I’ve been obsessed with Christmas Markets since I was a kid. I always liked quaint decorations, fairytale villages, and a calm, peaceful throwback style of Christmas. As a teenager, I’d flip through my AAA newsletter and see the “European Christmas Market” tours, which first got my mind going. This is a thing? People do this. I want to see! In 2006, Rick Steves, my travel idol, released a special Christmas in Europe special. I’m watching it right now as I type this actually.
I bought the set as a gift for my mother which also included a Christmas CD and a cookbook, and thus began our annual tradition where we’d watch and get in the old-fashioned spirit. He took us to England, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Austria, Germany and Switzerland for enchanting markets, beautiful scenes, and heartwarming traditions. I really wanted to go! But I was a teacher, and most of the markets closed on Christmas Eve. How could I fly to Europe before break? Then finally when I planned a trip to Belgium after Christmas in 2009, I learned the markets of Bruges and Brussels were open! I bundled in many layers, and wandered for hours and hours enjoying the setting. I finally got to a European Christmas Market. But Germany was the king. I had to go.
Once I moved to Italy, that became a weekend option. Several colleagues wanted to join me in December 2012, my first year. As we were all on a budget, we scanned Ryan Air for affordable flights to German cities. While Nurenburg and Bremen were more famous, the ticket prices were exorbitant even for Ryain Air. So, we soon booked flights to Dusseldorf.
In early December, we dashed to the train station after work for the 1.5 hour trip from Genoa to Milan. As we approached, we looked out the window and saw the tracks and fields covered in . . . snow! Living in the temperate Mediterranean climate of Genoa, snow was rare and special, so we were super excited and totally in the Christmas spirit. We hopped on a bus to Bergamo airport where we learned our flight was delayed because of the snow. We worried our flight would be cancelled, but thankfully it wasn’t.
When we finally did land in Dusseldorf, our entire flight had missed the bus transfer to the city center. Yes, Dusseldorf has an airport right in the city with easy train connections, yet to get our bargain price, we had to fly to a commuter airport way outside the city. It was around midnight when we approached the customer service desk. “What do we do?” We asked frantically. We tried to get a cab, but the queue was too long as everyone else was doing the same thing. Exhausted and faced with the possibility of sleeping on the airport floor, we were delighted when she said, “We have a hostel here on the property. We only have a few rooms left. We could book them for you, and you could go to Dusseldorf tomorrow morning.” After a bit of deliberation, we were so excited for a bed and said, “Yes!”
While the hostel was on the property, it was about a 20 minute walk away through snowy, dark woods. Some of my colleagues were freaked out, but I was mostly intrigued by the new surprise and pretty location. The air was fresh and crisp, and the hostel was like a little farmhouse, warm and inviting with basic accommodation. I took the single room since I actually like being alone, and fell into a deep exhausted sleep. I awoke the next morning to wooded snowy views, met up with my friends, and finally took our bus and train connections to Dusseldorf as the sun rose over the serene landscape.
The snow caused a nightmare travel interruption–and I felt really guilty since I planned everything on this super tight budget– but we were safe, well-rested, and Dusseldorf was covered in a rare magical white blanket. We were still in the Christmas spirit. To make it even better, the hotel in Dusseldorf did not charge us for our first night since we had informed them we couldn’t make it. Awesome!
This was not my first trip to Dusselforf. I had popped through on a tour of the Rhine with my friend Mike while studying abroad in the English countryside back in 2001. The Rhine had flooded, although I still remember Dusseldorf as charming and adorable. Those pleasant memories helped inform my decision to return.
Dusseldorf along the river: charming and magical in the snow
The streets were decked in quaint and tasteful decorations, extra magical with the freshly fallen snow sticking to the trees and lamposts. It was cold, so we had to keep ducking into cafes for a hot chocolate or a quick bite. And it was so crowded that it was hard to check out the wares in the stalls without being swept away by the tide of holiday shoppers. But it was all worth it. I was ecstatically happy to be there with new friends and about to see old friends in a couple of weeks when I flew back to America. I loved my life.
There I am on the TV peeking into an electronics store
Christmas gingerbread cookie — sorry I had to devour you, Rudolph
Merry Christmas from Dusseldorf!
I bought some ornaments and trinkets, drank a few glasses of hot mulled wine (gluhwein) in souvenir glass mugs, and then after dinner we were back in the hotel changing for a fun night out. While I intended to return to the hotel early to chillax, I ended up staying out super late because Dusseldorf’s party street was filled with so many fun folks and great vibes.
Dusseldorf’s party street
Made some new friends out in the Dorf
Since it was 2012, everyone went crazy for Gangnam style, especially the Germans. in the club I will always think of Dusseldorf when I hear it.
Cheers and dancing, and finally a tipsy, happy walk back to the hotel for a deep slumber. It was a quick yet magical visit, and I knew I was totally not done with Christmas Markets. As I’ve said before, I don’t travel to check things off a list. I travel to experience and enjoy. I enjoyed this! Merry Christmas! Buon Natale! Fröhliche Weihnachten!
Exactly 24 years after watching the Berlin Wall topple from my tiny bedroom TV in suburban America, I walked along the remnants at the Eastside Gallery. On November 9, 1989, I was mesmerized while watching the media coverage–only 9 years old yet mature enough to understand the importance, moved by the emotions.
The world was changing. Just a child who still played with Barbie dolls within her peach-colored walls, I knew I was experiencing history. I felt the joy. Some time later, I received a map in the mail along with my National Geographic Junior subscription: the new Europe. I unrolled the scroll along with travel dreams, taping it in my bedroom where it still remains today.
4 years later in 8th grade, we read Night and learned about the horrors of the Holocaust. I wanted to know and understand more about this time in history. I wanted to know how it happened. Why? I wondered what Germany was like today, wondering how have they moved on after such a painful past. In college, I studied abroad in England where I read Goodbye to Berlin, a novel by Christopher Isherwood, set in Berlin’s eerie prelude to World War II. The protagonist said, “I am a camera,” wanting to just record the events as they happened, to remain a detached observer. Yet he soon realized that you can’t remain detached because you become involved. You care. This novel turned into a screenplay which eventually led to the hit Broadway musical Cabaret, later a film starring Liza Minnelli.
My interest grew. That semester, I visited Germany for the first time, exploring the Rhineland with a friend, impressed by Germany’s amazing culture and beautiful landscape. I liked Germany. I liked the Germans. History was clearly history in this country that has moved on. Don’t mention the war.
In 2006, I ventured “beyond the Iron Curtain” for the first time. Ok, the former Iron Curtain, but growing up in the 80s, it was hard not to view Eastern Europe without thinking of life before the fall of the U.S.S.R. As I crossed from Austria to Hungary on the train, I felt a chill and a thrill, going somewhere that seemed so forbidden as a child, memories of long lines for food and basic necessities– then the long lines at the first McDonald’s. Here I was now, crossing borders into free countries. On that trip, I explored Budapest, Prague, Cesky Krumlov, and then headed down to Dubrovnik before back to Switzerland and home. I truly enjoyed my time: learning much, spending little, and exploring fueled by a decade of curiosity of life in Eastern Europe. Things were changing. Prague was modern, hip, cosmopolitan. Cesky Krumlov was a little gem along a river — fresh air, a valley, restored and inviting medieval streets with few tourists. It was absolutely lovely. But Budapest. . . Budapest bothered me. The facades were destroyed at street level. Buildings that once looked like Parisian architecture were cemented over, painted uniformly gray. To see the beauty in Budapest, you had to look up. And that just made me even more sad, grieving for what history has ruined. Pockmarks from shells, bullets, and grenades marred the buildings and streets. Tracks from the tanks scarred cobblestones. The stores didn’t offer much. The city was clearly poor, struggling. This was 2006. They just needed a bit more time. Decades later, Budapest is apparently doing much better, and I’d like to visit again. But I’m glad I saw Budapest then — it helped me get a feel for how grim the past was.
Always a travel addict, I devoured armchair travel when I was not on the road, watching episodes of Rick Steves and Samantha Brown, learning about Berlin’s progressive attitude, high quality of life, vibrant art scene, and general good vibes as well as the abundant museums.
Berlin might not have the jaw-dropping scenery of Italy or the quaint charm of Bavarian cities like Munich, yet it had so much to offer from a cultural and historical perspective. I had to go. Once I moved to Italy, it topped my list for a weekend visit. This year, I made plans to meet there with my friend Ashley (who resides in Düsseldorf). We planned for a weekend in November, my first available after much fabulous fall travel.
Saturday, November 9, 2013. Ashley and I strolled around the neighborhood outside our modern hotel until we reached a nearby palace. Next, we headed to the Eastside Gallery as it was a must-see for both of us. Here, we strolled along the remnants of the Berlin Wall, featuring graffitied murals. I walked up to the giant slabs, touching them, touching history, feeling an overwhelming connection to the past, almost dizzied by it. Did that 9-year-old girl ever think she would be here?
touching the Berlin Wall for the first time
As we walked along, posing for pictures, reflecting, we ended up walking in front of some television cameras while someone was announcing things in German. We wondered what it was about but kept walking along, snapping more photos.
Then on the way back, I stopped to pose in front of one mural featuring a car with today’s date on the license plate. November 9, 1989. “Is today the anniversary?” I asked Ashley. A quick search on google confirmed the answer, and then I was really in awe. What a fortuitous travel coincidence.
24 years later
Later that day, we explored an alternative hippie playground that reminded me of the vibe in Christiania in Denmark, as I wrote about here. When we spotted it from the train, a local said, “It’s like a playground for adults.” A giant cat statue peeked above the trees, so we vowed to find “Cat House” later. We followed the cat across the river, although once we arrived, we were clearly not welcome. There was some kind of cool party going on inside, but when we tried to enter, they said they were closed.
After departing, we grabbed a yummy currywurst (I learned all about these from Samantha Brown). We then walked to the Jewish museum, which was a celebration of Jewish history and culture as well as a sobering remembrance of the horrors of the Holocaust. There is an art installation where you enter a pitch-black unheated space, hearing only the echoes of those breathing around you. Quite an impact.
* * *
With Berlin’s cosmopolitan vibe, I was excited to explore multiple food options since in Genoa it’s mostly just Italian food. We had an excellent Greek dinner followed by drinks at the hotel before heading to sleep in our 7th floor room overlooking the train station.
The next morning, we hopped on a bus tour. While some scoff and mock them, I love bus tours because you can learn a lot, easily and efficiently see all the major sites, and be carted around for a nice relaxing break. Travel can be so much go-go-go–especially after yesterday where we walked almost all day, and Ashley blistered her poor feet. After the tour, we visited the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, two more iconic images from the media during my youth.
Check Point Charlie
At Checkpoint Charlie–the most popular crossing between the American and Soviet sectors–I posed with some Germans in US military uniforms, then we went to the museum, as featured in this episode of Rick Steves.
The museum was filled with information, way more than I could read during our hour there. It was absolutely fascinating to see all the ways people tried to smuggle others from East to West Germany. The museum had cars with hiding spots carved into the floor, metal machinery, and even two suitcases that were held together, used to transport a man’s girlfriend on the train. The museum highlighted the struggles, success and heartbreaking failures of those who were so desperate to escape that they would risk their lives. I just couldn’t fathom that. As I watched Reagan’s Speech, I was moved to tears. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
The next room featured a whole dedication to Reagan’s life.
As we left the museum, I had plenty to reflect upon. I only saw 3 of Berlins 200 museums and barely scratched the surface of this vibrant, artsy, creative city. I had to return. The air was crisp and invigorating as we made our way back to the hotel and eventually to the airport. As Air Berlin whisked me back to Milan, I relished my freedom to easily hop borders.
On the 18th of October, I flew to Cologne, Germany after work. That morning, my dad flew in from New York, had checked into the central hotel room, napped, and was waiting for me at the train station where he snapped this photo.
German efficiency is such a refreshing break and change of pace from Italian chaos. German trains are on time, they run as scheduled, and their transportation links can get you easily and reliably from all locations with minimal cost and fuss. It was just a few euros to take the train straight from the airport to Cologne city center, then a short stroll to our hotel on a cobbled lane.
“I wonder how much of this has been rebuilt,” mused Dad, looking around at all the buildings. “Ya know, after the war.”
“I know. Most of it, I think. They chose to rebuild in the old style, but it’s mostly post WWII construction.”
Throughout our short time in Cologne, Dad kept mentioning the war. He’s fascinated by WWII history, amazed at the horrors of the past and how Germany has worked to create a new, amazing, progressive, and overall pleasant country. But I told him, “Whatever you do, don’t mention the war.”
Dad knows what I mean. Maybe you do, too. If not, check out this scene featuring John Cleese in an episode of Fawlty Towers. Filmed in the 70s, it was definitely soon to be mentioning the war . . .
Dad upon my arrival
A full moon and a beautiful night — taken on my iphone
As my flight from Milan was delayed, I arrived later than anticipated and all the restaurants had stopped serving dinner. Dad waited for my arrival to eat, so we were starving but as with other trips to Germany in the past, we satisfied ourselves with a visit to a kebab shop. After stuffing ourselves with falafel and beer, I crawled into my bed and drifted off to a blissful sleep.
View from hotel room
We awoke Saturday morning to a delicious breakfast spread followed by a ride on the skyride (built in the 50s) which took across the Rhine towards a beautiful leafy park in its autumnal glory. We were looking for the spa, but weren’t sure exactly where to find it. Then as the skyride descended, I looked down and saw naked bodies sprawled in an outdoor pool and realized that we were right over it.
“Oh, right there.”
“Germany is so different . . . people could take pictures.”
“You’re just an anonymous body. . . do you not want to go now?”
