I’m pretty sure I’m going to forget some parts of this trip, but it just ended yesterday so hopefully I still remember most of it.
It may sound like a crazy idea to travel ten hours each way (about as far as I can go and still be in Germany) to go to a three week long party about beer for one day. I thought it was silly too. No longer.
Let me start this post by introducing you to the main characters (in order of appearance). Most of you know me. Katherine Brown, American exchange student living in Germany for the year. Was in Munich for two months, now is in Northern Germany until next June. Next, Andrew Wang, American exchange student on the same program as Katherine. Katherine’s official travel buddy. Mr. Wolf, Katherine and Andrew’s driver to Bavaria that they found on the internet through a sort of official hitch hiking website that sounds sketchier than it actually is. Dan Lupatkin, Jake Leih, Lucas Hahn, Evan Woodnorth-various other exchange students also living in Germany for the year who are lovely Oktoberfest buddies as well.
Friday morning, Andrew and I set off on the beginning of a long adventure. We decided that Oktoberfest would probably be a lot more fun than school, so I skipped out on French and Music class and got on a train to Hamburg. We met Mr. Wolf there in front of the train station in his classy white BMW and started our trip down south. One of the first things we asked our driver was whether he could drop us off in Nürnberg because that’s where our hostel was and we didn’t want to get to Munich and then have to figure out how to get back to a city we had driven directly past on the highway 200 kilometers before. The answer we recieved was a ‘let me look at my map’. OK, we thought, I guess that makes sense, he’s driving with a GPS, maybe he doesn’t know the way. But when we asked again five hours later (after the worst traffic any of us had ever been in…at a stand still for thirty minutes where most everyone was walking around outside their cars on the highway) and it was clear from the signage that we would, in fact, be going past Nürnberg, the answer was the same. Andrew and I started to become slightly angsty. We passed the sign for northern Nürnberg. No word from the drivers seat. Passed the sign for the city center. Nothing. Andrew and I look at each other, not sure if we should say something or it Mr. Wolf has a plan already. Finally, at the southern Nürnberg exit, he gets off the highway. Two sighs of relief from the back seat. We would indeed be sleeping in Nürnberg that night. Then, the car stops. I’ll let you off here, Mr. Wolf tells us. We got out of the car, paid him, and then he drove away. We look around. No sidewalk. No streetlight. Neither of us have ANY idea where we are. Luckily, Mr. Andrew Wang goes no where unprepared and he pulled out his headlamp, put it on flashing mode and we walked until we found a sidewalk and a pizza place where we could eat some dinner and figure out how to get to our hostel.
Next morning, everyone wakes up at 6am so we can catch the train to Munich at 7:30 to go to Oktoberfest. The train was completely full of people in dirndls and lederhosen who had already begun to drink and sing on the three hour train ride there. Once we actually got to the Wiesn (where the whole party takes place), it became clear that getting into any of the tents was going to be very difficult. Everyone was thirsty and hot and wanted to have some beer to make the journey worth it, and we were all in sort of a bad mood because no one would let us in. Jake thought the best way to get in would be to argue with security and ask them WHY we couldn’t get in. That didn’t work. Dan’s New York brain thought quickly and realized that bribery is a good way to get what you want. He pulled out a ten euro bill and showed it to the security guy. Got in, told me what to do, and suddenly we were all inside the tent and the security guy was sixty euros richer. Sounds like something to drink a beer to. Quite honestly, I didn’t expect Oktoberfest beer to be that different from normal German beer (which is already quite good). But…wow. That beer was by far the best beer that I have ever tasted. I can’t even describe it, but it was worth the trip there just for that. Delicious. The next three to four hours were fillled with singing, conversation, beer, and general fun. We had to sit outside because the inside was full and they weren’t letting people in, but we discovered that telling those security people that we just wanted a picture or two was a good way to get inside and hang out for a few minutes to look around and feel the atmosphere. Luckily, the weather outside could not have been better and we were having a great time there so we didn’t really care that we weren’t inside. The atmosphere was more or less an atmosphere of ‘everyone loves you and you love everyone because this beer is delicious and we are at OKTOBERFEST’. Pretty great. After a few hours, we decided to leave the Wiesn and go to the English Gardens for a little while so we could sit there and jump in the river and cool off a bit. By the time we actually got to the English Gardens, it was dark outside and we were all cooled off. Did that stop us from getting into the water? No. I don’t know why we stayed in for so long, because it was REALLY cold. Bonding experience I guess. Penguin huddles work in cold water too, in case you were wondering or are ever planning on being in a shipwreck.
