This is fairly off-topic, but Brewfest starts today and every year when it starts, I drag out my Oktobefest story for nostalgia’s sake. 🙂
Oktoberfest is a huge event. It’s kinda like the Iowa State Fair with the rides and the games, but more people, more beer and an entirely different bingo card (instead of checking off mullets and toothless smiles, you check off naked guys trying to climb the tents and passed out partiers going home with their heads hanging out the taxi window). There’s 10 or 12 huge tents scattered around the Fest area and each tent holds (I guess) 8-10,000 people. Each tent is owned and operated by a specific brewery. Let’s say that’s a party that can only hold about 100,000 participants, and let’s say each night it attracks about 150,000 people (not sure on the numbers, but you get the idea).
This was my third attempt at Oktoberfest. The first year I went on a Saturday night. We showed up at 8pm. There wasn’t a chance in the world that we’d work our way into finding a beer, so we got back on the train and left. The only fun we had was on the train ride to the Fest. It was because we had a bad plan.
My second attempt was the following year on a Wednesday afternoon at noon. I went with an older crowd of German-English interpreters. It was a very tame experience and I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. We had a lame plan.
So this year we worked on our plan months out…
Thursday: My Amsterdam layover went well. I think that’s the first time I’ve been through that airport and didn’t have time to take a nap. It’s a good airport to sleep in. When I got to Munich, I was happily surprised that my phone still worked. I even got a text message saying, ‘welcome to Germany, dial 611 for customer service’. The only inconvenience is that, in my phone, all my German #s have the international prefix, and none of my US ones do. So to call Shawn, who might be on the way to the pisser (more on that event later), I’d have to memorize his number and manually dial it locally….oh the hassles of international travel. 🙂 I’m waiting on my phone bill…no clue what I was getting charged.
Shawn slipped out of work a bit early and met me at the main trainstation on his way home from work. We dropped my bag off at the house and went hunting for food. We decided not to go out to the Fest just yet…stick to the plan…wait till Friday, wait till Friday.
We ended up going downtown and hung out at deserted bars until the Fest closed for the night and post-Festers started arriving. The Fest closes at 11pm. You’d think that was early, but it’s all relative.
Friday: Shawn had the day off. This weekend was Italian weekend at the Fest so there were just a ton of Italian RVs parked around town. I think I heard as much Italian at the Fest as I did German and English.
We went out window shopping for a bit before we went to the fest for a couple warm-up rounds. On the way to the Fest I took a picture of a woman that just peaked too early…about 2 subway stops downhill from the Fest. It was 3pm.
…so we got to the Fest and surprisingly got in a tent (most weekend-only Festers weren’t in the picture yet). You can’t get served unless you’re actually at a table in a tent. There’s two types of people at the Fest, those with beer and those without (poor bastards). We ended up standing by a table with some Canadians (one who was really fond of singing ‘Country Road’ as loud as he could), Irish and a couple Americans. All of whom were working in Vienna and up partying for the weekend. They were kind enough to squish us in…by then it was probably 3:30pm or so. Everyone was already standing on their bench seats by then.
Lesson number 1 at the Fest, if you hear a whistle behind you, get out of the way. I’ve noticed some similarities in Germany… *When you’re walking and you hear a bell behind you, you need to move out of the way or you’ll get ran over by a bicyclist. *When you’re on the autobahn and you see lights flashing behind you, you need to move out of the way or you’ll have a Porsche up your tailpipe. *When you’re at Oktoberfest and you hear a whistle behind you, you need to move out of the way or you’re going to get a boot up your ass by a waitress carrying 5 liters of beer in each hand. They wear bowling-glove-like wrist supports to help prevent fatigue, they walk fast and they always have a whistle in their mouth.
Oktoberfest is all about pacing and timing your peaks…all part of a well-developed plan. So we had two liters of beer each (about that anyway…counting gets difficult) and left the Fest early Friday evening to pick up Natasha (friend from Bamberg) at the train station.
…we then dropped her bags off at home and the 3 of us went to an Irish bar to meet some more friends, a few of which I had seen before. From there it gets a little blurry. It was supposed to be 2-for-1 night at the Irish pub, but apparently they stopped the special because they were giving away too much beer. Our plans were frayed. We protested by only drinking half as much beer. Damn Irish.
I’m not too sure where we ended up but it was around 3am when we got home to walk Rico (dog). My memory is slipping with age.
The good thing about mornings is that it gives you time to get back on your plan.
Saturday: We woke up at 9:30am…HOLY CRAP! WE WE’RE LATE FOR THE FEST! It gets busy on the weekends. If you’re not in a tent by 10am, good luck. If you’re not in a tent by noon, No chance in hell of getting in.
We were late, our plan was in jeapordy.
…so we all took record setting showers and dashed out the door like there was free money in the streets. I had the fore-site to grab a couple slices of bread on the way out the door. They tasted great on the subway. Shawn called one of his friends. He was already in the Paulaner (a brewery) tent holding a spot. Whew, the plan was salvagable. Shawn, Natasha and I were on the way to a full day of Festing.
Oktoberfest is an amazing example in crowd control. The subway stop is lined with security to keep people from falling into the train. The subway stop flows straight into the fest. Very convenient and impossible to get lost (***Just go with the flow, don’t resist and stay limber***). There are two big chokepoints at the Fest—Into the tents, and into the restrooms.– Ah the experience.
