Monday, October 16, 2006

Munchen Part II – Beer Fest Primer

Let’s be serious. This was the main reason for the entire Brussels/Amsterdam/Munich trip. I don’t have too much to say, except that it was one of the best times I’ve ever had.

For the uninitiated, a primer: Munich takes pride in their beer as much as Belgium does (if not more so), but they also take pride in how much of it they drink. I think I read somewhere that Bavarian citizens (Bavaria is the region in which Munich is located) average over half a liter of beer per day.

Bavaria is to Germany like Texas is to the US; culture there is entirely different from the rest of the country. When I told a German guy I met in Leuven I was going to Munich, he cringed and made me promise not to judge the entire country by it. People there actually wear lederhosen for the hell of it. I thought it was just a costume thing or something that Germans wore a long time ago. But these people wake up in the morning and think, “hmm, what should I wear today… my brown lederhosen? or perhaps my brown lederhosen? It’s awesome.

So they drink a lot and they dress funny, and Oktoberfest (locally known as “The Beer Fest”) is basically just an excuse to party, drink even more, and still dress funny, but this time for the world to see. And it is a world affair. We met fewer Germans than internationals, including Italians (more on them in a minute), Finns, Swedes, Japanese, and the omnipresent Aussies. Of the six million people that descend upon Munich every September, one million are Australian. To put this in context, Australia is a nation of only 20 million people, so fully one twentieth of the entire continent treks to Munich every year. That would be like the entire state of Illinois going, plus another 3 million. Crazy.

Anyway, so Oktoberfest, at its heart, is a simply a festival, but Barry Bonds style – everything here is bigger than it should be. There are all your staples: rides that spin you around, slides, food stands, places to buy overpriced souvenirs, etc., but the best part is obviously the beer tents.

Now, to be clear, these aren’t your typical tents. They’re completely enclosed and heated, and have kitchens and bathrooms and everything else. The biggest, the Hofbrau tent, officially holds 10,000 people, but it gets so packed I’m sure there are even more. The tents are filled with picnic benches, but no one sits down. Everyone stands on the tables. And of course, everyone drinks a ton of beer. For the low, low price of only 8 Euro, they serve up a one liter "mas" (huge ass mug) full of yummy goodness. They’re huge. My arms got a workout just holding those things for four nights.

One of the smaller tents.

Inside the Hofbrau tent.

But in case drinking copious amounts of beer and partying with crazy internationals isn’t enough for you, each tent has a traditional Bavarian brass band. And while they play the occasional traditional Bavarian song, they mostly rock out to American music from the 70’s and 80’s. We’re talking Satisfaction, Sweet Home Alabama, Sweet Caroline, Take Me Home, etc. The amazing thing is that the Germans knew more of the lyrics and we did. Everyone sings. Loud. And dances. And falls off benches. And cuts themselves on broken glass. And laughs at people who fall off benches and cut themselves on broken glass. In short, BEST. TIME. EVER.

Band at the Hofbrau tent.

This guy's face says it all. He probably had a beer or two.

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