Our train back to the hostel in Nürnberg left at 9:28. We went to the pizza shop and ordered three huge pizzas for 62 euros. It didn’t really occur to us at the time that sixty two euros for three pizzas was quite a bit of money (at least in Germany), but we were hungry and in a rush so we did it anyway. While we are waiting, I look at the time. Ten minutes til the train leaves. Pizza comes out of the oven. Eight minutes til the train leaves. Pizza falls on the floor. I guess we aren’t making our train. We run to the train station anyway. We missed our train, I guess we’ll wait for the next one at 5am. Looks of despair from all. That’s in eight hours. Our desire to go to a club for the entire night is about zero. Then, we look at the big sign with train times. Fantastic! The train to Nürnberg at 11pm wasn’t listed in the computer but was running anyway. The evening was saved. Dan and I decided that it would be a good idea to buy a beer for the train ride back. It was. We sat on the train and drank out of the beer mugs that we had stolen from the tent. One of the best feelings ever. Then, I sat and listened to my fellow Americans convince a guy from Kazakstan that America wasn’t a terrible place, discuss religion, sing with Mexicans, and discuss the morality of dropping the bomb on Japan during World War II. My desire to participate was minimal, so I listened. Smile and nod technique.
Back at the hostel at one in the morning. No one really wants to go to bed so we walked around Nürnberg for about two hours in the middle of the night. Got back to the hostel at around 3:30 or 4 and went back into the common room and sat on the incredibly comfortable couches for a rather long time, talking. At that point we had been awake for more than 20 hours so the conversation was more entertaining than it would have been otherwise and seemed to make more sense than it actually did. After we had been there for a while and Andrew had fallen asleep on the other couch, a random guy storms into the room and greets us. He puts on the felt hat I had bought at Oktoberfest, turns on the light, and sits down across from us. He had been at a wedding and explained to us that when one bottle of vodka at the table was empty, another one came automatically. Amazing. No wonder he lit his cigarette on the wrong side, realized what he’d done, turned it around and did it the right way. A couple minutes later, he noticed Andrew sleeping on the couch. ‘Is he OK?’ ‘What is a Chinaman doing here’ ‘What time is it in Beijing’ We responded with laughter. Telling him that Andrew was with us seemed…less funny. Wedding man left. Then another guy came in. I’m not really sure who he was…seemed homeless to me but Dan said he wasn’t but I was half asleep during that conversation so I have no idea. He asked us where we were from, and we told him we were from Bavaria. Good answer. He left the room again, telling us he’d be right back and explaining that he hated Americans because they…are occupying Germany and that’s unacceptable? We clearly had to agree with him because everything is the Americans fault. After that, I don’t remember much because I fell asleep. One of the better sleeps I’ve had, if you’re wondering.
Sunday morning we wake up at around 9:30 after three or so hours of sleep. Andrew and I have a train to catch at 1:45 and we all want to look around the city a bit. Unfortunately, we were all exhausted so looking around was more walking from cafe to cafe and sitting, but we got to see the marketplace and the church anyway.
Now the train journey. The cheapest way to come back was via train with a ticket valid in all of Germany. But with that ticket, the super fast trains are not an option, so it takes longer and there are a lot of transfers. Namely six. And I forgot to mention that I ran out of money in my bank account on the first day down there so I had 50 euros for the whole weekend and ended up using 40 euros of Andrew’s money, which left him broke as well. We had enough money to buy ourselves some dinner, but that was about it. When we missed one of the trains because the other one was late, we scrounged around for enough money to buy ourselves a bottle of champagne to drink out of the stolen beer mug. I think I have about 20 cents left now. But it was worth it. We were so tired by the time we were on the last train that we started to rhyme which turned into making up poems which turned into making up songs which turned into singing random songs. And, no, we were not drunk, although I think the other people on the train thought we were. Because of our train misfortune earlier in the day, we had to take a taxi 120 kilometers (using a coupon from the Deutsche Bahn so we didn’t have to pay) and arrived back here at about 1am, penniless but happy.
And that is the story of Oktoberfest. To anyone who has ever considered going, I would say it’s 100% worth it. So much fun, and a good bonding experience for anyone who is feeling unbonded (or people who are feeling bonded and want to bond some more).