Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hofbräuhaus

I didn’t know any other way to the metro other than the way that I came, and frankly it was a battle requiring spiderman-like flexibility to bend through the charging crowd into the fest. I made it back to the station, and had to take the train only a few stops away to Marienplatz – the center of Munich, which was past the Hauptbahnhof, and then meet Ciocia Zosia at “die bekante statue”… the famous statue.

I got off and went up from the underground – 360’d around…

Which famous statue?...

There were tourists EVERYWHERE. This was the heart of Munich, and it was the first day of Oktoberfest. It was packed. Around me was a beautiful church, the ornate Rathaus [city building] with its large clock, other statues and landmarks around – Where is my little Polish Ciocia? I paced around a bit, and saw a pillar fountain on the other side of the street. I went back underground took another exit and fortunately there she was next to that statue… I guess it was the famous one.

She directed me down one street, and guided me into a store. At the register she told me was one of her friends working. The woman was franticly working with probably a surplus of customers due to the tourists, but switched with a partner to come say Dzien dobry to her friend. Ciocia Zosia proudly introduced me as her relative from the states finally coming to visit, and I was so happy that she was so excited to have me around.

After that little stop, she said we were going to have a late lunch. I was actually a bit hungry – I hadn’t eaten since the morning. [ Now you may have seen Zep’s shirt from the previous post “Beer is Food”, which yes, that liter of “Liquid bread” probably had a scary number of calories, but I was ready for lunch]. Ciocia Zosia had something special planned that she said she only gets to do once or so a year when this event comes around, and that was to go to the Hofbräuhaus, the central brew house restaurant, and get some good Bavarian eats.

The Hofbräuhaus was very cool. It was connected to the Rathaus, and the inside was centuries old,with stone walls and painted ceilings. In fact, it seemed to be what the tents at the fair tried to make their temporary structures resemble – this was as realistic as it came. We weaved through the crowded tables and found one to join where we could fit two people – note the sharing and meeting new people again.

In fact, later in the meal, one woman asked where I was from and was surprised to hear America. Some people at the table probably didn’t hear us too well and just figured we were German since we were speaking it – and others that were closer probably were incredibly confused as to why their neighbors were struggling with German and fumbling with the language so poorly to communicate until they later heard our unique story that I was American and Ciocia ,Polish and German was our second language each for our communication. It must have looked pretty funny to see a teen and an older lady churning out grammatically incoherent sentences, and still holding great conversation.

[ specially locked up bier mugs for special patrons of the Hofbräuhaus]

Our waitress came over – and seemed to be truly bogged down by the job of lugging the literal kilograms worth of beer around in the typical mass delivery approach – and Ciocia asked if she could get a water for me [ I was definitely done after my beer from the morning] and a half liter of the weizenbier for herself. No go. Only liters of beer were served there for the Oktoberfest. Well, ok then, Ciocia ordered herself a beer bigger than her head – I had to help share – oh gosh.

We also ordered a very typical Bavarian staple for the festival, Schweinshax’n, a huge pork knuckle served with cabbage and kartoffelknoedeln – special potato-like noodle dumplings. When those plates hit our table, it was seriously a feast. That piece of pork was huge – it seemed that this entire festival was about being dense, rich, and big – entire liters of bier, slabs of pork, platters of wursts amongst other selections of sweets and cakes.

We barely managed to finish our meals, let alone the beer, but the food was delicious. I thought it was great to have been able to check out other parts of Munich during the weekend, and also have some great Bavarian food as well.

We were going to spend the rest of the evening checking out the surrounding city place and also head over to the Saturday evening Polish mass [ Ciocia laughed because there was going to be no communion for us after that beer, that was for sure! ]

Das Bier

[ The Beer ]

The Bierzelten were completely full, and it was officially afternoon – even though many were quicker than the clock to enjoy their first beverages of the day… some by far it seemed.

The streets were incredibly loud, there were people bumping everywhere, and you heard different languages all around you – German, English, Chinese, Drunken mumblings. The streets were cluttered, it was already messy denoting the celebrating taking place, and you had to dodge the horse-droppings as you also dodged aimless walkers in Lederhosen – but honestly that was all just part of the excitement of the event! It was really so much fun.

From the rowdiness of the first tent, to the streets, my friends and I met back up with the Americans that were already having a party at a long table of a crowded Biergarten attached to the first tent we were in. They were having a great time, and we got to share with them about the cool sights, sounds, and wet splotches of spilled beer on our backs from our exciting excursion to a neighboring tent to check out the countdown there, as well as the cool parade.

