Intro to Munich

Tuesday morning, we wake up to find that it’s still cold and cloudy, but the rain has stopped. We cross our fingers that the sky will clear and the sun will come out–today is our day to go to Oktoberfest.

After our usual breakfast at the hotel, our little group drives off to find a park-and-ride. From there, we will take the S-bahn into Munich. Getting to the park-and-ride goes smoothly. We find a spot in the crowded gravel parking lot (although bike parking is completely full, the car lot has a few places left). We find a place to buy tickets, everyone uses the restroom and then we head up to catch the next train, which we miss by about 30 seconds. So, we get to hang out on the platform for an extra 18 minutes waiting for the next one to arrive.

As we wait, more and more people gather on the platform. About half of them are wearing traditional bavarian clothes: lederhosen for men and dirndls for women. It’s interesting how this traditional garb looks like a costume on some people and like heritage on others. I suppose it depends on how traditional the garb is–some of the dirndls seem to have taken a “naughty beer girl” adult halloween costume twist. By contrast, the men struggle to look sexy in their lederhosen. There is just something about the way suede hangs that makes it nearly impossible.

A loud and laughing group of young people get on the train at our first stop. It’s interesting to watch people’s faces and try to decide what’s going on. A middle-aged couple standing among the youngsters are laughing with them and enjoying the ride. Similarly aged people sitting around the group look disapproving and, in some cases, annoyed. I am unable to draw any conclusion except that several of the boys are pretty determined to get closer to several of the girls in the group. But I suppose even someone who wasn’t there could have guessed that would be true!

We get off at the Karlplatz stop in Munich. We will “tour” Munich for a couple hours before going to the fest. There is a tremendous crowd at Karlplatz. I’m surprised–I figured everyone would be at Oktoberfest. We walk to the Rathaus to see the famous clock there that has a bunch of figures that move at noon. It’s now quarter ’til. Dieter has timed this perfectly to make sure we get to see this clock. We position ourselves in the courtyard for photos, although I did not bring my long lens for this. As we stand there listening, we discover we’re surrounded by Americans. Americans and other tourists–we don’t hear anyone speaking German. Tourists (perhaps from Spain) ask an American next to us to take a photo of them. He takes his time lining up a perfect shot of the group with the courthouse clock in the background and just as he snaps the shutter, a German walks right in front of his camera. My husband laughs and comments to the man–it’s a cultural difference we’ve noticed frequently at various tourist stops. A crowd of foreigners will divide around someone taking a photo, but a German will invariably walk right through the shot.

Eventually, noon begins to strike. Chimes start, music starts, and the ancient players in the clock come to life. My favorite part is the jousting on horseback. The jousters come out once and safely pass each other by, but on the second round, one of the jousters is struck and falls forward over his horse. After the top level of figures finishes their enactment, a lower level of dancing men goes into action. The way that the figures appear to hang on to the clockworks and the angle of their bodies make them look alive as they spin. We watch fascinated, trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes them look so realistic.

Once the clock finishes. we are ready for the next item on the agenda. This is to go to the original Haufbrauhaus in Munich. The Haufbrauhaus in Pittsburg has become a favorite place for my in-laws when they’re home, so going to the original version here is a must. It seems a bit odd to go there during Oktoberfest instead of going to their tent at the fest, but I am told that we will do both. I am surprised by the crowd there when we arrive–it’s a weekday after peak tourist season, and it’s competing with Oktoberfest, yet we have a hard time finding a table. Eventually, one frees up that is close to the action. We sit down and order beers. We’ve decided to have lunch here as well, so we check out the menus and pick out which form of sausage we will enjoy today.

The beers come and they are served in 1L mugs. Pat has to show me how to slide my hand under the handle with my thumb over it so I can lift the mug one-handed without injuring my wrist. This reminds me of a story a former colleague once told me. When he was a teenager, he worked in a grocery store. One day, he was restocking beer when a customer came in and picked up 2 40-oz beers. My colleague had seen this man buy 2 40’s every day for several weeks. Trying to be helpful, he pointed out the 12 pack of the same beer telling the man how much money he could save by going that route. The man replied, “No, that’s OK. My doctor told me I can only have 2 beers a day.” I will make sure I adhere to the same logic today. 🙂

When our food comes, a woman sitting behind me at the next table leans over and says, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” Everyone within earshot says, “Yes!” She asks what the pork knuckle is that Dieter has ordered–it’s a massive thing that looks like it should be held by a caveman and gnawed at vigorously. We explain what it is and show her which item it is on the German menu. I notice when her food comes she didn’t order it.

A girl selling enormous pretzels walks around the room for the second time since we arrived. This time Pat stops her and hands me a pretzel bigger than my head. I split it amongst 4 of us. It’s surprisingly good. The thick part is especially good–nice and fluffy on the inside like every good pretzel should be. Eating is periodically interrupted by a group toast led by the oompah band at the front of the hall. Everyone waves their beer back and forth and sings along until the final Prost. It’s like a piano bar in the US.

At the end of my meal, I still have 1/4 of my beer left and I cannot drink anymore. I hand off to Pat who polishes it off for me while the rest of the group finishes eating. When everyone is done, we track down our server, pay the bill, and head out. We have seen enough of Munich; it is time for Oktoberfest. But first, we must find a bank and exchange some money.

We find a bank on the way back to the train station. Pat goes in by himself while the rest of us stand outside waiting. The bank entrance has a life-sized statue of a lion outside the door. Two girls walk up and take turns posing with the lion while the other snaps photos. One hugs his neck, the other leans against him. I’m surprised neither gets up on his back like they’re taking a ride. Maybe it’s considered rude to ride a statue?

Pat returns and we head for the train. The closer we get, the more lederhosen and drindls we see. We are getting psyched for Oktoberfest even though we feel inappropriately dressed. We cannot wait to find out what it’s like, none of us having ever gone before.

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