Liters and Liters

We spent the weekend with our Munich friends Dennis and Paulina who will get married in Sao Paulo in November. On Saturday we went to the Oktoberfest grounds about the time it opened. Fireworks at noon, the moment the mayor taps the keg, somewhere in the crowd. The newspapers said it took him two whacks with whatever ceremonial Gold-spike hammer he uses.

There were horse-drawn carriages, one for each beer company, which had been parading; we saw them exit as we entered. Oktoberfest was much more of a costume event than I expected. Many men wore lederhosen, much of it cutely embroidered, and checked shirts which I had no idea were a Bavarian thing. Women wore dresses called dirndls, definitely cleavage-friendly. Dennis said it wasn’t always that way, that the costumes really started happening much more about ten years ago. Another thing that immediately struck me when we entered is that there were lots of big modern rides: roller coasters, a drop tower, whirly things, etc. I guess they must be more fun when you are really drunk, in the way that a stomach pump is fun. When I went to Oktoberfest in 1978, I think I sat at a table outside and drank. No one told me that the real action happens inside the enormous tents, where there are bands, and much more massive concentrations of humanity. We went into some tents, but an unfortunate consequence of our arrival time was that all the tents were full, and everyone there had just started drinking. So there was no place to sit, and no turnover creating places to sit. We tried two or three tents; at one tent Ray and I were turned away for not wearing Bavarian garb, though I think the guy was suggesting we could try another door. That miffed me a bit, but whatever.

So we bailed, and instead went on a walk through Englischergarten, the large park near Dennis’ house. There was a biergarten there next to the Chinesischer Turm, or Chinese tower. A brass band was playing inside the tower, the first few tunes after we arrived from Broadway musicals. We ate a bit too much food, and drank a couple liters between the three of us, and then continued through the park. There was a place called “the Wave” where a fast-flowing river (haven’t seen any of those in California lately) runs over a concrete block, creating a wave on which surfers with short boards in wetsuits line up to go back and forth across the river, one at a time. If one does so well that they are there for, say, 30 seconds, other surfers will tap five times on their board as a signal that it’s time to dive downstream and let someone else have a chance. It was a lot of fun to watch although they were all in wetsuits.

In the evening we had dinner at Paros, a Greek taverna, giving us a chance to deliver a pair of lederhosen to Ian, a guy who’d grown up in our neighborhood. He had left them at his mother’s house and Callum had driven them to Seattle and given them to us. Before about 1635, this is how every civilian thing in the entire world moved from place to place. Not so long ago. Ian is currently job hunting in Germany.

For the six of us, we ordered the appetizer platter for four, which seemed like Korean side dishes, in terms of it arriving on about twenty small plates. We picked at a couple entrees as well. Then, at 11pm, the lights went down, and the waiter came around and started throwing napkins in the air, pounds and pounds of them. Everyone did a good job of scooping them up and throwing them back in the air, creating the proper festive atmosphere. Then the waiter poured shots of Ouzo for everyone, which increased the festive atmosphere further. Finally some folks started dancing on tables and that was festive enough.

On Sunday, after a leisurely breakfast, and a delightful Brazilian stroganoff for lunch, we returned to Oktoberfest, and this time amassed a larger group of Dennis’ ex-coworkers, making six of us. (I have heard a lot of grumbling this trip about the unpleasantness of working in the hierarchy of a German company. Dennis had just quit his job and started a project with a couple other people.) This time we headed for the Oide Wiesn (traditional fair), an area where they had vintage rides (e.g. bumper cars instead of drop towers) and vintage-themed tents. We went to the Velodrome, where people rode around a central area on various types of bicycles. One performer rode on an old-style bike with an enormous front wheel and a tiny rear one; a group of performers did tricks on bikes; and audience members rode on funny bikes which had pedals directly on the rear axle, or wheels on cams so the bike would go up and down as you rode. There were enough places to sit, and we got started on our day’s drinking. I ordered a liter of beer, but most of the others ordered “Radler”, beer mixed with lemonade, which is historically drunk by cyclists, who historically like bad things. After awhile we walked around the main fair, and headed to a tent where another coworker and his friends were, and sat there and drank for two more liters-worth of time. (We are basically teetotalers.) It was quite a lot of fun, and everyone being a bit drunk increased the number of people who wanted to take selfies with us. Some of them just came up and gave us a hug. It was near midnight by the time we left.

Monday we went to the train station, found our train, and re-learned how the reservation system works. You can buy a ticket, or you can pay a few euros more and get a reserved seat. We had unreserved tickets. It seems chaotic when you get on the train, but we soon realized that each seat was labeled with the range of stops for which it was reserved. We’d already settled in a couple of seats marked as reserved from Wurzburg on, and so there was a bunch of stress involved with wondering if someone would eject us when we got there, and where we’d go after that, because the train was quite full. Before we got there, the train just stopped in the middle of nowhere for about 20 minutes. The explanations given were only in German and contained the word “polizei”. Eventually it started moving again, and we realized we’d miss our six-minute connection in Göttingen Finally we reached Wurzburg, and thankfully no one claimed our seats. Maybe they were on a train with a longer delay, and missed their connection too. We waited 40 minutes in Göttingen for the Berlin train which left an hour later, which was delightully empty. We had a compartment pretty much to ourselves. We bought some transit tickets, and took a couple trams to the loft where we are spending two weeks (minus a side trip to the Bremen area), where we were greeted by a spaghetti dinner with tons of pesto.