When one lives in Germany, one cannot simply not go to Oktoberfest!
Freiburg, the university city I studied abroad in, is situated in the far southwest corner of Germany, while Munich is in the southeast. Happily, the country is not very big and also has a superb rail network, so the two cities are a mere 4.5 hours apart. Or, well, they are normally. But when you are 21 and a student, you aren’t actually able to afford a normal ticket and are thus willing to go for the nine euro option that required five station changes over 7.5 hours, and left at 5 in the morning.
My roommate Matt and I headed to the Hauptbahnhof in the dark, tired but excited. We met our course mates Viktor, Geoff and Nicole, as well as a couple of other Americans that Geoff and Nicole knew from back home. The plan had been to grab some bakery goods at one of the train station’s many wonderful Bäckerein but alas, we had arrived a bit too close for comfort and instead ran to catch the always-on-time train (pay attention kids, this is called ‘foreshadowing).
I’d like to say that we watched the sun rise over the south German hills, but in reality it was a drizzly autumn day so we just sat blearily and hungrily as the black outside turned to gray. We had five stopovers but none of them were long enough to allow for breakfast. So we just sadly ran past the bakeries as we rushed to catch the next train.
Eight hours after leaving Freiburg, we finally pulled into Munich around 1 in the afternoon. We clambered out of the train station, searching desperately for food. We settled for the first thing we saw – Turkish doners (of course, this was Germany after all). After inhaling the kebabs, we then headed towards our destination. We took the metro to Munich Marienplatz station, the stop for the stunning Rathaus – mayoral office. The square in front of the building is quite large, and we were momentarily distracted by the beauty of it all. A few pictures later, however, we headed off.
Oktoberfest, only a kilometer from the Rathaus, was an easy walk and we were there by 2:15. This only gave us about two hours to enjoy the party because our train ticket back to Freiburg was at 5:30 (yeah, in hindsight we should maybe have sprung for a better ticket).
My first reaction upon arrival was actually one of being taken aback – I certainly wasn’t expecting Oktoberfest to have any rides, much less intense ones! Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like copious amounts of alcohol and fast rides aren’t the greatest of combinations. But you do you, Germans.
We walked past the rides, meandering through the crowds of lederhosen-clad people. Upon arrival at the actual beer gardens, we saw that each one was rented by a specific brewery. Much like an intricate float in a parade, each brewery had a large design at the front to welcome visitors and advertise its brand. We tried to enter several, but all were packed beyond capacity so we settled for standing outside instead.
Despite not being able to actually go inside of a beer garden, we needn’t have worried about a lack of beer. There was plenty of standing room at each beer garden’s outdoors sections and plenty of workers walking around WITH FOUR MASSIVE STEINS IN EACH HAND. If only my hand muscles could ever be so strong.
We only had two hours, so we knew that time was of the essence. Never have I consumed beer at such a fast pace. The steins held 34 oz of beer, and we each had two in 90 minutes. Needless to say, I may or may not have lost one of the shirts I was wearing (thank goodness for the 00s fashion of layers!), but it was worth every ridiculous moment. We chatted with Germans, we chatted with Romanians, and we even chatted with a British family who were made up of a grandfather, father, and...a young man who was celebrating his 18th birthday! I remember being shocked that his family would be deliberately getting him wasted, but now that I have lived in England...well, yeah. That's not out of place.
Too soon, it was time to go. We shuffled off to the exit and the metro back to the Hauptbahnhof. We arrived about half an hour before our train was scheduled to depart, and we wiled away the time drunkenly admiring the cheesy items in one of the tourist shops.
When it was time, we headed to the platform. At this point, I really had to pee but didn’t want to risk missing the train. This is Germany, after all. The trains are always on time. So I started that dance of pain that we all know, and waited.
Of course, the train was late. Quite late, in fact. By the time it came, I was slightly doubled-over with how much my bladder hurt. I literally shoved people out of my way to get to that dirty, disgusting train bathroom (even the proper Germans seemingly can’t teach men to not make a mess in public transit restrooms). If you want to understand just how traumatic this pain was, I still clearly remember it nearly a decade later. But finally, much relieved, I joined my friends in their seats and we chatted buzzedly away. At least for the first train. By the time we finally got on that last train, however, we were long past the time when we should have been in bed. Again, perhaps we should have re-thought this ticket considering the event we were participating in.
One of our many train changes was in Stuttgart, where there is another Oktoberfest. So while the alcohol had long left our systems, leaving us tired and grumpy, our new train was full of very drunk German men. Several joked that they would vomit, while others used every single stop to pee out the door onto the tracks. This experience was probably our karma for me losing my shirt. Obnoxious Americans, amirite?
Our very last train, caught around midnight, was spent with us mostly catnapping (Freiburg was the train's last stop, so no concerns about sleeping to Switzerland). Upon finally getting to Freiburg, we had missed the last tram. There was a bus that took Matt and I about halfway home, so we still had to walk about two miles. But we didn’t mind. It had been a long, ridiculous day, but it was worth it. Perhaps we should have maybe gone about it a bit differently, but at the same time it’s fun to be able to say that we did a 20 hour day-trip in order to consume two steins of beer.
It’s all about the journey, right?