Alright, this is another blast from the past but well worth documenting. I went to Oktoberfest back in 2006 while studying in Rome. I have to admit that going to Oktoberfest was nothing I ever planned on or cared about doing. I wanted to visit Germany at some point but assumed going to Munich during Oktoberfest would be the worst time as it would just be pure insanity and belligerent people everywhere which would make it impossible to get a “true” feel for Germany.
I believe it was on a Tuesday in October that I was approached by four of my Comrades who were also studying in Rome with the bright idea to head to Oktoberfest on Thursday. This was dumb for a couple of reasons. 1. Thursday was in two days, 2. Most people book their hotels, trains, planes etc to Oktoberfest months in advance since it gets so busy during that time, and 3. We didn’t know exactly where or what Oktoberfest actually was besides a lot of beer drinking somewhere in Germany. I expressed these grievances to my friends in the hopes to persuade them that we should just go to Germany at a different time.
Undeterred, my friends did a little more research and came back to me with the answers to all my questions. Apparently Oktoberfest was held primarily in Munich at a number of large beers halls hosted by the major breweries of the city (duh, how we didn’t know this I still don‘t know), Thursday indeed was in two days and every hotel, train and plane to Munich was completely booked. Thinking that meant that they had come around to my view on the matter I began to feel satisfied. However, my friends then stated that the fact that everything was booked would not be an issue- we would simply take a train to Trento, Italy and rent a car; this car would also double as our hotel. Brilliant!
Still not completely convinced but willing to give it a shot, I reluctantly agreed to join in as the 5th man on the trip. The car seemed to solve most of the issues, even if in a haphazard manner. There was still one problem however, and that was that in Europe most cars are not automatic unless you want to spend a lot of money. Of the five of us who would be traveling, only one of us could drive a standard. You guessed it. Me.
And so, two days later we were off to Oktoberfest on a train to Trento Italy. We got to Termini, the central train station in Rome at about 8am. The night before had been the first ever iteration of the Great Roman Beer Race which was established by a fellow classmate of mine “due to the lack of competitive drinking” in Rome. The race consisted of 15 guy/girl teams who would go by foot or public transport to five of the major tourist sites in Rome and take a photo of themselves chugging a beer in front of each site. The first team to finish their beers and make it back to the apartment won. Unfortunately my team did not come in first, but we also managed to not get hit by a bus and die so over all it was a success. Needless to say, we were probably the only people going to Oktoberfest with a hangover.
In order to try to save a few bucks on the train ride, we booked tickets for “Regazzi”, which means children in Italian. While we ranged between the ages of 20-21, Regazzi tickets were for twelve and under. However, in Italy the rules are often very bendable, especially if you are a dumb American tourist, so we decided to give it a shot and see if we could get by with the cheap tickets. Unfortunately not. Upon the TrenItalia guy checking our tickets we thought we were about to succeed with our cheap tickets until the guy looked at us and said in Italian “Regazzi?”. Pretending to be stupid, I looked at him and said “si, regazzi”. He looked back, dumbfounded and said “no, regazzi is little boys…”. “Oooooohhhh”, we replied. Damn, he had gotten us. Oh well, we just paid the difference and continued on our way. In Italy there is little incentive to not try to cheat the system- not that I am condoning this activity or would try to pull off this stunt again.
Upon arriving in Trento we found the car rental dealer and proudly took control of our 5 seat Opel Hatchback. After circling the town of Trento about five times and saying prayers while going around few blind corners (which were only wide enough for one car to pass through at a time although it was a two way road), we managed to find the highway.
Note: For anyone who has never driven in the alps before, you should be aware that while driving the highway from Italy through Austria to Germany, the lanes narrow substantially when the highway goes into a tunnel. This is usually not a problem, unless you happen to be riding next to a massive tractor trailer. When this is the case, the tractor trailer and you can not fit side by side going into the tunnel. So, lesson learned- If you are riding next to a tractor trailer while driving through the alps, be somewhere else when the tunnel approaches or you might not make it to the light at the other end. The first time this happened to me I realized this fact at the last second and had to downshift and gun the engine to squeak past the truck in the nick of time to avoid getting pulverized.
