My attempt at spending the least amount of money possible had landed me on an overnight flight to Munich, Germany. In my typical fashion, I found myself frantically running through the airport, fearing that I was going to miss my flight. I made it to my gate just in time for boarding. Once the plane was fully boarded, an announcement came on the overhead speaker in German. When I flagged down the flight attendant to see what all the fuss was about, his response was “Barack Obama, YOUR president is landing, so JFK is closed. We will be stuck on the tarmac for an hour or two.” He used the word ‘your’ as if it was my fault that the airport was shutting down, as if Obama had personally called and told me he was coming and I forgot to give the pilot the message.
Eleven hours after the flight attendant had blamed me for the delay, we landed in beautiful, Germany. With the time difference it was now early afternoon and I still hadn’t slept at all.
Once off the plane, getting from the airport to my hostel couldn’t have been easier. The Munich subway system is simple to navigate and everybody I spoke to was not only fluent in English, but more than willing to help. My welcome into Germany only grew better as the subway car started to fill up with lederhosen-clad men drinking beer right out in the open–a big difference from the brown-baggers of the NYC subways that I am accustomed to.
I arrived at the main station, Hauptbahnhof, to see that Oktoberfest had truly taken over the entire city. The station was crowded with drunken men sporting blue and white checkered button-up shirts and women with their breasts pushed tightly together in flattering Dirndls. I instantly felt out of place for not wearing the proper attire. Luckily for anyone who forgets to pack their accurate Bavarian outfit (aka tracht), there are plenty of vendors selling this traditional garb, though they will cost you a pretty penny. As it seemed nearly impossible to spend less then a couple hundred Euros on one of these outfits I sadly had to opt out of wearing one. I advise any one who’s planning on attending Oktoberfest to bring one, (maybe save some money and make part of it), as you will most likely wish you had one upon arrival.
Another result of spending as little money as possible was only allowing myself one day in Munich. I am not sure how much things typically are, but with the popularity of Oktoberfest the prices surely had sky rocketed. I booked my hostel two months in advance and it had proven difficult to find a place that wasn’t already fully booked. Shared rooms that are generally in the €12- €15 price range were now around €40 and they probably would have increased a lot more if I had booked my bed any later. The neighborhood surrounding the HBF station is the best place to stay. There are several hostels to choose from and they are all within walking distance of casinos, strip clubs, restaurants and only a couple quick train stops from Oktoberfest.
After dropping my backpack off at the hostel and roaming around for a couple hours admiring Munich’s gorgeous architecture I hopped onto the train and made my way to the main event. Much to my surprise, I found myself exiting the subway station into an upscale neighborhood. I had expected the world’s largest fair to take place in a more vacant or run-dow
n area. It makes sense though, for the festival to be held in an upper class neighborhood, as Oktoberfest originated as a wedding celebration for Prince Ludwig in 1810. The carnival booths that now hand out stuffed animals were once distributing silver, porcelain and jewelry as prizes instead.
While the prize booths may have gone down hill in the past two centuries, they seemed more than qualified to me, and the amusement rides were surely enough to put my precious Coney Island to shame. The park has free admission, though once inside everything is expensive and the tents tend to be crowded, so get there early if you want to get a seat. These tents sincerely brought to life the term ‘beer winch’ as they are filled with waitresses running around wildly, carrying 10 beers at a time, which is impressive, as each mug weighs about 5 pounds.
Even though a seat is hard to come by no one seemed to be sitting. EVERYBODY was standing on the tables singing, dancing, laughing and toasting. The vibe in an Oktoberfest tent is like no other. It delivered one of those moments in life when all you can do is stand there thinking, “Wow, is this really happening? Am I actually lucky enough to be participating in this– an event that bars all around the world attempt to mimic?” I felt spoiled.
After consuming one of the giant mugs of German ale I went outside to hunt down some grub. The park is stocked with a variety of food stands, all serving mostly meat- something Germany has no scarcity of; this is no country for those with light stomachs. As I ate my Ox sandwich (a first for me), the fatigue of jet lag started to kick in so I strolled the park in search of a Redbull. I remembered seeing a cocktail cart earlier that seemed likely to carry them.
It was on my journey to the cart that the dark side of the fair had steadily begun to reveal itself to me. There was an incoherent man being dragged out across the floor of the bumper car arena, another guy–mostly naked, getting arrested while a countless number of other people were vomiting, falling down or undressing themselves. It’s not difficult to see why the park is heavily populated with armed police and medics.
Regardless of the plethora of deeply disturbing distractions I had successfully tracked down the cocktail cart. To my delight the stand carried Redbull, but my request was shot down by the bar tender who said I wasn’t allowed to have one without vodka in it, even if I paid the same price. She wasn’t joking.
The drunken debauchery of Oktoberfest continues all through the night. The closing of the park for the late evening hours only results in the streets being almost as crowded and rambunctious as the actual fair itself. I found a glass phone booth in the middle of the chaos and decided to call home. In the five minutes that I was on the phone, three separate groups of people threw stuff at the booth.
Despite the commotion of the streets, I was able to make it back to the hostel safely in time to wake up and catch the early train to Berlin. I meandered through the vomit-dotted streets of Munich towards the train station, effectively polishing my hopscotch skills around the endless piles of throw-up. I made it to my train with 2 minutes to spare. As we pulled out of the station I slid down in my chair, put Arcade Fire on my Ipod and contemplated the excitement of my recent Bavarian-like endeavors. I was sad to be leaving Munich, yet excited and hopeful of what Berlin was going to bring me. Like any good relationship, Oktoberfest left me wanting more.