Monday, October 5, 2009

Prost to Oktoberfest!

Seeing as that I have been to Munich about 5 times already, I am sure you are wondering how I could enjoy myself so much again?! I went back to Munich last weekend to celebrate and drink to Oktoberfest, and I think it was the BEST time I've had in Germany.
Although it was my first weekend back in Europe, I had no desire to spend it in Spain because Oktoberfest is only a 16-day celebration and my friend, Dave, who lives in Germany would be gone the next weekend! So I immediatley booked a flight when I arrived and 6 days after being on the continent I was on another plane headed straight for Munich. I arrived at 10am, and met with Dave and his friends, dressed appropriatley in lederhosen and we headed to the festival.

Everyone always asks ' Why is Oktoberfest in September?' and I was pretty curious too! Turns out that the first 'Oktoberfest' was a wedding party for King Ludwig I and his wife. For thier special day they set up a horse race and a big party and by 1819, the city of Munich decided that the festival would happen every year without fail. What started out as a day festival became what is now a two-week festival and because Germany has nicer weather at the end of September than the middle of winter, the original wedding day is now the end of the festival instead of the beginning. So, I happily celebrated Oktoberfest at the end of September!

When we got the area where the festival is set up, it seemed more like a county fair where you can happen to drink beer. There were carnival rides, people selling cotton day and costumed people walking around everywhere! Although I didn't get a traditional costume (60€ come on!!) I loved seeing all the people dressed up in thier lederhosen (for the boys) and dirnls (for the girls). We started our beerfest at a small beer garden (biergarten in German). Although it was a small outdoor seating area, the beers were still huge - 1 liter each! They are traditionally called Maß (pronounced mass) which means 1-liter jug. That's 33oz of beer! The stein that the beer is served in is made of a thick, heavy glass and weighs a ton! I was surrounded by all guys, so I wanted to make sure I could hold my own and managed to hold the stein in my right hand just like everyone else! This resulted in a nice bruise above my first right knuckle haha. I called it my beer bruise, but it showed I was a trooper! After a liter of beer and some traditional German chicken - called hendl - we started doing some German cheers. I speak pretty much zero German, but you couldn't help but catch on to everyone yelling PROST, the German word for cheers. Sometimes people would just start shouting it and see how many people would catch on and yell along. After another stein of beer I was shouting as loud as possible haha! Because the festival is so packed, you sit at long picnic tables next to people you don't know and behind even more! At this biergarten we sat behind some native Munich people and next to a family from Bavaria. Although I don't speak German you can pretty much get along with anyone - it kind of becomes a big happy drunk family, with everyone singing German songs (which I just mumble along to) and prosting every 10 minutes! If a cheer comes along and you don't have any beer in your stein, no worries, someone will gladly pour some of thiers into yours so you can prost with the entire group!

Tired from my flight (I had woken up at 4am to make it!) we headed back home, but not after a little carnival ride. You wouldn't think that riding a fast and spinning ride after drinking beer all day is a good idea, but it was actually hilariously funny. Dave and I opted for some swinging, twirling contraption and I think I screamed the whole time. The train ride back was 3-hours and we just fell asleep. Groggily we got off the train, slept some more at home, and the next morning were up at 7am to get back into Munich when the festival opened at 9am.

If you don't get Oktoberfest early in the morning, it is basically impossible to get into the tents, where the best Oktoberfest action is! Thankfully, getting up early afforded us our choice of any tent, and we chose the Paulaner tent. Do you guys have Paulaner beer in the USA? I know we sell it in Spain, but if you have it there, you should try a bottle - pretend you were Oktoberfest with me! Quite different than the outdoor beirgarten, the Paulaner tent is a massive tent adorned with rustic German decorations (this tent happened to have elk heads and shields). In the center of the tent is a huge, tall stage where the traditional German folk music is played and surrouding it are hundreds and hundreds of tables. At our table were a bunch of Italians. I guess the first weekend of Oktoberfest is dubbed 'Italian Week' because so many of them come over for the Fest. After a stein of beer, thier Italian and my Spanish worked nicely and we could carry on a conversation. In between English with Dave and his friends, and sloppy Italian/Spanish combo, I also sang more silly songs and drinking chants in German! Such an international girl I was! I have heard that some tents provide guests with a song book so you know what you are saying, but this one didn't, but it didn't seem to matter. I did learn that before every break the band takes, they play a cheer that you say 'Ein prosit der Gemutlichkeit' which is like saying a cheers to contentment, congeniality and relaxation. I became pretty good at that one. Like the biergarten from the day before, it was like an international beer party - us Americans, the Italians, the Germans behind us, the Chinese girls walking through the aisles, etc. The best part is that everyone got along great, although none of us spoke the same languages. Maybe Barack should meet with world leaders next year at Oktoberfest! hahah! I'll prost to that!

Also in the tent were the waiters and waitresses, who somehow can carry 15 or more steins of beer! Remember, I can barely hold my own stein up, so I was thouroughly impressed at ladies who were carrying 15 of them! The beer served at Oktoberfest is a bit different than regular beer. It is brewed in March and can only contain barley, hops, malt and yeast (strict German standards) and can be up to as much as 8% alcohol. Besides beer maids, other ladies walk aroud selling gingerbread hearts with German phrases on them and souviners. While I didn't eat any gingerbread cookies, I did manage to eat quite a few huge pretzels and even some German sausages with sauwerkraut (ewww) after we left the Paulaner tent to go to the Haufbrau tent. Seeing as that we starting drinking beer before most people eat lunch, we called it a day pretty early. Of course fit in another ride - this one where you shoot up into the sky and then do a flip and drop down. On the road we saw the Lowenbrau beer being brought to the festival in the traditional way - in barrels pulled by decorated horses! It was quite a sight!

Home early again and rested up for the next day, I headed to the airport for my 10am flight. Just that time the day before I was already drinking! Back in Spain, I was a tired teacher, but managed through the day and couldn't ever seem to get German drinking cheers out of my head! I honestly think Oktoberfest was one of the most fun times I have had the entire time I have been in Europe. It was amazing, and I hope if you drink a beer soon, you think of me and say Prost!!!


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