On the weekend of September 28, I went to Munich, Germany. I booked the Oktoberfest trip through a student travel group called Bus2Alps. We left Thursday night and arrived Friday 9 a.m. And as soon as we arrived to the campsite we were staying at, Stoke Travel, we were handed a cup of beer. The motif of this weekend.
My friend and I planned this way back in the beginning of August, when we thought it was a good idea to opt for the cheaper camping option, as opposed to staying in a hotel or hostel- not realizing how cold Germany is in September. Let’s just say there was a lot of layers and cuddling happening at night.
Now, we knew Oktoberfest (and Germany in general) was going to be different than what we were used to in Italy. Whenever my Food & Wine professor discussed it, he described it as a place with “burping, farting, and pissing.” Of course, not as elegant at the Tucscan wine tasting. However, we were excited for the difference.
The first day, we decided to explore Munich minus the festival. We didn’t want to go to Germany and miss out on the actual city. From the campsite, we took a bus to the train station and then the train to Marienplatz (we became pros at the train system by the end of the week). Since we missed the morning bike tour of the town (typical us) we had time to kill before the next one at 4 p.m.
The train station in Marienplatz (or Mary’s Square) is located right by the town square. Outside the square, we walked around through a bunch of food and shop vendors. Now, the knowledge of my German pretty much extends to the vocabulary used in the songs of the Sound of Music, so trying to translate proved very difficult. We had no idea what the majority of the food was, unlike here in Italy.
We passed one vendor that was selling flowers, including Eidelweiss. I have a deep love for Eidelweiss because when I was little my mother used to sing the song to me (again, Sound of Music). The small shop also had handmade ornaments of the flowers, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a safe place for it because I was going on the bike tour. Later in the weekend though, I bought myself an Eidelweiss music box to make up for it.
At the beginning of the bike tour, I ran into one of my friends that is studying abroad in Spain this semester. We were meant to miss the first the tour!
The bike tour was a lot of fun. The tour guide explained to us the various sites of Munich, many which were reconstructed after WWII. I found it interesting that there were many monuments honoring those who stood up against Hitler and the Nazi movement.
We also learned that Oktoberfest was created in order to please a woman. In 1810, King Ludwig III married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. He bought her land, outside of the city, and held festivities on it. There were horse races and parades and the festivities eventually developed to Oktoberfest now.
The last stop the guide took us to was Englischer Garten, which is the second largest beer garden in the world. We sat around the Chinesischer Turm, a tall, wooden structure that played music from all cultures. There were benches situated around it where we were able to eat our chicken and drink beer. That was the first time I tried a Radler- half lemonade and half beer.
After the bike tour, we found our way back to the campsite (after briefly getting lost in Marienplatz). The campsite was a constant party with people from all over the world visiting Germany for Oktoberfest. We were often approached by people, such as French or Italians, so they can speak English to us.
Surviving the first cold night, we woke up early the next morning to go into Theresienweisse to Oktoberfest. One of my friends from home advised me to just “follow the lederhosen,” in order to find the location- and it worked. There was a swarm of people wearing lederhosen and dirndl walking to the site.
When we go there, we waited on line for the Hofbrau tent (and tent is an understatement, this tent can fit 10,000 people). We instantly order the giant pretzels and liters of beer (note-they kick you out if you decide to stop ordering beer). We sat at a table with Germans and Swiss, with our backs touching a bench of German guys.
It was amazing to see how happy and united everyone was at Oktoberfest. People were genuinely excited to be there to drink and meet new people. I don’t know what that says about society, but beer clearly was the cause of this camaraderie. There was singing, dancing, and clanking of beers, shouting “Prost!” The people that we sat with spoke to us in English about life in their countries and asked us about America.
When we left the tent, we decided to walk around the festival. Oktoberfest was like a giant carnival, there were vendors selling food, beer steins, shirts, and other small souvenirs. There were also tremendous rides, such as swings and roller coasters. Fun for the whole family.
The next day, Sunday, had a different feeling to it. We went to the Dachau concentration camp, where the sky was gray and gloomy, setting the tone to the place. When we first walked through the entrance, the area is desolate with only a few bunkers and monuments. We spent a lot of time in the museum, which offered background information, artifacts, and pictures from the concentration camp.
I would enter a room, read the information, see the objects and pictures, and then read that in that particular room I was standing in, what I was reading occurred. The same walls, the same floor, the same area.
One quote that stood out to me in one of the descriptions stated that we are constantly reshaping the history of tomorrow. At first it made me feel small, there are billions of people in the world that are dependent on it. We are pawns in the game of life.
But then I realized that wasn’t the point of the statement. It was to give us encouragement to take control of our role in life and to do what is right. It was empowering; everyone has an impact. The theme of the museum was “never again,” and we are supposed to contribute to that.
I would love to return to Germany and spend more time there. It offers so much history and so many beautiful sites, much more than I realized. I would especially like to return to Oktoberfest in the future and further experience the culture of it.