Oktoberfest all over again

It’s Saturday once more.  This weekend’s agenda is to experience Oktoberfest Chattanooga style.  The last time I went to an Oktoberfest in the states, it was the Oktoberfest in Columbus about 15 years ago and it was pretty lame compared to Oktobefest in Munich (as one would expect).  Given that Columbus is about 3X the size of Chattanooga, we don’t expect much.  However, Chattanooga has the interesting twist of combining Oktoberfest with their weekend farmer’s/artist’s market.

The market sets up Saturday and Sunday in the Tennessee Pavilion downtown for Oktoberfest–the market is normally only on Sunday’s.  They set up a tent and have bands playing outside the market area.  And, of course, they have plenty of beer trucks, too.  We decide that since we will want to have beer and don’t know how long we will want to stay, we will walk there.

Most places we go are so close that walking there takes less time that getting into the car, driving, and finding a parking place.  However, the Tennessee Pavilion happens to be at the opposite end of downtown and is a good 2 miles away.  While a 4 mile walk is not bad, I have a slight limp due to my sprained foot and Pat is still limping from his hamstring pull.  But, it’s an incredibly beautiful day, so we decide a walk is in order.

Walking through downtown Chattanooga is a different experience than riding through it on a bike.  Slowing down allows us to notice details that I missed when I rode through the previous weekend.  We also point out things to each other that I noticed from my bike and Pat noticed from a drive through the area during the week.  As we get further from the riverfront, the area becomes more deserted.  There are few people out and about on a Saturday morning with the exception of the area near the Chattanooga Choo Choo.  We are a block over, but as we pass a large hotel, suddenly groups of people appear in front of the hotel.  Yet, as soon as we pass the main entrance, the sidewalk is once again deserted even though we are passing a large convention center.

We start to worry that we’re lost just because the streets seem so deserted and we think we ought to be getting close.  But in another block, the road shifts and we can see large groups of people up ahead.  We make it to the festival and discover that, like Munich, there is no entrance fee.  However, instead of beer wagons pulled by draft horses, in Chattanooga, they have lined up a collection of VWs at the entrance for people to look at.  We are intrigued by the VW pop-up camper.  It even has a tiny kitchen with a camp stove in it.

I get out my new iPhone 4S and decide this is an excellent time to test out the new and improved camera, having decided not to carry my DSLR today.  I’m not sure the shooting conditions really make it a good test–lots of bright sunshine in mid-day–but at least I got pictures.  Unfortunately, it’s so bright out that I have trouble telling what I’m pointing at with only an LCD screen to go by.

We find food first, ordering brats that are typical American, course brats.  I like these a lot.  Pat prefers fine brats, but I can’t recall ever having them here.  We take our food over to some tables where we can sit to eat.  Eating takes about 10 seconds (walking makes us hungry!) and then we head straight for the beer trucks.

Unlike the Munich tradition of only allowing regional breweries in Oktoberfest, Chattanooga has vendors selling all kinds of beers from lots of different places.  This certainly opens up more choices, although there are at least 3 breweries in Chattanooga.  I believe that’s 1 brewery for every 100,000 residents.  I try the Oktoberfest brew from the Chattanooga Brewing Company.  Pat picks a Pilsner.  The beers are served in 8 oz plastic cups and are only 3/4 full.  This is probably a good thing–we really don’t need the 1 liter mugs used in Munich.

Next, we walk around the market.  There are only a handful of produce vendors and one honey vendor.  We end up talking to the couple selling their honey for quite a while.  We learn about their bees and sourwood honey and end up talking about other things.  Pat learns that Eddie, the bee keeper, used to know about Gruhn Guitars in Nashville.  This starts of a conversation of seeing if they know any of the same people.  Soon, they’re talking about Eddie’s old trumpet and swapping information.  Eventually, we tell Eddie and Lou (Eddies’ wife and the Candlemaker) that we will come back tomorrow to buy when we can ride our bikes down.  Lou points us in the direction of some interesting artists tents and we leave them to go take a tour of the craft vendors.

While I’m not interested in buying non-consumables that don’t go on my camera, I am a bit amused by some of the offerings.  There is an entire tent dedicated to aprons.  In case you, like me, have forgotten what an “apron” is, it’s an article of clothing you put on over your real clothes so you can cook without getting food on your outfit.  Except here, they are called “hostess wear.”  And they are supposed to be couture.  I cannot imagine the kind of woman who buys a fancy apron to cook in, but I’m pretty sure the last one died a few decades ago.  Wouldn’t most women rather hire a caterer than spend a bunch of money on “couture hostess wear”?

