The trip to Munich was a short two hour train ride from Innsbruck. We were lucky enough to score a cabin with huge windows and had it all to ourselves. The scenery was magnificent as we went from the mountainous Alps in Austria to the rolling hills of Bavaria and far too quickly the urban sprawl of Munich.
The Munich train station was in full Octoberfest regalia with sales of gingerbread hearts everwhere. Now a little about this unique Octoberfest tradition. We had first encountered the gingerbread hearts at the Salzburg Octoberfest celebrations. I had read that folks buy hearts for one another and wear the hearts around their necks throughout the celebrations. The hearts are decorated with icing inscriptions in German that conveyed one sentiment or another. “I Love You” seemed to be the most popular, but there were others that simply declarted “I Like You” or “Octoberfest”. We didn’t understand why the whole gingerbread heart thing though, but we later found out that the heart signified that Germany had a big heart. (Not sure why they would have heart gingerbreads in Salzburg since Salzburg is in Austria not Germany … but we went with it.)
Anyway, we found a very chatty cab driver to talk us to our hotel. He informed us that he also works as a clown at a childrens’ hospital … seriously … and even put on his red nose when he was driving. Anyway, he actually provided us with some good tips about the area around our hotel and some good tips about Octoberfest. The best part we learned was that there was a fabulous market only a few blocks from our hotel.
Once we checked into our hotel and changed our clothes (it was another beautiful day) we went for a walk to the market and WOW. This market was amazing. It had the standard fruits and vegetables, but it also had meats, and cheeses and breads and flowers and wines and oils and olives and many, many food stands. It was foodie heaven.
Cheryl and I walked around and found a number of stalls were selling Christmas ornaments. Score! That didn’t take long for us to find. We found a couple nice ornaments, but decided to wait until then next day to buy in case we found some better ornaments at Octoberfest.
We took in all of the food stalls and finally settled on a soup kitchen that appared to be the most popular place there. It had been in business since 1981 and the line out the door and around evidenced it was not going out of business any time soon. We got in line and as we approached the window realized that there was no English version of the menu. Fortunately, a fellow behind us spoke English and was very helpful in translating. Ultimately, we ordered our favourite pumpkin soup with a slice of thick dark bread and a large glass of beer. What could be better?
Cheryl found a table for us to sit at while I paid. We no sooner began to eat (delicious by the way) than we saw an elderly woman looking for a place to sit. A couple folks shook their heads and when she passed by our table we invited her to join us. What a treat. She spoke wonderful English, was in her late 70s, had pefect posture and appeared to be in better shape than most people I know. She told us she likes to come to the soup place once a week and usually walks to the market. She told us she used to ride a bicycle but hurt her arm and can no longer ride. She clearly missed riding. Anyway, our lunch turned into a lovely encounter with a very friendly German woman.
By this point, Cheryl and I were coming to the conclusion that these Germans (or at least the folks in Munich) are far, far friendlier than the Austrians. While we had some wonderful encounters with some very friendly people, for the most part I found (as did Cheryl) that Austrians were very standofish and in some cases out and out rude. So far nothing of the sort in Munich.
After our lovely lunch, we wandered around the neighborhood, took in some of the shops (Cheryl bought two Starbucks Octoberfest mugs) and found some fabulous chocolate. We eventually wandered back to our hotel, changed again (it had become really warm) and had the front desk provide us with instructions on how to take the subway to the Octoberfest grounds. Cheryl and I figured we would use the afternoon to just visit the grounds, walk around and take it all in. Then on Wednesday, we would actually “participate”.
Anyway, the trip to the Octoberfest grounds from our hotel turned out to be VERY easy. One block from the hotel we found the subway stairs, bought two tickets and were on the subway in a matter of minutes. Four stops later we found ourselves exiting with the masses and following the herd to the Octoberfest grounds. Not surprisingly, there was a large police presence everywhere.
As we crossed a bridge closed to traffic, the Lowenbrau horse drawn carriage with beer barrels on the back of the carriage approached us (think Budweiser Clydesdales). Cool! We continued walking through a plaza, down a series of stairs and down another street. The walk from the subway took about 10 minutes and we could clearly tell we were heading to a festival that celebrated beer because everwhere we looked there were people already drinking beer as they walked towards the gates.
Also, the requisite attire of the day was laderhosen and bavarian dresses. Seriously. EVERYONE was dressed up. Now orginally, Cheryl and I were not going to do any such thing, but when we were in Berchtesgaden on Saturday I told Cheryl we had to at least buy German blouses, which we did. And boy were we glad we had them because we would have certainly been in the minority with jeans and t-shirts.
