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Friends!  I now present to you: Oktoberfest.  Opening day.  All day.  Donning my dirndl, I took a bus to and from my hotel which was awesome – no traffic or parking worries.  We left the hotel at 8am, got to Oktoberfest at 10am, left the party at 11:15pm and got back home at 1:45am.  I had no idea what to expect, especially since I get a bit anxious in big crowds and can’t drink beer, and I was also a little nervous about not being able to control when I could leave.  But I dove in and had an amazing time.  I was saying to some friends on the phone tonight that the only thing that could have made Oktoberfest better, would have been sharing it with others.  Hence, I took a lot of video in lieu of the “Wow!  Did you see that??  Awesome!!!” that I didn’t get to say to anyone I knew during the actual event.

The festival takes place right in the center of Munich, surrounded by other sights of the city, so it is a very picturesque setting.  First of all, I have to say that I love the happy accident that I got to attend the 200th year of Oktoberfest!  How cool is that?  And opening day, no less.  The first Oktoberfest was a horse race held in celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  So while known for its beer, it’s actually a festival to celebrate love.  And beer.

There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance that opens the 16-18 day festival.  First: the procession of the landlords of the fest.  This is just a snippet:

Can you see the mad crowds?  Tens of thousands of people.  Yet most everyone was in a joyous, raucous mood all day.  In the late afternoon and evening the dark side of the fest did start showing up – garbage piled waist high around seriously undersized garbage cans in what is normally an incredibly clean city; tented gurneys started transporting the Bierleichen (German for “beer corpses”) in a hurried fashion; I’m told that the tents fit over the gurneys so oxygen can be pumped in for the poor unfortunate who will soon nurse the hangover of his life.  Some fights broke out too, and I did see a bit of blood, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised at the good nature of the people there.

As soon as I got onto the grounds I started exploring the beer tents.  Each brewery has its own, decorated to the hilt and already – even at 10am – full of people drinking the beer, which cost a flat €8.80 (about $12) per liter.  I soon realized that I was really hungry as I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so I went outside to look for food.  Candied almonds did the trick – hot and sticky, straight from the copper pot!  From the almond stand I found a spot and watched the parade of landlords, then found my way into the Hofbräu tent for the tapping of the first keg, which in itself was an absolutely fevered event.  I don’t even think it was the actual first keg of the Oktoberfest – just the first for that tent!  Still, it was madness:

“O’zapft is!” (“It is opened!”) is the traditional phrase yelled by the keg-tapper, at which point everyone breaks into that song that they are singing, with great gusto.  I heard that song about every 15 minutes, all day long.  And every single time, every single person within earshot was singing at the top of their lungs.  It filled me with a giddy joy to see the music carrying so much importance and community.

After the keg-tapping, I left the tent and would not be able to gain access again, to any of the dozen or so tents, until about 9pm.  But no worries!  There was plenty to see, especially the carnival which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It turned into a little photography artist date, and I also rode a few rides.  Girlish screaming fun!  I also visited the Raumeshalle (Hall of Fame) on the side of the hill, presided over by the absolutely enormous Bavaria statue.  Both the hill and the ferris wheel gave me great overviews of the festival grounds.

In the late afternoon I was ready for lunch, and the Wildstuben had caught my attention early on so after waiting 45 minutes in line I sat with two Germans, two Italians, a Brazilian and a Colombian at a large table in the corner.  The place was no different than any other beer hall, singing the theme song every 15 minutes and dancing in the aisles between tables – sometimes even on tables – while I sipped only about three sips from my $10 glass of wine (there’s a reason Oktoberfest isn’t known for its wine, I guess) and ate fleischpflanzerl (meatballs) made from wild meats – I’m guessing venison and/or wild boar, since those were also on the menu.

Since I wasn’t drinking (except the regrettable few sips of wine), I went a bit overboard on the sugar front: candied almonds, Turkish nougat, hot chocolate, chocolate-dipped dates, and candied walnuts to finish up the night.  Don’t judge.  It was Oktoberfest!  And it was delicious.  My nose is super stuffy today and my gut isn’t totally happy with me, but at this point I figure, what the hell?

It had been a chilly day, but at around 6pm it started to get just plain cold and I started to wonder how I was going to make it for another 5 hours if I couldn’t get in a beer tent.  Happily, the Teufelsrad saved me.  This is the Teufelsrad:

So simple.  A turntable in the middle of the tent, padded around the edges.  People pile on the turntable and do silly things while it turns.  Like the crowd above, all older than 40, who tried to stay on.  Or couples of lederhosen-clad men boxing with a dirndl-clad woman refereeing – while the turntable spins.  Or girls hula-hooping.  It was crazy and silly and fun, and amazingly I spent over two hours in there, standing and watching the insanity.  (No, I didn’t try it because I would have had to lay my purse and bag down, and didn’t have anyone there to hold them for me – otherwise I would have been all over that!)  The Teufelsrad has been in operation at the fest since 1908, and a sign said something like “My grandfather did it, my father too, and today it is my turn.”

Around 9pm I finally tore myself away from that madness, and did a little more wandering before making my way into the tents.  The first tent greeted me with 6,000 people standing on tables and singing “YMCA” – the second was rocking and rolling to “We Are the Champions”.  Here’s my favorite story from Oktoberfest: as I walked through one of the tents, a very…um, happy young man grabbed me and danced for a bit while his friends cheered him on.  Then he kissed me on both cheeks before going in for the “deep kiss” if you know what I’m saying.  I kept my mouth shut tight, but the poor guy was too wasted to notice so he made out with my chin for a minute before I could wrestle myself out of his arms, curtsy with a “Danke schön!” and run for it.  I have to say, though, I actually felt kind of initiated!

By the time the bus pulled out for home at just past 11pm, I was ready to go, but thoroughly thrilled with my day.  Oktoberfest is on my list of top ten experiences – it really is a must-do.  I can see why people go every single year – it’s pure joy and celebration, rooted in meaningful tradition which I appreciated tremendously.

Friday I spent the evening in Regensburg with a work colleague and was reminded of how much I love that city.  Just, just love it.

Today I woke up a bit sleep-deprived but not too badly considering the late night.  Mid-morning I decided I wanted to go to Rothenburg and see the famous medieval walled city, but traffic would not have it and after being stuck at a snail’s pace on the Autobahn for 45 minutes, I turned back and opted for knitting and relaxation instead.  On the way home I took some back roads, and was reminded of how much I have grown to love the Bavarian countryside.  And Bavaria in general, for that matter!  I love the culture and the traditions and the lovely cities, towns, villages and farms that make up the rolling hills here.  Next weekend I’ll get to visit the north of Germany for a few days and I’ll be interested to see what’s different, or not.  But Bavaria has a big place in my heart and I hope I get to come back someday.

Ah, Bavaria!