Last weekend I embarked on the one trip I intended to make even before setting foot on European soil- an excursion to Munich, Germany, which for three weeks every year is the host of the world’s LARGEST festival. Interestingly, the population of Munich during the three weeks of Oktoberfest soars from about 1.2 million to 7 or 8 million as millions of Germans, Aussies, Brits, Italiens, etc. file into Munich to celebrate. What’s also funny is that hardly anyone who goes to the festival (myself included) really knows the origins of the festival, until they get to Munich. The festival actually originates from the wedding of Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa back on October 12, 1810, where the city celebrated by drinking for 3-4 days straight. The locals of Munich enjoyed it so much that they decided to repeat this event the next year, and the next…and the next. I celebrated the 251st anniversary of this event last weekend. Also to clear up any confusion, Oktoberfeset now takes place during the latter half of September. It was moved up several years ago due to weather.
The train to Munich from Vienna took about 4 hours, and upon arriving in Munich we met the person we were renting an apartment from for the weekend. Fun fact: all of the hostiles in Munich during Oktoberfest actually become fields and fields of tents to accommodate as many people as possible. This means sleeping in 30-40 degree weather for the steep price of…50 euros. Thankfully, we chose not to do this, but we did have friends who suffered through it- and they were mighty jealous of us. Instead, we met up with a contact my friend Howard made and did what is known as couch-surfing. For all you skeptics out there, it’s really not as dangerous as it sounds. Our contact was the nicest guy- he gave us recommendations for where to eat, which tours to take, etc. It worked out exceptionally well, especially since we were only two U-bahn stops away from the Oktoberfest grounds.
My trip to Munich also reinforced something that I simply love about Europeans. For dinner on Friday night we went to a traditional Bavarian restaurant, and were seated with a British exchange student and her aunt (this is a very common thing in restaurants in Europe and Asia). We ended up talking to them for at least an hour- I love how Europeans are so willing to share their life stories with the strangers that they meet. It makes life so much more exciting, and just makes the world seem exponentially friendlier. Why can’t Americans be like that?
On Saturday we got up very early in order to be first in line for one of Oktoberfest’s many beer tents. Now when I say tent…picture the biggest friggen tent you can. (Or just look at the picture below, haha) There were at least a dozen of these, and they are where the heart of the festivities occur at Oktoberfest. Each tent serves its own unique beer, as well as assortment of pretzels, half-chickens, oxen, etc. Yes, I said oxen. Fun fact: over 100 oxen and about 2 million chickens are eaten every Oktoberfest.
Some of the highlights of my Saturday at Oktoberfest include: running into a group of German students and chilling with them for much of the morning (they were impressed with my German-speaking abilities, or they were just drunk), watching 16 year-old Germans consume about triple the amount of alcohol as me (Germans can realllly hold their alcohol), and getting a view of the Oktoberfest ground from the top of the ferris wheel. Look at all those people!!! haha
On Sunday morning we took our host’s advice at went on a free, 4 hour walking tour of the city. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the most enjoyable, informative, and sensational tour of my life. Hats off to Munich- it is a much more historically significant and interesting place than I had ever imagined.
The tour began by meeting in front of Munich’s “top” tourist site- the Glockenspiel. However, our tour guide informed us that it consistently ranks high on lists of Europe’s most overrated attractions, so we spent our time mocking it. It is a pretty pathetic tourist attraction. Youtube it if you want to see what I’m talking about.
What’s interesting about Munich, that I learned, is that it has both a dark history, mixed with a culture that marks beer as one of the most important staples of life for the people who live here.
In short, Munich was the city that Hitler began his conquest in taking over Germany. In 1923, Hitler led the first physical act of the Nazi Party by attempting to overthrow the government of Munich. He failed, however, as the National Guard was alerted in time. 20 were killed, Hitler’s bodyguard took 11 bullets for Hitler, and Hitler was arrested. It was in his 9 month sentence that Hitler realized that instead of taking Germany by force he would have to work his way up the political ladder, which he accomplished in 1932. Anyway, I learned an incredible amount about why the Nazi Party made sense for the people at this time in German history, how Hitler manipulated his way into power, and how the people of Munich served as the city that resisted Hitler during his command over Germany during WWII. There are over 120 subtle memorials around the city commemorating Munich’s resistance to the Nazi Party. Quite astounding.
On a much lighter note, I’ll leave you with this anecdote about Munich’s love of beer and partying. The picture below is called a Maypole.
There are a few of these throughout Munich, and it is a tradition for the people of Munich to “steal” each other’s Maypoles. Now, as you can see, these poles are absolutely enormous. Impossible to steal you would think. The last time one was stolen was in 1995, and it was stolen from the Munich Airport, of all places. Naturally, the airport security called the police and said they had a problem- their Maypole has been stolen!! Their call was received with laughter- the police force has been the ones to steal the Maypole. Tradition says that in order to receive your Maypole back you must throw a PARTY for the group that stole it. So…one day in 1995 the entire police force forwarded all of their 911 calls to the airport security while they enjoyed free beer and partying. Only in Munchen!
Lastly, some other fun facts about Munchen: it’s legal to drink beer on the job, even if you’re a policeman or bus driver; Pope Benedict (our current pope) is from Munich, and he has his favorite beer, Augsutiner beer, imported to him from Munich; and last, approximately 7 million liters of beer are consumed during Oktoberfest each year. 🙂