OK, so finally we somehow made it out of the Alps and into the dusk of Bavaria. Unfortunately, being the half-retarded college kids that we were, we neglected to bring a map, or understand any German Road signs. So yeah, we didn’t know exactly where we wanted to be in Munich or even how to get to the city center. Instead, we followed our favorite motto which was “somehow everything works out in Europe”. As usual, this turned out to be true. Without any direction and with Fabri Fibra blasting from the radio, we ended up right in the city center and parked the car on the street by 7PM. Boom, roasted. We exited our chariot which was now completely filled with peanut shells from from the a-holes who had been tossing them around in the back seat the whole trip.
The first thing we needed was sustenance. We found some little German restaurant in a cellar and settled on that. I have no idea what it was called or where it was but I remember gobbling down some type of slab of pig with a good, vinegary, German potato salad alongside a solid Heffewiessen. Following this meal, we called some friends we knew who were also at Oktoberfest. Unlike us, they had hotel reservations and a reasonable idea as to what they were doing. On this evening they told us they were at the “Hoffbrau Haus”.
Travelers to Munich who have done the bare minimum in research about the city and Oktoberfest usually know at least two things. 1. There is a Hoffbrau Tent set up at the fair grounds during Oktoberfest, 2. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Munich is the Hoffbrau Haus located in the center of the city. We knew neither of these things but assumed a cab driver would. After watching about 20 empty cabs whiz by us while we stood wavering our hands halfway in the street, we finally got the hint that cabs only stop at designated locations in Munich. Upon finally getting a cab, we told our driver to take us to the Hoffbrau Haus. The cab driver’s response was one of utter confusion: “Hoffbrau Haus???”, to which we confidently responded “yeah, yeah, Hoffbrau Haus”.
Somehow this ended up landing us at some gigantic park in the middle of the city in the middle of the night. Upon arriving we clarified with our cab driver “Hoffbrau Haus?” to which he responded, “yeah, Hoffbrauhaus”. After walking a few meters into the park we realized we had walked upon a ghost town. Tables with finished and half finished liter beer steins were abound, but no lights, and not a single person. We instantly realized that we had made some type of fatal error and called our friends again at the Hoffbrau Haus only to find out that they were at the one located in the center of the city. And so, another important moral of this story: When in Munich, most if not all beer gardens close before 11PM- and when your friends say they are at the Hoffbrau Haus, be sure to ask exactly where that is.
We managed to get another cab back to where our car was parked, and at this point decided just find a location to park for the night so we could get a “good” night’s sleep for the next day. This search culminated in a nice little lot along side the central train station (The Hauptbahnhof). It had everything a perfect night in a car required for good rest. There were some workers in the distance so we were not completely alone and vulnerable to getting molested. It was also in a lightly lit but quiet location, away from people walking by our windows and staring inside at our gypsy existence. Perfect!
Two hours later, only one of us was asleep and was snoring at about 120 decibels. The rest of us struggled, sitting upright in our seats, to get any shut-eye. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that there was more carbon-dioxide in the car than oxygen due to there being the exhaust of five people in the car with the windows only barely cracked.
Somewhere around 4AM, just as a few of us were starting to doze, there was the noise of someone trying to jimmy the car door open from the outside. I looked up and there appeared some deranged old guy trying to open our door. He then sort of walked away upon having no luck and disappeared into the fog of night. At this point we were all awake and asking the question “WTF?”. I’ll never know if the guy was trying to tell us we could not park there, was trying to rob us, or was just crazy, but we didn’t stay there any longer to find out, and so began the 4AM cruise around Munich in search of another spot to park/sleep.
This time we just decided to go for a spot on the street. After sleeping for maybe one hour it was 8AM and time to move the car to a real parking garage. After pulling in to the first garage we could find we finally had our motor-coach in a permanent holding cell for the next few days. Upon stumbling out of the car we began to realize our great flaw from the night before. We had just parked in what can only be described as a 4 star hotel for persons sleeping in their car for Oktoberfest. Little by little travelers began to arise from a tranquil night of rest and relaxation in their cars which had been safely nestled in this underground lot. And so, another tip: When sleeping in a car at Oktoberfest, do it in a parking garage- just note that the garages do try to kick people out who are sleeping in their cars so be sure to hide under a blanket when doing so.
Our first step was to head to the train station which was only a few blocks away in order to wash up and become semi-respectable human beings. Once complete, we grabbed a curry ketchup smothered brat, a beer and followed the lines of Lederhosen draped Germans who were spilling out of trains in the direction of Oktoberfest.