A couple booths over there is a display of fancy barrettes and other accessories for little girls.  Tons of tutus line the racks in the tent.  I wish I would have written down the vendor’s name because it was really funny, but it turns out this vendor dedicates her talents to creating pageant wear for little girls.  For any one who believes that the way to make a little girl feel good about herself is to dress her up in frilly attire and judge her based on her appearance as compared to other little girls, this is the place for you.  We, however, move on quickly.

More interesting to me are the photographers’ booths.  I love to look at professional photographers’ work, although it often depresses me just because my own photos pale in comparison.  But, it gives me ideas and when the photographers are there to give pointers, it’s a real bonus.  However, the first booth I pause at features the work of someone who seems to enjoy Photoshop a lot.  They have a cityscape of Chattanooga with WWII planes flying over it.  I don’t quite get it.

The second photographer is more interesting to me.  His photos are more purist in nature.  Plus, he has a shot of Neuschwanstein displayed for Oktoberfest that surprises me–it’s shot from the bridge above the castle, which, between rain and snow, is a view we skipped both times we went.  He also has a really nice shot of the penguins in the aquarium.  I talked to him for a while about how he got it, having had such poor results myself.  He told me what time they clean the glass and how he managed to get a clear shot.  I thank him and look forward to my photography workshop there next weekend.

Moving along, we decide it’s time for another beer.  We return to the beer truck and I decide to stick with what I had the first time.  We walk around slowly while we drink our (very small) beers and I spot a stand that sells cake by the slice.  They seem to be attracting a big crowd and I suddenly find my sweet tooth suggesting perhaps I should go stand in the line.  I pick a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.  Then, we wander off to find a place to sit–which has gotten more challenging as the day has gone on.  I try the cake and when I get a big bite of frosting, I nearly choke.  The baker seems to have employed some special sort of magic to infuse at least a pound of sugar into less than a quarter cup of icing–I bet she was wearing couture hostess wear when she did it.  The cake is moist, though.  I try adjusting the cake/frosting ratio on my fork and take another bite.  About then, a man with a little girl approaches and asks if we’re using the extra chairs at our table.  We invite him to use the table as well and he and his daughter (not wearing a tutu) join us.

After a few minutes, the man’s wife joins our table as well, carrying a pretzel that resembles a pretzel only in that it’s shaped like one.  The brown crust looks bumpy and, well, wrong.  It’s shining with what I can only imagine is oil.  When the woman sets it on the table, we all laugh out loud.  I take a picture just for fun.  We learn that she is also from Germany.  In fact, she grew up about an hour from where Pat spent his early years.  I ask Pat later what the odds are of being at a festival in Chattanooga and meeting a woman from Atlanta who grew up an hour from his home in Germany.  He says, “Well, we were at Oktoberfest.”  I roll my eyes at him–like all Germans come to Oktoberfest in Chattanooga!

On the way home, we decide to stop at the Pickle Barrel pub for another beer.  We don’t really need another beer, but the building is so interesting that we want to go inside.  It’s one of those wedge-shaped buildings that practically comes to a point where two street intersect at a very shallow angle.  We each order a beer and then take the narrow, metal spiral stairs up to the deck area.  Small trees surround the building so that their foliage is the perfect height to provide shade on the deck.  It’s a beautiful day to sit outside, although it’s cool enough that I pick a spot in the sun.

As we sit, we see a free shuttle drive by.  I google and find that there is a shuttle that goes between the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Aquarium.  We contemplate walking back to the Chattanooga Choo Choo to catch the shuttle instead of walking the rest of the way.  However, a little more googling tells us that we’re a 1/2 mile from the shuttle and 1 mile from the aquarium, so we might as well walk the extra 1/2 mile given that we can’t find any schedule information for the shuttle–it would suck if the shuttle has stopped for the day.

We stop in the restroom before we leave.  The restrooms are like caves, dark and small with rock walls and wooden doors that swing shut and latch with large wooden sliding bars that seem like something out of the middle ages.  I decide to test the flash function in the iPhone to see if I can capture the ambience of the ladies room, covered in graffiti.  I’m impressed that I’m able to get a shot at all considering how dark it is.

We make our way slowly back up Market St.  When we get to the bridge, we pause and notice a cabin cruiser docked below with a For Sale sign on it.  There is part of me that thinks I would like to live on a boat, but we decide to forego walking down to look at it.  We drag our gimpy, tired selves home, plop on the couch, and prop up our feet.  My sprained foot, which has felt fine all day, decides to tell me now that I walked too far today.  I give it some ice to quiet it and all three of us settle down for the evening.