09 October 2007

Mountains, Cows and Beer

On the 25th of September Alicia arrived from Kansas City for her Two-Week European Vacation.

Unfortunately, she brought with her non-stop drizzle and oppressive clouds. So for her first few days we did mostly indoor activities, such as the Kunsthaus in Zürich...

We also hopped on a train to Luzern for lunch, medieval wall walking and the famous wooden bridge.

And, of course, no trip to Switzerland would be complete without seeing some cows.

Unfortunately, the clouds and haze obscured the mountain views for most of her time in Switzerland.

Then on the Saturday after she arrived we boarded an extremely early morning train for an overnight trip to Munich and Oktoberfest. Fortunately, we also found some good weather!

When we made our hotel reservations months ago, we had no idea we had happened to pick Italian Weekend at Oktoberfest. It's the busiest weekend of the festival during which trains, planes and cars fully loaded with Italians descend upon Munich.

Indeed, there are so many Italians that weekend that the Italian government actually sends a large contingent of Italian police. Because most of the Italians who come cannot speak German. And even if they did, the German police are not quite certain how to handle really drunk, exuberant Italians who use their hands to talk even when they are holding enormous steins full of beer.

As Oktoberfest Newbies, we didn't know the best way to go about it. For instance, we had no idea that in order to get served beer at Oktoberfest, you needed to be seated at a table in one of the tents. And unless you know an insider, the odds of getting into a tent, especially on the busiest Saturday evening, is pretty much nil.

Fortunately, a friend here in Zürich (and a former Munich resident) hooked us up with Donna. Donna has attended every Oktoberfest since 1984 (or something like that). And she agreed to meet us and try to get us into one of the tents.

We met her for a late lunch to discuss Oktoberfest Strategy. With our game plan decided, we headed out.

We boarded the train to the festival grounds. Donna reminded us to stay near the doors and "hold our positions" whatever the cost. We soon understood why as with every stop more and more people shoved their way into the train. But we all managed to stay right next to the door, even though some gave us the Evil Eye for our efforts.

However, that was simply practice for the hate which would soon be thrown our way. Because as Donna led us through the packed festival grounds towards the Ausgustiner Tent, we saw mobs of people around every door leading into one of the many tents.

Note: the "tents" are actually enormous wooden buildings that are constructed and deconstructed every year. There are 15 major tents and some other smaller, less important tents. Each tent belongs to a German beer producer.

When a door opened for any reason, the mob would surge forward in the hopes of making it past the security guards charged with keeping them out. A few lucky ones managed to sneak by, but most were forced back out again. And they would continue standing by the door for their next opportunity. When we got to the festival grounds at approximately 5 pm, there were people who had likely been standing outside for hours waiting for an opportunity to get in.

As we approached one of the back doors to the Augustiner tent, there was a crowd of at least 50 people packed in tight waiting for their chance to enter.

Donna arranged us in a line. She went first, shoving people out of her way like a pro, smart talking to any who objected. (Example: "You can stand out here til you're 30 and you aren't getting in. But I will, so get out of my way." In German, of course.) Next went Tom, an American who has lived in Munich for several years and a colleague of GLH. His job was to keep the hole open. Alicia closely followed Tom. At only slightly over 5 feet tall, she was most at risk for getting lost so needed to stay in the middle. I came behind Alicia. GLH made up the rear. Because at 6'4" and a former college football player, GLH is ideally built to ensure that we all made it through the increasingly hostile crowd. Occasionally he was forced to glare down at someone until they moved out of our way but he only needed to use one of his football blocks once.

It took us several minutes to make our way to the head of the pack while obscenities and threats rained down upon us. Finally we made it to the doors. Donna waved at one of the Bier Fraus, whom she has known for years, and we were in. The shouts increased as the security guards redoubled their efforts to keep all others out.

Donna had led us to the door that leads directly into the Maibaumräuber-Boxe.

There is a tradition in Bavaria that if you are able to steal a town's Maypole, you can ask for a ransom to get it back. Many years ago, two brothers concocted a plan to steal Munich's Maypole, and astonishing feat given it's enormous size. The ransom they asked was a reserved box in the Augustiner Tent and free beer for the rest of their life. They are now in their 80's and still come for their reserved box and free beer every year. They are an Oktoberfest Legend and no others have ever successfully managed to steal the Munich Maypole.

As mentioned above, the Official Oktoberfest Rules state that in order to be served beer you must be sitting at a table. However, since we were in a box, we were able to get beer even though we had no place to sit. As demonstrated by Alicia...

We then found a place next to the tables where there was a bit of breathing room, although not much. When the Bier Frau working that area saw us with beer, she asked how we had gotten it. When we explained, she said "come to me for the beer and I'll serve you..."

As time went on, some space cleared at a table near us and we were invited to sit down by the Current Possessors of the Table. A husband and wife team, they had been there since 8:30 am. Having claimed a table, all they needed to do was hold on to it. As people came and went, they decided who among the standing were worthy of sitting. We managed to make the grade.

Here is Tom (on the right) with the German Guy who Possessed the Table. Unfortunately, I haven't a clue what his name was. But thanks for a place to sit!

I would love to include a picture of Donna. I have a fabulous one captured just as one of the very drunk Italians grabbed her and planted a sloppy, wet kiss on her cheek. But she swore she would never talk to me again if I posted it on my blog. (Won't you please reconsider?)


A Librarian said...

That is the best picture of Tim, Tom, whatever his name is:) I am going to steal for my blog as it a perfect example of what happens to Americans who move to Munich and indulge in too much Oktoberfest. My picture makes me look like your drunken friend but, oh well, when in Rome...

Global Librarian said...

But in Rome they do as in Germany!

And by the way, you WERE my drunken friend!

My Brand New Swiss Life said...

Mmm... Oktoberfest. Italians + beer = all kinds of groping!

Anonymous said...

Isn't it "but in Rome it is like Germany"?? That's the way I remember it :)

Expat Traveler said...

Oh what a great story... And a great thing to know. We might consider this for next year!

Anonymous said...

i was wondering if the festival had any type of thing to do with cows. is there a certain section that has to do with cows or something?

Laneris said...

The photos are really great. We have been this Monday to the Oktobefest from our company and the next day already one can see his/her silly photos on the http://www.talkmunich.com Munich expat forum. It was really embarrassing.