September 24, 2007

Dispatch from München, Germany

For breakfast, Stefan and I visited the local bakery (which is right next door) where Stefan enthusiastically purchased a variety of fresh and fantastic-looking baked goods. I was struck by how many of the items there can also be purchased in my home-town German bakery, Wagner's. I have to say, though, that this bakery presents their goods more attractively. I could hang out there every day.

My wife's nephew, Aric, came over shortly after breakfast, and we headed to München for Oktoberfest. First, though, he took me on a car tour of the north and east of the town, then he showed me his new apartment, which is very nice, and then we walked through town to Oktoberfest. Along the way, we detoured through the Englisher Garten, which is München's answer to NY's Central Park. It was a sunny day and there were thousands of people out on the grass and along the streams and walks.

The Oktoberfest grounds are huge and the whole thing is built from the ground up each year, in preparation for the festival. In some ways, it reminded me of a big state fair -- the rides, the multitudes of people, the food booths, the smell of fried food in the air. In others, it is nothing like a state fair in the US -- the shot and cocktail booths, the lack of a thousand acres of parking, and the "tents."

Of course, a good number of the people there (and in the town otherwise) were in traditional Bavarian dress: dirndls or similar full and frilly dresses and lederhosen. In a lot of ways, the dress reminded me of the clothing at a country-western dance in the US. The dresses the women wear are quite similar. There were a lot of bandanas, western-cut shirts, and even cowboy boots.

There are about a dozen big (and I mean big) buildings they call tents, but the only tent-like features of them are the soft roofs. Otherwise, they are giant barns, holding thousands of people each inside, with more seating outside. This is the heart of the Oktoberfest experience.

Which is: the enjoyment of beer, food, music, and the massive, celebratory energy in the room. Beer is sold by the liter. (No wimpy pints for Oktoberfest.) Well, there might be other sizes, but I didn't see any. Food comes hot and simple. Aric and I had a half-chicken each, along with a couple of liters. But that was outside where we could get a seat.

After that, we tried another couple of tents and got into one. We worked our way in, to the back, and found a couple of seats. We were in.

The place was packed and electric. It's an experience like no other I've ever had. The closest thing to it was that Grateful Dead concert back in '73. I spent most of the evening standing on the bench, which is pretty much how it works for about half the people there. There was a big, well-equipped pop band (no oompah band in this tent) occupying the raised stage in the middle, and they played for all of the three or four hours I was there. Amazing. But I mentioned the energy?

People danced, they drank, they talked, they made out, they sang along with a surprising number of the songs. Everyone was friendly: I saw several instant friendships formed right around me.

We practically closed the place. Thankfully, Aric can hold his better than I (because we'd had another couple of liters, at least). That meant that he could put me on the train and I got back to Haar safely.

I could say that I've felt better upon awakening, but after a bit of Stefan's homemade mueslix, I felt pretty good. I headed into München for the afternoon. After bidding Aric goodbye, I headed through the center of town to see what I could see.

I had the choice of several art museums and exhibits, but the Deutsches Museum had the pull on me. It's a fantastic museum of science and technology that Judy and I had visited when we were last here, in 1999, and I was sure that there was an important section I'd missed on that visit.

I was right. I spent almost all afternoon in the "maritime navigation" hall, which comprises a wonderful collection of models (most 1:50) and actual boats (a couple are 20m long). Great exhibits and very good text in English. Another thing that we'd visited in '99, but didn't really impress because it was cloudy, was the sundial garden, so I climbed up to the top floor and tested them out on this (one more) sunny day.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to take this trip, and for the marvelous and generous hospitality that Stefan and Nancy have provided me, and for the friendship that Aric showed me while I was here. I am a lucky man.

Sept. 24 from a sidewalk table at the Maxxwell Restaurant, München: map.

Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/18.

Link to photo album

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1 comment:

JackWms said...

It looks like you have had a fantastic trip. I (we) have followed several of your blogs and enjoyed them. Those one liter beer mugs will get you every time.

Jack Williams