“No, I’m cool with it.”
More on the spa later.
First, we got to stroll around the park, and in all of its every day real-life simplicity, my father and I loved this the best. It was such an unexpected joy, a surprise addition to our itinerary. We watched little toddlers on their tricycles san peddles, walked to the edge of the Rhine, watching the water lap the silty shore, and both envisioned our lives there.
Dad: “It would be really cool if you got a teaching job here.”
Me: “It is very pleasant. It’s pretty in it’s own way, not the dramatic beauty of Italy . . . but the quality of life, the infrastructure, everything is just so pleasant.”
After the park, it was time for the spa. Germany has many thermal baths, several dating back to Roman times. Cologne’s thermal baths are a recent addition when engineers kept drilling until they tapped into the source for nutrient-rich spa water. The water itself is known for its healing properties, and the spa provides many treats focused around the water and relaxation.
Now, it’s not as weird as it sounds to be there with my father. Yes, there is a naked area. No, it is not the whole spa, and my father and I coordinate our times. We have a whole routine. We meet each other back in the bathingsuit area before switching off to the naked area, to avoid unwelcome suprises. “I thought you said 3:30!!!” There are some things you can’t unsee . . .
We had such a blissful time swimming, bathing, exploring, and relaxing that we were there for over 8 hours. In the regular area, I especially enjoyed the hot tea soak and the indoor outdoor pool, featuring a circular current. Getting out of that fast moving stream was like Clark Griswald navigating the traffic circle in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. “Look kids, Big Ben . . . Parliament.” In the naked area, I enjoyed floating in a brine pool, like the dead sea. It’s amazing to completely relax your entire body, even your head, and you are still afloat! I’d always wanted to try that . . . and unlike a visit to the Dead Sea, I got to do this naked. I had the extra luxury of having the whole pool to myself a bit, but not before I almost bumped uglies accidentally with a guy next to his girlfriend . . . the slightest move will send you right across the pool, apparently. Also, it’s very salty . . . rinse throughly upon exit.
I enjoyed the Finnish saunas, walking in with my towel modestly covering myself and releasing it once securely seated. Everyone tries not to look, yet we all take a peek . . . And I realize how awkward the sauna can be. You have to climb up wooden steps in a cramped space, avoid the hot fiery stones, and avoid dropping your bits into someone’s lap. One false move, and it can be an awkward, sweaty tangle only seen in orgies. Yeah, these places are coed unless you choose a female-only area.
Once outside, you rinse in a cold shower and if you wish, a plunge into a pool while the skyride descends above you. It’s liberating. Something that works in Germany . . . and there are guards all over the spa to ensure people aren’t gawking, taking photos, hooking up, or just ya know, being weird.
“I’d like that job!” said one of my friends.
It wasn’t my first time at the naked spa. I had some practice in Aachen, Germany and again in Wengen, Switzerland. You get used to it, and to be honest, I hate wearing a bathingsuit in saunas now.
After a relaxing day, we showered, left the spa, and headed for a delicious dinner in the city center. We were drawn to the quaint architecture and charm of one building, and found out later that it was original, from the 1500s, the oldest building in Cologne. Our waiter took us for a tour of the basement after a delicious al fresco meal. During the tour, Dad kept mentioning the war . . . Anyways, I took the special salad with champignon mushrooms, fresh from the fields. Good beer, good conversation. Great day.
Sunday we awoke for yet another wonderful breakfast spread, followed by a stroll along the river, a one hour river cruise, and a visit to Cologne Cathedral. Of course, Dad continued to mention the war.
Beautiful fall colors by the cathedral
Scenes from our 1 hour tour
Dad always liked these buildings. (We stopped in Cologne briefly back in 2011 where he first saw them).
After a scrumptious lunch along the river (mine was chicken au gratin!), it was time for me to gather my things and head back to the airport and Italy.
View from lunch
I was only saying farewell to Dad temporarily, though, because he was coming to Genoa on Friday after heading to Salzburg and Verona.
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.
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.”
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!
This video does not adequately capture the mood because vibes are non-transferrable. But it can give you an idea:
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!
Two weekends ago, I went to Oktoberfest. I drank, I had fun with my friend Laura and the people we met, but mostly I was enjoying the scene, watching something I have heard about since I was a child with wonder and curiosity. Even before I liked beer . . .before I could even drink alcohol or even want it, I wanted to see Oktoberfest in Munich. And I did. This first time was a whirlwind of new experiences and a lot of rain (boo!). But I’m prepared and ready to go again next year. 🙂
Let’s let pictures tell the story.
And a formal writeup later. Off to Venezia domani!! 🙂 Haven’t been since 2002, and I loved it. Can’t wait.