PROST! DAS BOOT! These were the words that dominated my last weekend of September. It was a weekend of monumental proportions, the party of all parties, the dream of all beer lovers, and more importantly, one of the best weekends of my life: OKTOBERFEST
Everyone in Europe had the same destination this weekend: Munich, Germany. In a crowd of 6 million people all with the same intention of having the craziest party of their life, I quickly figured out why this is the world’s most popular festival. However, Oktoberfest was not always such a crazy phenomena. It started in 1810 as a wedding celebration for the marriage of King Ludwig I. It wasn’t even until 1887 that Oktoberfest breweries were started! Boy have they made a lot of progress.
I left Athens Thursday night, Sept. 26, with Shea, one of my best friends from Holy Cross studying in Athens with me. After just managing to catch our flight to Munich (Greek public transportation can be risky considering random strikes and shut downs are always a possibility), we made it to Germany, where it was packed! We stayed in a hostel in Augsburg, a city forty minutes west of Munich. It was so crazy that night that we couldn’t even board our scheduled train because it was already filled past max capacity. While waiting we walked around the city: I was so impressed. I had no expectations for Germany, and it blew me away. Besides it being extremely cold, I found the city, the architecture, and the layout extremely organized and beautiful. Something particularly interesting to me was that the most apartment buildings, while having different colors, were extremely uniform and connected, with the traditional high and triangular German roofs. But what am I doing wasting time talking about this? Let’s get to the important part: drinking beer.
Here’s how it works: The festival is held for 16 days in a huge square in the center of the city. The whole point is to get into these HUGE beer tents (huge as in holds 6,000 people each) to get beer and German food, and the rest of the square has amusement rides, souvenir shops, and eateries. The tents open at 9 am, and are extremely hard to get into, meaning you have to be in line by 7:30 if you have a shot of getting in. This means that we had to wake up at an appalling 5:30 am in order to catch the earliest train from Augsburg to Munich in time to get there and walk from the train station to Oktoberfest in time to get into the tent. While the cold morning air and groggy eyes were at first a downer at 6 am, boarding the train with Germans pre-gaming and shouting German drinking songs quickly made everything better.
Well we got in! We decided to go to Augustiner Brau, the most traditional beer tent and most popular among the locals. I can attest to that: the beer was amazing and the tent atmosphere was so much fun! It was filled to the brim, smelt like fresh Bavarian pretzels out of the oven, and filled with the music of a live German band playing traditional music that everyone sang along to. I have a ton of respect for the waiters and waitresses: They managed to carry around 8 steins of beer all by themselves all day long! Now, let’s talk steins. A stein literally means “rock” in German, and is the blessed vessel that contains their magical liquid. One stein is the equivalent to around 2.5 American beers. Combine this with the fact that German beer is much stronger than American beer, and that beer for Oktoberfest alone is stronger than typical German beer, and you have the ingredients for a great time. Along with singing with the tent, we met friends from around the continent and hung out with them. We had traditional German sausage and Bavarian pretzels, and then rode a roller coaster outside the tent!
We got the best of both worlds: festival and sightseeing. On Saturday our other friends Jack and Gina studying in St. Andrews joined us. We went to the same tent Saturday and Sunday: so that is three days in a row of Oktoberfest: true champs! BUT each day around 2 pm we left the festival and walked around Munich sight seeing. First we went to beautiful German cathedrals, then we went to Marien Platz, the city hall. Marien Platz is the ideal European urban environment: monumental gothic architecture, huge squares, traditional restaurants, all sprinkled with parks and monuments. On the way back to Augsburg, we made friends with a local of the town who ended up giving us a private tour of Augsburg! We toured the old city section, called “Little Venice” because of its many canals throughout the city. She then took us to a German restaurant that she worked at, where we had a delicious sampler of German meats.
Overall, the weekend was the perfect balance of fun and adventure. Perhaps going in with no expectations was a good thing: because everything impressed me. We did the weekend right, and I could not have asked for a better way to experience the country for the first time. I left Germany with a burning desire to go back, hopefully I can manage to do so!