folks in good spirits, awaiting a day of fun.  Many people were even sleeping on the station floor, taking a break between last night’s festivities and the 10am opening of today’s tents.  I freshened up at the restroom sink, hopped on the S-bahn to drop my bags off in Pasing, then returned to purchase an authentic dirndle across the street.  As the old woman zipped me up, she said, “You look great!”  Then she tied my apron knot on my left side, asking “Are you single?  I hope you are,” she said pointing to my cleavage.  “You will have a lot of fun tonight!”  I later learned that you wear your knot on the left to indicate you are single.  On the right if you are taken.  Brilliant!  But there was no equivalent for men with their lederhosen.  Well, that’s not fair.

Oh, men are so darned sexy in those leather suspender pants.  They are never washed, and they say they are better the older they are, after many days of wear, sweat and beer spills.  Starting at 90 euros for the lederhosen alone, I was suprrised at how many men invested in them along with the gingham top and sometimes even special shoes and socks.  Yet, I dropped 100 euros on my dirndl and 20 for the half shirt that goes underneath . . .   if you’re gonna go all that way, dress the part.  And the slightly cheaper train station ones were only a fraction of the quality of the authentic ones found across the street.

I felt at home, part of the scene in my Bavarian attire.  I posted some pics on facebook and twitter, then sat down for a nice fruhstuck (breakfast) at a delicious restaurant in the train station.  I was enjoying the food, the energy of the scene, and people watching.  Then I headed for the fairgrounds, ducking into a small tent for lunch, where they let me in as a single, seating me with a random group of early 30 somethings.  As often happens at Oktoberfest, we became fast friends, drinking, saying “Prost,” and sharing jokes and tales.

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They were mostly Americans (New York and Chicago).  And the guy next to me was from the Netherlands.  One of the Americans said, “Did you ever  have a bucket of ice thrown on you in the middle of sex?”

I laughed at the random intimacy and said,  “No!”  And he said, “It’s not fun.  They did it to me last night.”

Then they asked what’s the secret to get in the tents?  I explained that I only got in at 10am on Sunday last year, and that I had no idea how to get in but we had some German connections who were going to help us this year.

“They’ve got to accept money, right?  Someone’s gotta be paid!” he said.

“I’m not sure that works,” I said.  “Nothing worked last year. . . ” after a long pause, I added matter-of-factly, “That was a wasted blow job.”

The Indian-American Manhattanite in front of me said, “Aw, can we keep her?!”

Before long, my friend arrived at the fairgrounds, and I left the group to go meet up with her.  We vowed to keep in touch, and they said they’d let me know when they were in Italy.  (They are a bunch that loves to travel. This was their second year in a row at Oktoberfest).

My friend and her German friend arrived, and we walked around the fairground as it started to rain.  Both of us set into panic mode, traumatized after last year’s cold, soggy experience.  Tents were closed.  We couldn’t get in anywhere . . . or so we thought.  We ended up at a cute little dessert tent that looked like a fairy tale castle.  We joined the short line as I pulled up the Oktoberfest pamphlet I downloaded on kindle for iphone. ” Oh, this tent has sweets and prosecco and wine,” I said.  “But no beer.”

But it was cute, it was dry, it had alcohol and there was live music!  We went in and had a blast.

We squished at a table, ordered our food including traditional kaiser schmarrn, and before long, we were dancing on the benches to the live music, featuring traditional German songs, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and modern hits such as “Blurred Lines.”

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The energy was positive and reminded me of the vibe of a wedding.  Good music, alcohol, food, strangers and old friends dancing and singing together — a positive carpe diem attitude.  Let everything else go.  “Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”  I vowed  to return to Oktoberfest annually if I could, even if I was in the States.  I would make it happen.  This was not a bucket list item. This was a new tradition!

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This video does not adequately capture the mood because vibes are non-transferrable.  But it can give you an idea:

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After about four quick hours, we decided to leave the crowded tent and try getting into the Hacker tent.  Hacker is one of the most popular tents, decorated with blue skies and filled with folks of all ages enjoying the Hacker-Pschor beer in the classic oversized glass Oktoberfest mugs.  Earlier that day, we heard that there was a waitress we could pay Schuzen tent.  We got our 25 euros ready, but the bosses were around, and she couldn’t take bribes.  This time at Hacker, we knew someone else who knew someone else.  His waitress friend got us all in, so we paid an extra 5 for our 10 euro beers as a thanks.  Minutes later, I was invited to squish up, standing on the bench, dancing to “In the Mood” and ACDC’s “Back in Black” and all kinds of fun tunes.   After every song, it seemed, the band had us sing the German drinking song “Ein prosit, ein prosit . . . ” After which we would all clink glasses and drink!  A special wordless bond forms as you make eye contact with a stranger over your crashing mugs.

Another round of giant beers.  More dancing.  Then a stroll around the very, very crowded venue — so packed that sometimes we couldn’t even walk, ribs getting crushed, guys reaching out to flirt, couples kissing in the corners, everyone in great spirits.  Back to the benches for more dancing and another beer.

Again, this video is just a peek at the scene in the Hacker tent.

For much of the night, I danced next to a woman in her early 60s who only spoke German, so I said “Dat is Gut!” Then a guy at the table behind us fell onto me as I collapsed onto my knees on the slippery table top.  He offered to buy me a beer, but I had no need for another at that point.  We met many more people — lots more singing, lots more dancing.  Then the final song.  Michael Jackson’s “Heal the world.”  We all swayed back and forth in a dizzy, tipsy glowing happy mood.  A local said, “They play this as the last song on Sunday night.  Too bad you can’t be here tomorrow.  When they close Oktoberfest, it’s very emotional.”

After 8.5 hours of beer, music, dancing and partying, I was happy and satisfied as I boarded the S-Bahn for Pasing and back to my hotel room.   There were after parties, but I was done.  I took a shower and crawled into my comfy bed for a blissful sleep.  The next morning, I awoke to church bells, enjoyed a delicious breakfast spread, and headed back to central station.  After buying a few of those traditional bavarian gingerbread cookies, I was on my train and headed for Genoa again.  I napped, enjoyed the stunning scenery that rolled by, and had one of the best meals in all my travels: Austrian Kalbsbutterballn.  Meat in butter.  Yum!  Oh, and nobody checked our passports at either border crossing.

I was so glad that I had the opportunity to go again and to live the great vibe under the tent.  I’m grateful that my parents gifted me some money to help make my travels possible.  In Italy, when a project such as a bridge, highway or rail network, is funded by the European Union, they post the EU flag along with an explanation of the project.  My parents need to design a flag so I can post it along with all my pictures.  Danke Schon!

Prost!

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