Suddenly, a great beast appeared from over the horizon. It was the mighty lion of the Lowenbrau beer hall, and it was calling our names. The Lowenbrau tent was destined to be our place of belligerence for the day- There was only one problem…the tent was already full. Those damn Germans! They were so efficient that despite the fact that we didn’t sleep, and were located a few blocks from the beer tents, they still managed to get trains into central Munich from the countryside and get to the beer tents before us!
No matter. It was a glorious day and we were able to secure a table outside. After being in hot, sweaty, B-O rampant Rome for the last month and a half, sitting in the crisp, Autumn, Bavarian air was tremendously refreshing; especially accompanied with a liter of sweet German nectar at 9AM. It seemed that the Germans, due to their extreme efficiency and insider knowledge of Oktoberfest, got to the fair grounds first and were all occupying the inside of the tents. The Americans and other tourists who did not know what they were doing or that the tents filled up quickly ended up getting there too late and so, were located at the outside tables. The Italians were also largely at the outside tables, but that was likely because they were simply too inefficient to get up in time to make it inside the tents, not because they didn’t know when to be there .
It was about this time that I first heard what would become the theme song for my Oktoberfest experience. No, it was not an umpa band, although they were excellently rampant throughout the fair grounds. It was the chanting Italian’s who had made their way through the alps and were still high off their 2006 World Cup victory. The Seven Nation Army song which had been turned into their national victory chant (pooo, po, po, po, po, pooooo, poo) would build slowly until everyone inside and outside the tents joined in chanting, yelling and toasting their steins. Drinking beer has the amazing affect of making traditions like this never get old no matter how many times the ritual was repeated.
After about three liters of beer we decided it was time to check out the carnival area. Of course this required getting another beer, only this time from an outdoor kiosk. If I have one recommendation for anyone who goes to Oktoberfest, it is to most definitely go to the bumper cars after putting a few back. These are not like American bumper cars in that (it seemed) the safety regulations in Germany are very different, and when you bump, you really bump and if your lucky might even get whiplash. After about thirty minutes of drunk bumper car crashing and playing “get the Afghan” (one of my roommates was part Afghan so this was a favorite past time), we headed out to Jaegar‘s Hostel near the train station to finally meet our other friends who were in Munich for Oktoberfest.
Although I never stayed at Jaegar’s I have to say that it, as well as a number of other hostels in the same area seemed like a great place to meet fellow travelers. Jaegar’s has its own bar open to it’s own travelers as well as the public. This bar also has great happy hour specials which is a good way to meet random people if that is your desire. Unfortunately I don’t remember too much of this because I pretty much passed out on the couch upon arrival.
We now had a crew of about ten Americans, and after pounding back a red bull, were ready to head to the Hoffbrau Haus in the center of Munich. Unlike the Hoffbrau Tent at the Oktoberfest area, this Hoffbrau Haus operates all year round and is a great place to get a taste of Oktoberfest at any time of year. We ended up getting a big table outside in the Biergarten (notable as being one of Hitler’s favorite places to drink). Unfortunately for Hitler, we were a big American group of non-Arayans including Catholics, Jews, Indians and whatever else, invading his favorite place…sorry Shitler, sucks to lose.
It was at this Biergarten that a few of us started getting into a friendly conversation with a gigantic German named “Manfried”. Manfried was in his 40’s and seemed like a friendly enough guy. He also explained how he was on his 12th liter of beer for the day and gave us half his life‘s story. It was a little bit after this that Manfriend began trying to convince us to go to another bar with him. I’m still not sure if he was just a friendly drunk German or some kind of pedophilic predator, but needless to say, we started to get a bit creeped out and did not take him up on his offer.
It was finally time to call it a night. This time three of us from our car crashed on the hotel room floor of some of our friends who we had met at Jaegar’s, the other two had a relaxing sleep in the back of the Opel in the parking garage. The next morning we met our friends back down in the parking garage. Words still cannot describe the odor that broke out once we opened the back of the hatch-back. We started to get ourselves together for the final full day of Oktoberfesting, and I remember my friends who were in the Opel brushing their teeth with Gatorade as a substitute for toothpaste in the bottom of the parking garage. A few more days like this and it could have broken into full out Lord of the Flies down in that garage- lucky we were leaving the next day. An interesting tid-bit is while the two had been sleeping in the car, they had to bury themselves under their clothes in order to not get kicked out in the middle of the night. Apparently at some point during the night one of them awoke only to find the other one’s boxers covering his face. Don’t be a victim of this- bring a blanket if you will be sleeping in your car in a parking garage.
