My sister called me up last month and asked if I wanted to go to Oktoberfest in Munich. We always go on amazing adventures together, so of course I was more than willing. We’ve traveled the Alaska Marine Highway and the Yukon territories of Canada and Alaska, explored Southern California, road tripped through the Midwest, and she has flown me over Seattle in a four-seater Cessna. Sister trips are the best.
I haven’t been out of country since my kids were born, so I was excited to shake the dust off my passport and my travel skills. I’ve spent time in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, England, and Italy, and perhaps my best assets as a travel companion are my ability to navigate public transportation and to speak and understand the language. Thankfully for this trip, German is my strongest secondary language.
The last two years I’ve visited Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, the second largest Oktoberfest in the world behind Munich. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn I hadn’t seen anything yet. For starters, there’s a grand parade in Munich where all the brewery/bierhaus owners make grand entrances to their “tents.” I use that word loosely because they are basically semi-permanent structures where people who pay $5000 for a table a year in advance will spend two weeks consuming Bavarian food and, of course, drinking beer.
We arrived an hour before the parade began on opening day, September 19th. We were in the second row and had an excellent view of the procession. There were brass marching bands, drummers, wagons hauling beer barrels, and parade floats from which people were throwing flowers. Each carriage stopped at its designated tent and the bierhaus owners went in to tap the kegs. Then the festivities officially began.
We walked around trying to get into tents before realizing there were no openings. We were about to head a few blocks away to the Hoffbrauhaus when we stopped into the only open biergarten, located near the entrance. We talked to a group from Sweden and then to a group of American nurses who were working in a nearby town. Then a group of men from Norway joined our table. It was their fifth year at Oktoberfest and they were happy to show us the ropes. After 4 or 5 p.m., they told us, it was easier to get into the biergartens, though there were a few tricks they had learned to get in.
We all headed over to the Hoffbrauhaus biergarten and joined even larger tables of even more strangers from many countries. We talked and drank beer until the evening when we returned home. Our new friends were so kind and hospitable as to take us under their wings. That’s the real feeling of Oktoberfest- people from all over the world come together to have fun with a joyous spirit. It’s very similar to life on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail- no one is having a bad time.
The next day we did some tourist-y things before meeting up with some members of our travel group at the Hoffbrauhaus. It’s the longest continually operating bierhaus in the world, operating over 500 years. I’d been there before as a teenager and it looks exactly the same. No matter when you go the place is packed to the gills with happy people.
In the following days we managed to finagle our way back in to several biergartens and tents, either through the techniques learned from our friends or by meeting up with new ones. I met so many lovely and amazing people during my journey from all over the world, some people with whom the only communication was through smiles and clanking glasses. We never managed to meet back up with our friends from Norway, though I take comfort in knowing exactly where they will be after opening ceremonies next year.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl