On a trip like this, you get to check a lot of things off your bucket list. For me, one of those time was to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. I've always loved Oktoberfest celebrations, even when I was a kid. I liked the festive autumn atmosphere, and the German music and food, and when I got older, it was a fun place to enjoy a giant glass of beer as well. Oktoberfest celebrations are popular in the US as they are all over the world, but I wanted to see the original one myself.
And so we went to Munich in the middle of Oktoberfest. I had an idea of what to expect because Doug spent a night at Munich's Oktoberfest about 15 years ago, but the reality of it is so much bigger than I could ever have imagined.
It's huge, for one thing. The trains heading to Munich's fairgrounds were completely packed with people. In fact, there were trains every five minutes, each of them as packed as the last. And when we got off the train, we just followed the crowd - everyone was going to the same place.
The grounds are huge, and we only managed to explore a small part of it. There were so many carnival rides that it felt like we were at an amusement park. We rode a few rides, but the lines were insanely long the first day we were there. (That first day turned out to be a national holiday, but honestly it wasn't much less crowded the following day.)
There is also food, of course. There is the expected sausage with sauerkraut or fried onions, and the requisite giant pretzels, but there were also many other food stands selling just about any kind of food you can imagine.
One of the cool Oktoberfest traditions I learned about was that of the decorated gingerbread cookies. There were stands selling them all over the grounds, and almost every child was wearing one. They come in many different sizes and are decorated with phrases almost like those little candy conversation hearts are, in a variety of languages. Each cookie had two holes punched in it with a ribbon strung through so you could hang it around your neck and have a nibble whenever you wanted. This is definitely a tradition we're going to take home with us!
Even our hotel welcomed us with a cookie!
And then, of course, there is the beer. There are dozens and dozens of gigantic multilevel beer halls. You have to have reservations to get a table at most of them – and you can't order beer unless you're at a table. The reservations generally have to be made a year in advance, and so all we could do was go in and look around.
We were there in early afternoon on a weekday, and I can't imagine how insane it must be on a Saturday night. Every table was packed. There were people of all ages sitting at tables and drinking from one-liter beer mugs. Many of the people wear traditional Bavarian costumes, and they stand on the tables and wave their beer mugs in the air and sing. There is a band on a stage in the middle of the hall, and they keep the party going continuously. Servers rush around with four or five beer mugs in each hand, and I honestly don't know how they manage -- I have a hard time holding one of those huge mugs in one hand!
Here is a short video of the revelry in the Paulaner tent. It was definitely a giant party!
And in case you might be wondering what happens when thousands of people drink multiple liters of beer all day long, I can tell you, it is just as messy as you might imagine. We saw quite a few very drunk people, and around the beer tents, almost everyone was staggering. But everyone seemed to take it in stride, I have to say. Here you can see the work that goes into washing the giant beer glasses.
So we didn't get to participate in the revelry; in fact we couldn't get into a single place that served beer that first day! The crowds started to get to us by late afternoon and we decided to call it a day. We came back the next day with a better idea of what to expect, and we're able to get a seat in one of the public beer gardens.
I finally got to have my Oktoberfest beer!
Carter even got his apple juice in a beer glass.
Carter rode some more rides (his favorite was the giant slide), and we soaked up as much of the atmosphere as we could.
And that was Oktoberfest, basically! We only had two days, but we managed to get in one other classic Munich sight: the fantastic glockenspiel of the clock tower in Marienplatz.
Here is a video of the Glockenspiel. I edited it way down, but it's still kind of long, so please don't feel obligated to watch the entire thing (or any of it, for that matter). I think my fondest memory of this is that we sat in the platz at a cafe and had warm drinks in the chilly fall air, and it was really lovely.
It was just three short nights, but we had lots of great beer, fantastic German food, and a really fun time. The hotel's restaurant was highly recommended, and we had dinner there a couple of nights. The food was really fantastic. With a bit of a sense of humor, of course.
Carter has been drawing like crazy lately. He's really interested in prehistoric creatures, and his drawing are a mix of real and imagined animals. (And yes, that's his handwriting. My handwriting was never that neat!)
From there we flew to Istanbul, Turkey -- I'll try to get that post up soon. :-)