Of course, everyone was almost reprimanding “Where is your beer?!” and as intimidating as a complete liter mug may be, Jennifer was exactly right – we have to get one – we are AT OKTOBERFEST. The rule at the festival is that you must be seated to get a beer. This creates the long lines for seats and the crowds for tables, and the biergarten was definitely full. The American CBYX table was packed, and so Jennifer and I politely asked in German to this table near us if we could squeeze in. I thought Jennifer was nuts, because the table that we asked first had two very big Belgian guys at the end, and I really had no clue how I was going to wedge my ass into that spot – but it happened.

It is as if the culture of the festival is to cram as many people into your table as possible so everyone has an equal chance at a beer purchase – Teamwork! This environment actually allows you to meet – and be practically sitting on top of – some really cool people. We said hello and introduced ourselves to everyone in German, and then once we found out about everyone, Jennifer busted out into French with the big Belgian guys and I chatted with the neighbors to my right who were from London and Sydney each speaking with their respective accents.

We flagged down a waiter and ordered our drinks, and then someone else took a photo of us, which then the rosy-cheeked Belgians plopped their big souvenir Oktoberfest hats on our heads for the photo-op. It was honestly so fun to be celebrating just having fun itself with complete strangers.

Once we had our huge drinks – one Liter – 8.6 Euros [apparently it is big news every year in Munich how much the Liter will cost ] – we were up and about to clink ‘Prost!’ with our colleagues scattered around at other tables. Admittedly not being a drinker much at all, [Germans need a reminder that I am 19 – an age in this country that is almost ages past their norms for ordering a beer making everyone think it should already be a norm for me] and really only sampling things here when my host family or other hosts laugh that it is a ‘Cultural experience’. Well this was another cultural experience and the one Liter of beer was HUGE for me, and the remainder of the afternoon was resultantly warm and fuzzy to say the least.

It was great to catch up with some of the other American exchange students that I hadn’t seen since DC and catch up on their experiences in Germany and the gossip of everyone’s funny foreign situations. Our American table was probably obnoxiously loud, but this was really the first time where we were equaled or even beaten out by our surroundings. There were so many people, young and old, just having a great time.

Actually, some would walk over – most likely after a boost from their mugs of courage – and tried out some of their English on us. This one guy from Austria came and stumbled out his question “Are you guys… Americans?” and from there a lengthy conversation was opened up about cool places to check out in Germany, and where we should also go in Austria when we come [ I guess to him, it was inevitable! ]

[ The random guy from Austria ]

After an hour or two hanging out at the Biergarten and having a great time, it was time for me to head out – and for the Austrian guy already moving on in his blurry ramblings into Austrian history – time to kindly escape, and leave the festival to meet Ciocia Zosia again somewhere else in Munich. The rest of the Americans had a little over 12 more hours of their rendezvous, but I had a day and a half left to enjoy Munich with Ciocia.

Countdown im Zelt

[ Countdown in the tent ]

Vierzehn Minuten!

As we pushed into the tent, it was immediately apparent what the commotion was all about. A man, probably of very important standing – maybe a politician or the owner? – was standing at the middle stage and surrounded by musicians preparing the crowd. It was a countdown until noon, and everyone was anxiously awaiting the beginning of the festivities inside. My friends and I wedged by a wall and stood next to another table where there happened to be an American man sitting amongst some German colleagues or co-workers that we began to chat with. They had reserved their table and had already been there early in the morning as well.

Zehn Minuten!

When we told him about our waiting at the first tent, he laughed and told us we should have purchased some outfits. In Jennifer’s case, he said “if ya woulda bought a Dirndl and pushed those girls up to eye level, you would have been into any tent here.” The comment was hilarious, and actually quite true. The surroundings had almost everyone seemingly dressed in traditional attire, and you actually felt a bit out of place without it. [ note to self that next time I come to Oktoberfest in my life – yes it is definitely worth coming back to – I will have a Lederhosen complete with the little handkerchief scarf, loafer shoes, and wool socks that only cover your calf muscles… my experience will be complete!].

Vier Minuten!

The minutes were ticking down, and you could feel the antsy-ness in the room – the volume was already at a roar. Part of the band that was playing in the streets entered the tent to a burst of cheers. The old men clad in feather-stuck hats and velvet green vests and matching shorts proudly marched the tent and circled the crowds blasting great oom-pah-pah sounds of Bavarian music from their tubas and accordions.

Ein Minut!

