As we walk from the train stop to Oktoberfest, more and more people wearing lederhosen and drindl crowd the streets. We pass a collection of port-a-potties and decide to stop. At this point, I am envisioning a large collection of big white tents (like the kind people use for wedding receptions in the US) in a field with thousands of drunk people staggering around drunk. Having not given a thought to restroom logistics, the fact that the Germans want to stop at a port-a-potty on the way there now makes me worry that there will be no restrooms at the fest itself. This worry is reinforced when we pass a man urinating in the bushes just 20 yards from the port-a-potties.
When we arrive at the entrance to Oktoberfest, I am surprised to discover that it is much like arriving at the Ohio State Fair. The grounds are smaller, the rides are bigger and more sophisticated, rivaling the rides at permanent amusement parks, and the crowd is far more dense (in terms of number of people per square foot of space; I have no evidence to compare IQ levels). Another interesting difference is that the people look like the same people we’ve seen all over Germany rather than the bizarre part of the US population, usually kept hidden from view, that mysteriously gathers at the Ohio State Fair. And of course, the fact that at least half of the attendees are wearing traditional lederhosen and drindl just to be wearing it and not because they are participating in some act makes the crowd seem more interesting as well.
When we get inside the entry, first we discover there is no fee to get in. Second, we find there are plenty of places to spend money to make up for the free admittance. Each brewery has their team of draft horses standing around waiting for me to pet them. I’m not sure who called ahead to arrange this, but I appreciate it. It’s been a lot of years since I spent time with horses; having the opportunity to scratch some giant heads makes my day. As we walk away from the horses, we see a group of young men coming out of one of the beer tents. Two of them are supporting a third who has clearly not paced himself well. As we pass them, we understand the value of wearing lederhosen with suspenders. This guy is wearing only lose jeans and they have slid down over his rear end, leaving him leaning against his friends with his bare butt hanging in the wind. We all look and laugh, tipping off the guys friends that he needs a little help. They pull up his jeans and make a joke in German. Everyone laughs and we go on our way. As I look around, I realize that no one else in the vicinity is staggering and I am surprised.
We slip inside a beer “tent” and are surprised it’s not a tent at all but a permanent building with massive beams supporting the roof and a wood floor. We’re surprised and ask our friends about the buildings being permanent. They tell us that no, the site of the fest is a park and that the “tents” go up about a week before the fest starts and are gone again within a week after. We look at the structure again and are amazed at what it must take to erect this building in a week,–when we go to the restroom and discover a huge room of flush toilets, we are even more amazed.
The original plan for Oktoberfest was that we would have a reservation for three hours at one of the tents. We would be served all we could eat and drink for those three hours and then we would have to give up the table. However, Dieter and Giesala had friends tell them that a reservation wasn’t really needed and that we could show up at any time, so we did not have a reservation. This worked well from the perspective that it allowed us to switch days on when we were going with the rain and cold weather, but not so well in that even on a Tuesday afternoon, the tents were packed and finding unreserved tables with open seats was not easy. At the first beer tent, we were able to sit at a reserved table where the reservation didn’t start for several more hours. We ordered a round of beers and sat sipping away. I practiced my new beer holding technique–my wrist was already tired from the beer earlier in the day at the Haufbrauhaus. We sit and watch people. There are an overwhelming number of people to watch.
I watch the drindls and lederhosen, fascinated that while the basic look is always the same, they come in wide varieties. Most interesting to me is the shoe choices of women wearing drindls. I don’t know what the traditional show would be, but each woman seems to have made up her own mind without consulting tradition or fashion on what footwear choice works for her. I see one woman in rubber Hunter boots with her drindl. Another with 4 1/2 inch spike heels–the heels are literally spikes, made from metal. There is everything in between, although ballet flats seem to be the most popular.
After finishing our beers (once again, I am unable to finish mine and I share with Pat), we start strolling through the park again. We stop at some shooting galleries where Giesala and Jim try out the shooting skills. The guns don’t shoot straight and it takes a while to adjust. Once Jim gets the hang of it, he makes every shot, having been a sharp shooter in the military. After spending something like 10 Euro on shooting, he wins a prize and allows Giesala to pick from the choices. She selects a small teddy bear, which she decides should go to me and fastens him to the zipper of my rain jacket. He bounces along as we continue our walk down the strip.
Eventually, we find ourselves in the Haufbrauhaus tent. Here, the unreserved tables are jammed with people and the reserved tables are blocked off so they can’t be used even when no one with a reservation is there. We wander around not sure of what to do. Eventually, we find a table out in the beer garden. It’s jammed up against the tables on either side so that when we sit down, we are literally using the people behind us as back rests. No one whose been sitting there a while seems to notice. The people already at the table we join are laughing and talking with the people at the next table over. It seems like everyone knows each other with people switching tables frequently to visit with other people, but I think this is just the atmosphere of the fest. We are surrounded by people from different parts of the country. A guy with an odd long-haired wig on sits behind me. He has a cart with what looks like karaoke machine in it sitting next to him. Jim offers the guy 10 euro to sing. The guy turns out to be a local personality there with a guy with a camera and they decide this will be a good bit. They have Jim hand the guy 10 euro on camera and the guy sings. Supposedly it will be on TV in Munich. I find myself wondering what they are saying and hope that it’s not too embarrassing for Jim.
Before I can worry too much about the TV bit, a large group of Scottish guys in kilts arrives. They greet the guy with the wig and walk around to join his table. One of them immediately attaches himself to Pat’s mother and can’t seem to stop hugging her and telling her he loves her. We end up in a conversation with him. It’s a sort of odd transition, but we end up talking about Scotland and Pat’s own experience with wearing a kilt for a wedding. This, of course, leads to discussion about what one wears under a kilt. We learn that the Scots are traditionalists and the offer to prove it; Renate stops the one closest to her when his kilt is at about mid-thigh. Back on the subject of Scotland, he tells us that we can have it–it rains too much for him.
It’s getting late in the day and Dieter wants to return to our country hotel in Wald. We are trying to drink up so we can leave. Pat and I are splitting a beer this time instead of me pretending I’m going to drink one myself. I try to polish off the last bit of my half, but even half is a strain. Pat takes an few extra sips for me and then works on helping Jim finish his beer. I do some math and realize that I’ve had 1 1/4 beers since the first half beer at the Haufbrauhaus in Munich. But it’s 1.25 liters of beer, which is approximately 40 0z of beer or 3 1/2 US beers. That’s a lot of beer!
We return to the train station at sunset. We skipped the port-a-potty on the way, having all used the restroom at the tent. But, it was a long walk from the Haufbrauhaus to the train station. Pat needs a restroom now. There are 7 minutes until our next train; Pat decided to risk it. I will omit some of the more sordid details of the events of the rest of the evening, but Pat did not find a restroom, but did cause us to miss our train. Having to wait 20 minutes for the next one with all of us having consumed much beer, that 20 minute wait led to much discomfort across the board. Then there was the 30 minute train ride to to the park-and-ride and the discovery that the restroom there was closed. Let me just conclude that we were pleased that the parking lot was surrounded by dense woods and there were very few people around by the time we arrived there.
When we returned to the hotel, we sit and allow Dieter to drink. He had the least beer of all, having cut himself off early in the evening since he was driving. The hotel is no longer serving dinner, but now we are hungry. They fix us a spread of meats and cheeses that we enjoy with homemade bread. Tired and full, we all retire as soon as the food is gone.