Anyway, we reached the gates and followed the masses. Now Munich’s Octoberfest is focused around 14 beer halls that stretch the length of the grounds. The construction for the the beer halls begins in July and takes about two months to complete. It then takes about a month to dismantle after the two week Octoberfest run concludes. So roughly a third of the year is dedicated to building or taking down this beer city. Yowza!
Another intersting fact. Tickets to the beer halls are sold by table – generally tables of 8 or 10. No single tickets are sold so if you don’t buy a group of 8 tickets you have no table. And unless you have a seat at a table, no beer will be served to you. Nevertheless, many of the tables have seats available provided you arrive early, early, early. In addition, some of the beer halls do not have reserved seating so you can simply find a seat at a table. Again, the key is to arrive early. And since the halls open at 10, we figured we would need to arrive by 12 in order to find seats. Today, however, we could arrive whenever we wanted since we were only on a looksee. So today we eventually walked through the gates at 3:00.
The walk around was something else. Lots and lots of partying and lots and lots of very drunk people. However, in addition to the drinking the other big focus of the fesitval is a midway, which surprised both me and Cheryl. Yep …. rides, rides and more rides. I am not sure who came up with the great idea to couple ridiculously spinny rides with alcohol, but there it was. Another surprise was there was no exhibition hall where “stuff” was sold. Nope this was strictly a beer, food and ride event (oh and a handful of cheezy souvenir booths).
As we walked, we passed one ridiculously over the top decorated beer hall after another. Some of the beer halls had moving signs and beer insignias, but perhaps my favorite was Ochsenbraterei beer house with an enormous rotating spit over the entry. Only at Octoberfest.
Once we reached near the end of what I called beer hall row, we turned to the left and wandered past dozens and dozens of rides and food boths. In fact, there were a number of walkways that split off from the main beer hall row and took you to the opposite side of the grounds where there were more and more rides, games of chance, food booths and yes … liquor booths … Yager, prosecco, rum … you name it, they had it. And the food was ridiculous. Broiled chicken, huge brats, barbeque, mega pretzels, nuts, cotton candy and the ever present gingerbread hearts.
Once we wandered the grounds, we decided to check out a couple of the beer halls. Many of the halls had outdoor “beergarden” style seating as well as incredibly elaborate and decorated halls seating thousands of people inside. The inside of one beer hall we entered was painted pale blue and the ceiling resembled the sky. It was incredible.
And everywhere we walked we heard languages of the world. Aussies were in the house, Brits, Germans (of course), Russians, Chinese, Japanese, French, Americans (or maybe they were Canadiasn), and on and on. It was awsome and overwhelming all at the same time. Oh and the best line we heard was utterd by a fellow speaking English with some kind of accent …. “the English girls are the easiest”…. OK then.
By 5:30, Cheryl and I decided to head back to our hotel. Now that we had a feeling for the place, we could pick out a hall tomorrow and try and find seats. In the mean time, we bobbed and weaved through the crowds out the gate, up the stairs, back through the plaza to the bridge. Once at the bridge we noticed that police lined the front of the subway platform … no doubt toprevent some wobbly young man or woman from falling into oncoming subways.
Now our train ride back to the hotel was entaining to say the least. A group of rowdy (uh drunk) young men got on the train and insisted on singing songs. I have no idea what songs were being sung, but at on point there was something about Bayern Leaga (and given that they were dressed in Bayern Munich attire I figures this was an ode to the socccer (football) team Bayern Munich). One young man in the group was particulary insistent on singing (even when his buddies had long since abandoned the activity). It was pretty comical because it would become quiet and all of a sudden he would start up again. Eventually they got off the train. We later found out that Bayern Munich was playing a game that night so we figured they geared up by attending Octoberfest and were then heading to the game. I am not certain how long they were going to last ….
Anyway, we got back to our hotel, rested up a bit and by 7:30 decided to head out in search of dinner. We wandered down the street and found that all of the pubs were packed for the Bayern Munich game, but we eventually found a little restaurant that advertised fondue. Turned out to be another little gem of a dinner find.
We started with prosecco infused with almond (for Cheryl) and infused with mango for me. We then had stuffed mushrooms, salads, meat fondue (the quality of the meat was amazing – the proprietor buys from the market) and concluded with an appertif and chocolate fondue. It was an incredible way to end the day.
Next morning Cheryl and I were up early, grabbed some breakfast and walked down the street to the market. We wandered around and found the stall with the ornaments we liked. After some extensive “analysis” we finally settled on some ornaments, found a little heart purse for Cora (aka the “Big E”), which mimicked the gingerbread hearts and decided it was time to get ready to go to Octoberfest.
We changed into our festive shirts and wandered down the street in the direction of the subway. We stoppped by a little shop to look at the selection of gingerbread purses (not sure why since Cheryl had already bought one for Cora) and were approached by a woman dressed in red Bavarian attire. She told us she liked our shirts and began to ask us questions. After a few minutes of chit chat she suddenly asked us “Would you like me to yodel for you”? I am not kidding!
