Friday, October 14, 2005

Oktoberfest Madness

For those not in the know, I'm in Germany until near the end of December. I managed to get here just in time for Oktoberfest, and made an effort to go there for the festivities. Pictures are in the Gallery, but I thought the event warranted its own description.

Booking a train for Oktoberfest with with a week's notice is not a good idea. The best "overnight" train I could find left Bremen at around 8 p.m. and arrived in Munich at 1 a.m. Yuck. I hoped I'd be able to sleep on the train at least, but that didn't happen.

There's no direct train from Bremen to Munich (or at least, if there were those were the first to fill), so I had a transfer. It's the transfer that made booking the ticket such a pain, and I could see why. My first train was pretty empty; I pretty much had the seat next to me empty the whole way down.

The second train was another story. Let me talk about German trains for a bit. Seating is assigned when you reserve your ticket, though you can choose to buy a ticket without a seat reservation and pray that someone doesn't show. Every time I've taken the train, someone is in my assigned seat. This wouldn't bother me, if it weren't for the fact that I hardly speak any German.

Word of advise: when it's Oktoberfest weekend and your train is heading to or from Munich, every seat is taken. I didn't get any sleep on the way down since things were so crowded and loud. That and some really awesome old guy was in my seat, and I'd have let him stay there if he didn't get up and stand there. He spoke really clear English too, which surprised me. I forgot to ask about it though. Alas. The train did eventually make it to Munich in one piece, despite drunken loudness.

I had been worried the station would close; it was 1 a.m. after all. Oh man, was I wrong. The city of Munich seems to relax laws for the weekend; the train station might as well been a refuge from some natural disaster. A drunken natural disaster. The waiting room was full of people sleeping on the benches and on the floor with sleeping bags or less.

Some were passed out in their own puke, and others were still drinking. Burger King was open, and I helped myself to a late night meal. German fast food sucks, but I'll save that for another post. Anyhow, given all of the insanity and my lack of desire for sleeping in a train station around drunks, I found a quiet corner and worked on reading the last bit of the Illuminatus! Trilogy. Interestingly enough, I was at the part in Ingolstadt where Nazi zombies come out of a lake. No, I am not making this up.

Eventually the sun did rise and not knowing Munich, I followed some crowds onto the underground rail to the festival itself. The rail looked very reminiscent of the Bay Area's BART. It was about 7:30 a.m. or so now, and festivities don't start until 9. I enjoy sunrise and look around at all of the tents and booths. Needless to say, the whole thing was a lot larger than I thought. It was bigger than any fair I've been to in the states and was centered around beer.

I did check out St. Paul's Cathedral, since that was nearby. I noticed a lot of cars parked outside the festival area with sleeping bags inside; I guess the hotels were seriously booked. After walking around a bit, I went back to the fairgrounds.

I found a beer tent I thought might be worth waiting in front of, and stood around. I overheard some English, and like a remora, latched onto that group of people and struck up conversation. It turned out some of the people were from Germany, some were Americans living in Europe, and some were friends of the Americans visiting. All were from California, making them easier to relate to. Time passed, and the line started going around the side of the tent.

Then things got crazy. The German sense of personal space is much smaller than the American sense. So the line was denser than I'd expect. I can handle that. However, when it started nearing 9 a.m. the back line started moving forward. What this means, is that personal space vanished, and we were essentially being pushed forward. People still weren't being let in, so this accomplished very little, but was kind of funny to me. Eventually people started getting let in, but security was getting really pissed off at the crowd and kept closing the doors. My group decided to try another door, and I followed them to the much more manageable line.

We got into the beer tent eventually, only to find there were no tables large enough for the group. D'oh! We ended up sitting at a table outside, which turned out to be pretty nice. Having fellow native-English speakers to sit with was nice, and everyone was really cool. Beer was drank, and one person in the group tried the saltiest chicken known to man. Hours later, the group started to disperse, so I thanked them for letting me hang out, and went about on my way.

It was getting to be late in the afternoon, so I started taking pictures of the beer tents and people in costumes. I grabbed a bite to eat and a shirt, and started to feel rain. Feeling done with festivities (that is to say, I really could not handle any more beer, was tired, and full), I went back to the train station to pass the last two or three hours before my train arrived.

I did get sleep on the way back, though one of my connecting trains was nearly an hour late. That was the first German train I've seen that wasn't on time. I appreciated it though, since it got me home at a more reasonable morning hour (i.e. after sunrise).

I'd definitely like to try Oktoberfest again to experience it minus sleep-deprevation and plus friends (and hopefully more German-speaking on my part). Time will tell if I go again, but if I do I'd like to plan things out to enjoy the whole thing more.

Meanwhile, an even cooler festival seems to be starting in Bremen this week. I'll take pictures and blog about it eventually. It's not beer-centered, but it looks pretty freaking neat. It's called Freimarkt, and the whole town seems to be turned into a fairground. Both Marketplatz and the train station have a ton of stuff. It goes on for the rest of the month, so I have plenty of time to check out the different parts of town.


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