This past weekend I traveled with some friends to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest. I didn’t really know what to expect, other than being overwhelmed by the large crowds. It was quite an adventure just getting there. Two of our friends had to take a separate train than the rest of us. Theirs was a straight shot to Munich and they had no trouble whatsoever. For those traveling with me, however, it was a bit more chaotic. Originally, we would switch trains in Venice and then Conegliano, and then take a sleeper train to Munich. Our train was running a little behind, so we had to run to our next one in Venice and barely made it. I hopped on right behind my roommate, and I felt the doors begin to close against my backpack. I made it! We turned around and, to our horror, saw that the other two friends in our group were left standing outside, unable to get on the train in time. There was nothing we could do, so we watched them slowly fade into the distance, hoping they could take the next train to Conegliano. Not to mention, another friend who was traveling with us was nowhere in sight. My roommate and I were so worried that they would miss our train to Munich and have to find a place to sleep in Conegliano or miss Oktoberfest altogether. We were just thankful we were together. Once we got to the station, we tried to figure out which platform to go to next, but we didn’t see Munich on the screen. We finally figured out that the train to Monaco left at the correct time and had the same train number as our tickets, so we went with that one. We waited tensely on our friends, hoping they would make it before the sleeper train arrived. We sat, stood, paced, ate a snack, checked the schedules, paced, and sat some more for what felt like hours. Finally, another train arrived, and out hopped all three of our friends!! We had never been so excited to see each other than that moment. We doubled checked that we were on the right platform, and realized that “Monaco” is Italian for Munich, not the small country of Monaco. It all made sense, and then our sleeper train arrived. As we showed the conductor our tickets and boarded, he explained that Germany’s border was closed (I believe due to the influx of Syrian refugees), and that we would have to go to Austria first, then take a couple more trains to Munich. We sat down in the section of the train with seats, not beds, because we didn’t have a spot in the rooms with beds. Apparently, the train we were supposed to take was cancelled, so they sent this one to get us instead. We settled in for a long ride, cracking jokes and making the best of the situation. After a few hours, the train stopped and we were told to get off. We stood in the cold on a platform in who-knows-where while they switched out car for a different one. This time, we got our own little room with seats that lean back. We slid them down so that they made one big bed and hunkered down for the night. Someone bought snacks for everyone, so I had a Bifi stick for my dinner, which was basically a slim Jim wrapped in puff pastry. I was a little too hungry to be picky at that point. It was still dark when we got to Austria. We took about three more trains and finally made it to Munich around 9:40 am, when we were supposed to arrive at 6:10. The whole trip ended up taking 16 hours.
Once in Munich, we walked across the street so my friend could buy lederhosen. (Most people at Oktoberfest wear lederhosen and dirndls, the traditional dress.) We then met up with our other two friends who had taken the other train, which didn’t have any problems getting through the border. I’m still not completely sure what was going on with that.
Once we got to Oktoberfest, we headed straight for the nearest Biergarten. We chose the Armbrustschützen tent, which was very Bavarian and I think crossbow themed. They asked to see our passports, and we walked right in. I expected to wait in line for a long time, but we didn’t have to at all really. We circled the place to try to find a seat, which was pretty difficult. It was very crowded, but we finally found a spot at a table with some guys from Munich and their very drunk friend from London. We sat and talked with them for a while, and we ordered a stein each. It was 11 euros, but it gets you a liter of beer. I didn’t really like it very much, but I eventually finished it to say I did. I ordered a giant pretzel at the first sight of the man walking around selling them. It was the best pretzel I’ve ever had! Maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten yet that morning, or that it helped the beer go down, but it was AMAZING. It took me at least three hours to finish the pretzel and beer, and we talked with our new friends the whole time. We ordered some rotisserie chicken and macaroni and cheese, both widely known at Oktoberfest, and they were really good too. We learned that Tom, the guy from Munich, had gone to college in Kentucky, where he met the friends he was with. It was the first time we had really met any Europeans, and it was really fun to talk to them. We sat there, right under the live brass band, for at least five hours, just talking, drinking, and eating. It was very loud and crowded, but much better than I thought it would be!
When we got tired of sitting there, we said goodbye to our new friends, and walked around the festival grounds. It’s not all beer tents; there are plenty of rides and souvenir stands too. I just took pictures of them though. We got water, some drink that is just apple juice mixed with bubbly water, and something that was like cut up pancakes with apple sauce and powdered sugar on top. It was so crowded, and I hate crowds. I’m glad I saw the rest of the festival, but I couldn’t wait to have some breathing room.
We went back to the train station lockers to meet a couple of friends who had gone off on their own, then headed to our hostel, which was actually a campsite set up for Oktoberfest. This was an interesting place, to put it nicely. None of us will ever stay there again. We did get a free sangria at the welcome tent, though. We had dinner there, and I took a very quick, very cold shower. We slept in two person tents on air mattresses in sleeping bags. There were three of us in mine though, because my one friend didn’t want to sleep alone, and I didn’t blame her. It was kind of fun, just because it was so bad and we were all laughing at each other.
The next morning, we got up early to go tour the Dachau concentration camp. The weather definitely set the mood both days: Saturday it was nice and sunny, and Sunday it was overcast, cold, and a little rainy. Our tour guide was amazing- she spoke loudly, kept it interesting, didn’t overload us with information, and was passionate about the subject. Everyone was very quiet and respectful. The camp is basically a museum and memorial in honor of those who stayed and died there. A lot of stuff was hard to hear and look at, but it’s important to face the facts of what happened in history, so we can make sure nothing even close ever happens again. It really got to me that the townspeople knew. They had to know. The prisoners walked through the town, through their yards. Even with the propaganda in the newspapers, it was obvious it was not just a place where lazy criminals were taught to be productive citizens. People were tortured, terrorized, and murdered in mass numbers and with incredible organization and efficiency. Walking where they walked, lived, and were killed, I could not even imagine what it must have been like. It was very interesting to learn about it from a German, not an American textbook. I had no idea there were so many camps spread throughout Europe, and so many different kinds. These are the only two photos I took there:
After we left, we met Tom in the main square, since he had offered to show us around. He said he really enjoyed it when people did that for him in America, so he wanted to return the favor. First, we climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Church, so we could have the best view of the skyline. It was beautiful!
Tom then took us through the English Gardens, which were beautiful.
Tom had to leave after that, so we spent the rest of the day walking around the city. We went to this ornate little church that was the most intricately decorated I’d ever seen, especially for such a relatively small building.
We walked around for way too long looking for a place to eat. Most places were closed on Sunday or were not German food, but we finally found a place and sat down. I got boiled bratwurst and a pretzel with sweet mustard. The waiter informed me that this was typically a breakfast food, but I was just hungry and would eat anything. It was very good, as was my friend’s radler (beer and lemonade) that I tried. We took an overnight bus back to Florence, which was much simpler than our adventure entering Germany. It was a chaotic mess of a crowd getting our tickets checked and getting on the bus, and the wifi didn’t work, but I’ll take it. I didn’t sleep much, but just catnapped for an hour or two. I got back to my apartment around 6 am, showered, and just stayed awake so I didn’t miss my 9 am class. It was quite the eventful weekend, but it was such a rewarding experience.