Well never one to turn down a yodel, Cheryl and I looked at each other with a “what the …”, said sure and before we knew it this woman broke out into the most amazing yodeling you have ever heard. Some shopkeepers came out to listen, I snapped a picture and Cheryl in the meantime was fumbling to get her video started. When the lady finished we all clapped and Cheryl insisted she do it again so she could video tape it … which she did. As our lady in red was yodeling a young woman stopped to watch. After the yodel was done, the lady who had stopped said she would also yodel and so off she went with her own version …. I am not joking about any of this.
So there we were on the streets of Munich listening to women stop and yodel for us. Incredible! I am pretty sure if we continued to stand there we would have had more and more folks approach us and jump into “the yodel for the tourists” show. However, all good things must come to an end as they say, so Cheryl and I thanked the ladies, walked down the steps to the subway and minutes later were walking through the Octoberfest gates.
Immediately when we walked into the grounds we encountered a horse and carriage for Spatenbrau (one of the beers), followed by one for Lowenbrau, followed by one for Hofbrau. Timing. The horses and carriages were all decrorated and the drivers were in full ledorhosen regalia.
After taking a few pictures, we wandered in and out of the 4 of the more popular beer halls and finally settled on Hofbrau House. It was bright and cheery and was the only hall were you could actually buy a beer if you were standing since it had a standing beer garden in the middle of the hall. In addition, Hofbrau House had amazing looking grilled chicken and was ranked as one of the top 4 halls. The hall seated over 7,000 people and there was a 3,000 seat beer garden outside. Unbelieveable! Anyway, with our choice of brew houses made, we wandered around looking for a couple of vacant seats. Fortunately, we were there on a weekeday at noon so that halls were not yet full (although by 2 it was jam packed).
After wandering around for a bit, we found a table right on the isle with a couple open seats. We asked the two groups sitting there if we could join them, received a nod and with that we were “in”. It didn’t take long for our waitress to come by and we ordered two pitchers of Hofbrau ale. 20 euros later plus an asked for tip of 5 euros – seriously our waitress asked for a 5 euro tip and I was afraid if I didn’t give it to her I’d either end up with spit in my beer or we’d never see her again – we had our steins of beer. I still have no idea what the exact name of the beer was that we drank other than it was a Hofbrau brand. Turned out to be mighty fine too.
Now a couple things about the beer. It is served in enormous steins and is far more potent than regular beer. One stein was all I was planning to drink … uh famous last words. In addition, everyone warned us to make sure we ate as we drank because of the potency of the beer. Fortunately, that was not a problem in this tent as food was everywhere with roving pretzel sellers and a menu a mile long.
And it only took one “Prost” song before Cheryl and I were making friends with our neighbors. (Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der gemuetlichkeit, Eins, zwei, drei g’soffe… Prosit or Prost.) The kids to my left and Cheryl’s right were a mixture of teachers from Salzburg and students from Munich. The men to my right and Cheryl’s left were butchers from northern Germany. (The owner brought his apprentice Sebastian and two of his top guys with him.) So with that, we began an afternoon of celebrating Octoberfest. The band played and people sang. Men and Women stood on tables and tried to chug the entire stein of beer. Huge applause if you succeeded. Huge boos if you failed.
By about 2:30 Cheryl and I finished our steins and intended to head out to the old part of Octoberfest (at the far end of the grounds where there was apparently an old carousel and an old beer hall amongst other things). However, best laid plans …. before we knew it two more steins appeared and we were clearly not going anywhere. Time for a mega prezel and some chicken.
As the afternoon wore on, the hall became louder and louder and more and more crowded. And Sebastian and the Butcher Boys were insistent that we stand up and sing with them ever time the band played a German drinking song. I have no idea what we were singing, other than two songs in English that seemed to be favorites … Sweet Caroline and Waiting on Alice (Alice, Alice who the f*** is Alice). Anyway, although I had no knowledge of the lyrics to the German songs I was trying to sing, what fun it was standing on the benches, swaying back and forth to the music with the Butcher Boys and pretending to know the words I was singing. It is something I will never forget. It was raucous, joyous and just plain fun.
Unfortunately, the afternoon came to an end all too quickly. When Cheryl and I insisted we had to leave, we found our steins being filled with beer from the Butcher Boys. Finally at 6:00 we said we had to go. Fortunately, the Butcher Boys were also leaving to catch their 7:30 train back to the north.
We said our goodbyes complete with European check kisses, wandered out of the Hofbrau Hall with the band still playing and into the warm sun. It had been an absolute blast! I could not have written a better day!