The waitresses and waiters were ready – as if they were a team with a mission – along the wall waiting to get their dozens of beers to carry fresh from the tap. The crowd was like something I had never witnessed before. It was what I would assume being in a huge ballroom counting down for New Years would be like – but instead of a new year with new resolutions, this was for BEER!

Zwanzig!

20 Seconds – the people were cheering and probably salivating for their long awaited drinks.

Funfzehn!

Fifteen- people were on tables now.

Zehn, neun, acht, sieben…

It was a made countdown and even being at the edge walls and not at the tables, you were jumping like mad as if your beer was coming out too in only…

…Drei, zwei, eins!

It was official! Oktoberfest was open. I had my camera out, and I captured the blur of events of men screaming and hollering like kids, and waitresses pushing through the crowds carrying eleven mugs – yes, eleven LITERS of beer – in one go.

Cheers!

Prost!

Clinks, clacks, mugs swinging, more cheers, and a bunch of yelling and celebrating, Oktoberfest was underway and I was able to witness the excitement first hand. I was so happy that I ventured out and checked out the tents, and wedge into the crowd to check out the scene. The event was truly one of a kind and the excitement was one that I don’t think could be replicated at any other mimicking Oktoberfest around Germany or the world except for this real-deal here in Munich.

Die Parade am Samstag

[ The parade on Saturday ]

Not getting into the very well known Schottenhammel Zelt was a little unfortunate since we didn’t get to witness the ‘official’ opening of the festival, but my friends Jennifer, Dominique and I soon came to realize that there was a LOT more going on to ‘officially’ open the Oktoberfest as well. By this point all of the tents were open – but no alcohol was being served yet due to the tradition of opening the first keg at noon. It was a little after 10 AM and all the tents were already jammed with people at tables – most likely with reservations dating back to February! – who were anxiously waiting for noon to strike.

I ventured through probably a half-dozen of these huge tents and really enjoyed how ornate each one was. Each tent at the Oktoberfest is set up and run by a particular brewery and serves their own brand of Bier. This makes each tent very different and uniquely decorated on the inside. Some tents specialized in huge chicken dishes, and others specialized and massive trays of typical Bavarian wursts and kraut.

The tents ranged from being draped in colorful ribbons and wreaths to others decorated as if they were from a log cabin village of Bavaria with many wood carved pieces hanging about. They may be called “tents” but these were fully constructed warehouses that were almost as ornate as if they were a fully functioning, year-round restaurant.

Walking and zig-zagging from tent to tent, and between tables of people inside, I was able to catch a lot of cool sights. There were open view kitchens with huge ovens with hundreds of chickens cooking rotisserie style, or side rooms with carts of seemingly endless glass mugs for the beer to be served for three weeks straight within a few hours. The building was so crowded that – try to imagine this here – security guards would yell “watch out, clear the way” in German, and literally push so that the following waitress, complete in a Dirndl dress and a HUGE tray of dense Bavarian delicacies could plow her way to her serving table. This was all like nothing I had ever seen before. I definitely could see what Frankemuth, MI based its theme off of [ a German town in Michigan known for tourism with traditional German dining and décor ], and this experience in Munich brought that experience to a realistic and traditional level.

Just outside the tents, a crowd of people began lining the streets along the now roped off street. Apparently an opening parade was about to start. We actually coincidentally were standing next to a very nice American couple enjoying a tour of Europe from Washington state, and we chatted about our experiences touring Germany, and our struggles as students grasping the language and the different dialects.

Once the parade began, the true essence of Oktoberfest was coming alive. There was just so much alcohol around that it really didn’t faze you anymore that it was only before 11 AM and some people were already swaying down the street, but the parade really captured the heart of Oktoberfest. For other festivities and holidays around the world, spirits and alcohol may be the perfect accompaniment to the event, but here at Oktoberfest it takes all the attention, and Beer IS the tradition.

In fact, this opening parade was a huge procession of barrels of beer being brought into the city as if it was the beginning of the festival a century ago, and the new batches of beer were being welcomed into the city with huge acclaim and applause. There were carriages with huge horses decorated with wreaths and symbols of the beer brand that they carted down the street, and behind them would follow large wagons of barrels, and more carriages of people that probably were, or represented very important figures of the community.

[look who caught a flower!]

All the people were dressed in traditional German attire and were tossing candies and flowers out to the crowd. The procession went on for quite a while – and there seemed to be SO many different types of beer and wine coming through – but then some huge cheers from the tents behind us caught our attention. It was a bit before noon and the commotion inside captured our curiosity and led us to the next crowded, exciting event of the Oktoberfest grand opening.