On this final day, we actually got it right. We got up early enough to get an actual table inside the tent at Oktoberfest. This time we were at the Paulaner tent. The first time I entered this tent I felt like a kid who had just walked into a candy store for the first time. Thousands of dazed, happy people were sitting everywhere- toasting, singing, and enjoying the umpa band in the center of the tent. Pretzel and doughnut maidens continuously walked around in their traditional German garb ready to serve anyone needing something to mow on. Most amazing were the little old ladies serving beer who constantly walked around carrying upwards of 8 steins clutched in their hands. The food menu also had a good number of traditional German dishes. I ended up ordering an excellent potato soup but was surprised to see a few chicken feet floating in it. I was even more surprised when the Afghan offered to eat the chicken feet.
At the Paulaner tent we were fortunate enough to meet a few German’s who were sitting adjacent to us at our table. This is the true glory of Oktoberfest- Because of the social nature of the tables and fact that you have to squeeze in with random people, it is hard to not meet either some Germans or fellow tourists from around the world. We ended up talking to these guys all day while guzzling beer and smoking a few cigars (which are also sold at Oktoberfest, or at least were in 2006). I was surprised at how the Germans were quick to bring up and apologize for WWII. Apparently they still beat that guilt into them at school in Germany.
At this point one of my friends and I decided to head out to try to get a hotel for our final night (weak I know). After succeeding in this, we tried to re-enter the tent to rejoin our other friends as well as the German’s we had been talking to all day in the Paulaner tent. Apparently after a certain time you are not allowed back in the tent without a reservation. After trying to argue with the stone-faced German door man for a half hour to no avail, the rest of our friends left the tent to join us and we headed to the hotel to crash.
Prior to going to sleep we decided to hit up one of the many Turkish Doner Kabob joints in the city. After hunting for the Doner place with the biggest “meat stick” rotating in front of the window we settled on one and gorged. At least in my drunk state, the food was tremendous and very cheap. I think I ate at least three “Lahmacun”s which is sort of like a pita with ground beef and spices, stuffed with whatever fillings you want and wrapped up. I think they were about two Euro’s each.
Four of us then went to the hotel to crash. Our fifth man, conversely, decided to head home early in order to try to make his class the next day. He had seen a poster the night before at Jaegar’s offering a ride to Rome for anyone who wanted for just 20 euros. Turns out, the guy who posted the flyer, “Willy”, was a 50 something year old Austrian who got paid to shuttle BMW’s from Munich to Rome. My friend, “Young Dave” as we’ll call him, took Willy up on his offer. This story alone is worth a whole post and I can’t possibly do it justice. All I can say is that if you have ever seen the movie Euro-trip, I think this is about as close as it gets to the part of the movie where they get in the truck with the driver going to Bratislava, although they think they are going to Berlin. Not only did Willy proceed to nip off schnapps for half the trip until he needed to take a nap on the side of the road, but apparently he drove all the way into Austria to pick something up at his mother’s house before proceeding to Rome. Young Dave ended up having to loan Willy money at some point along the way, and to pay Young Dave back, Willy had to drive somewhere between Rome and Naples before finally bringing Young Dave to his destination. Needless to say, Young Dave missed his class. Although we left Munich the next day, we actually got to Rome before Young Dave. So, another useful tip- if you are in Munich and see a flyer offering a ride to Rome for just a few Euros, think again…especially if Willy is the driver.
After returning our rental car in Trento, and almost getting a ticket for Jay-walking (yes, this is the only time ever that I almost got in trouble for Jay-walking) we were on what was more or less the cattle car train to Rome. After an exhausting four hour ride, we had finally made it back.
To my great surprise, this turned out the be one of the best trips I have ever taken, despite the lack of planning or places to sleep. I can also say that Oktoberfest was much less crazy than I expected. It was a great place to meet a lot of people and get drunk in a friendly, tolerant, social atmosphere. I still cant help but think that if a similar Oktoberfest were held in the US it would end in a giant brawl with multiple deaths, but in Germany, it was a festival of drunken comradery, and I can‘t wait to go back some day.