"Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit!" (A cheers, a cheers!)
They say everything's bigger in Texas, but I beg to differ. Wilkommen zum Oktoberfest in Munich, Bavaria, Germany! It's the largest "people's fair" in the world, with beer drinking tents the size of football fields, sausages longer than my arm, and beer steins dwarfing my head.
Oktoberfest began in 1810 as a wedding celebration for Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and his bride Therese. Inviting the entire kingdom to join in the multi-day festivities, it was Ludwig's love of beer, bride and kingdom that prompted this 200-year-old celebration.
Spanning 16 glorious days and serving over 6 million people 7 million liters of beer, the festival summons beer drinkers from near and far. Zombies to the call of a "hoppy time," the beer-driven migration washes over the streets of Munich with unstoppable force. A mixture of lederhosen sporting, dirndl-flaunting local veterans - and the less seasoned, possibly still intoxicated international tourists from the night before - march through the streets until reaching the main festival gate. As the Germans would say, "Sheizza!"
It is a circus gone mad with thrilling amusement park rides, delectable fares, vibrant costumes and, most importantly, "bier." Soaring high overhead, the main thoroughfare is lined by the festival's 14 crown jewels: colossal beer tents. Each tent represents a different local brew in a very different way. Exterior decorations range from the wild, wacky funhouse to the traditionally crafted, 1800s throwback. There's even a 15-foot-tall mechanical lion roaring and sipping beer for your viewing delight.
Just in front of these stadium-sized beer tents, hundreds of food stalls pave the edible way with sweets, savories and, of course, souvenirs. There are T-shirts, Bavarian hats and giant gingerbread cookies! Decorated with thick, colorful frostings, these cookies appear much tastier then they actually are. But with phrases like, "Ich liebe dich" (I love you), husbands continuously purchase them for wives, boyfriends for girlfriends, and one drunk to the next.
When it comes to food vendors, greasy goodness is your only option! Succulent pork knuckle sandwiches, whole chickens grilled on a spit, endless arrays of wurst (sausage) and the most famous of all, pretzels. Fresh, salty and bigger than your head, these doughy masterpieces provide the perfect beer sponge. As for sweets, pan roasted, sugared almonds and wispy cotton candy tickled my taste buds, but the delectable apfelstrudel (apple strudel) claimed my gluttonous ways.
Capping off this amazing spectacle are rides! Ornate carousels, stomach re-arranging roller coasters, dizzying teacups and a quintessential ferris wheel. Beer and rides ... a match made in heaven (or possibly hell).
The sights, the smells, the energy, your senses are in overload before even entering the first beer tent. But which one? Choosing which tent is like choosing which piece of cake to eat. The biggest, the prettiest or the piece layered with the most toppings. I, however, choose the most practical. I am thirsty, and it has the shortest entrance line.
Crossing the Hacker Fetzelt threshold reveals an insane new world. Seventy-something Grandmas dance on tables, big burly men belt out Bavarian folk songs, all with that unforgettable glow that only three-stein deep Germans can radiate. Known to locals as "Himmel der Bayern," or "Heaven of Bavarians," white, fluffy clouds and a baby blue sky paint the ceiling and rafters above while a 360-degree mural of old-world Bavaria decorates the perimeter. A true work of art.
From the entrance, rows of extra-long wooden tables race into the distance. Hardly visible beneath the sea of limbs, bodies and beers, each table seats hundreds. A circular gazebo, complete with 15-piece brass band, only amplifies the madness. "Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit" ("A cheers, a cheers") rings through the air every few minutes with a variety of other jovial drinking tunes filling in between.
Once swept into the crowd, beware of two things: seating and beer fraus.
Balancing 10 steins of Bavaria's finest brews between bicep and bosom, these ladies' resolve is strong and patience thin. Get out of the way! As for seating, good luck. Battling large-and-in-charge Bavarian families who arrive to the tents early and stay late, chances for seating are slim. Beer is their culture, and be damned if someone takes their seat! If you can handle the enormity and insanity, the reward is grand - a liter of perfectly brewed Bavarian bier. Prosit!
1. If you want to drink like a Bavarian, you need to eat like one!
2. Looking Bavarian is half the fun. Wear a dirndl (ladies) or lederhosen (men) and transform yourself from tourist to local.
3. The bulging-bicep beer maids do not work that hard for chump change. Tip your waitress plenty from the beginning, and she will keep coming back.
4. Don't eat or drink immediately before riding the roller coaster. The person below or beside you will have an entirely different Oktoberfest experience.
5. This is not a place to "bar hop," or in this case, "tent hop." Finding an available seat is like finding a needle in a haystack. Get to your favorite tent early and camp out!
5. Only bring the quantity of money you're willing and able to spend. Beer, rides and greasy goodies can be a budget's demise.
6. Avoid weekends at all costs! Occupancy doubles, and entrance into any of the tents is at a premium.
7. It's a 10-hour window of beer drinking. Pace yourself. It's a marathon, not a sprint.