…we made it to the Paulaner tent sometime around 10:30 or so I guess. The doors were already closed. Crap. We went around to the back. We tried sneaking in with a couple truckloads of potatos. No luck. We tried sneaking in behind a crate of bread. No luck. Our plan was in tatters.
The WTO should hold their meetings in a Fest tent. They’re impervious.
…so we just got in line at the front of the tent and got ready for the long wait. Once the tent gets near-capacity, they close the doors and security (big ogre-like guards, some of which I’m sure they import for the Fest) will open one door every 30 minutes or so for about 5 seconds. It’s like removing a dam from a lake. They open the door, the people flow in, then the ogres slams the door shut for another 30 minutes. As the morning wears on, the door-opening ceremonies get farther and farther apart until they just keep them closed.
We only had to wait for about 30-40 minutes for our turn. It was our day! The doors have windows so you can see the guards getting ready for a door opening event…and the crowd squishes closer and closer together when they know an opening is about to happen. I’ve never been so squished and packed in, not even in a gondola or a subway (little did I know what was to come).
…so the door opened and we flowed in. Whew…there was breathing room in the tent. Not bad. The place would be complete caos if they just opened the doors and let everyone in. Thank god for the ogres at the doors….we were back on our plan. It was working like clockwork! Woohoo!
…so we started looking for our friend holding a spot for us at a table. He said he was in area 43, under the sign, behind the stage.
…we went over to area 43…no friend. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. I asked Shawn to see if the guy was in a green and white tent. Nope, the guy was in a yellow and white tent…Apparently there are two Paulaner tents, one is green and white, the other is yellow and white…crap. Our plan was in flames.
We gave someone at a table some money and he ordered us a round beer. We mourned the loss of the plan with a couple beers. I think it was right around 11:30am or so, a critical time for getting into a tent.
…so we enjoyed our beer and got up the courage to leave the green and white Paulaner to find the Yellow and white Paulaner. Going through the exit was a cakewalk, like leaving a casino with money in your pocket.
We strolled over to the yellow Paulaner tent and got in line…It was pouring. I felt like a tightly packed sardine. We waited for about an hour and moved about 1 foot. We called the guy holding the table to see what he could do. He worked on the guards for about 20 minutes. They weren’t buying “my dying brothers are outside and would like 1 last beer before they die” story. Nothing worked. We were trying the impossible. We could see him through the window just holding his beer and looking out at us with a helpless expression on his face. It was hopeless. Our plan was nothing but ashes.
During our sardine-like existence in line, we were kinda slowly pushed over to the side of the crowd and spit out of the line right beside the ‘invitation only/kitchen side door’. It was like a sign from god. Natasha talked to the bouncer for about 10 seconds and she was let in. It was the most amazing piece of political artistry I’ve ever seen. I’d never been exposed to pure brilliance before. (I don’t know what she said and never want to. Whatever it was, none of the other 100s of women talking to the guard thought of it). So Shawn and I waited out in the rain for about another 2 minutes to see what that dice-throw would bring our way…The door opened, the bouncer snagged us both out of the crowd and pulled us in. I could feel everyone in the crowd behind us wishing they were us. Poor bastards.
Our plan could have been written on gold parchment it was so perfect.
So we finally found the guy holding our spot at the table. It was a small spot. In fact, it wasn’t much of a spot at all. This tent was still relatively calm. People were still sitting at the tables instead of standing on them. We started chatting with everyone at the table. The longer you chat with someone, the more welcome you become, eventually finding your own spot at their table. Our new-found drinkingmates were: A group of Germans who all owned their own carpentry businesses, a group of cute 16yr old German beer-chugging lesbians, a few of shawn’s friends, and a couple Americans.
…so we started drinking right on schedule. It was perfect. The chicken was salty, but fabulous. I think it was around noon or something.
…so we sang some songs that I still don’t know the words to, saw some bras fly, and life was good.
…yadda, yadda, yadda…
…and then I had to pee. My first full-blown restroom event at the Fest. I just didn’t know what I was getting into.
The Fest subway stop was a good example of crowd control. Getting into the tent was a great example of crowd control. Getting into the restroom in a beer tent was the best example of crowd control I’ve ever witnessed. I was humbled by the people coordinating the restroom event.
A beer tent is rectangular, but the entire tent has a circular rhythm to it. The isle all the way around the inside edge of the tent is pretty much like a slow-moving river of people, controlled by the pulse of the restroom.
You have to slide into the line and just let the current take you where you need to go. You go with the flow until you get close to the Barrier holding the crowd back out of the restroom. That’s when the slow moving river turns turns into a Class 5 rapid of people swaying back and forth doing the sardine-peepee-dance. At the end of the rapids is a Barrier of police locked elbow-to-elbow physically controlling the flow of people into the restroom to give everyone in the restroom elbow room. The police are locked together with their backs to the crowd, leaning back into the crowd as hard as they can to keep the river of people from bursting open into the restroom.
The experience of waiting in line for the bathroom is similar to getting into the tent, but much more urgent. The line just inundates back and forth while the police try to control everyone. Every few minutes two of the police locked together will let go and the crowd will just dump into the bathroom area. There’s people trying to crawl between their legs, trying to somehow get over them, doing anything they can to get to the destination. I still don’t know how or when I got through the Barrier. One second I was in the now-familiar sardine position, the next second I was at the restroom entrance with plenty of elbow room to spare. Life was good.
…I walked in and claimed my spot. While in the restroom, everyone calls out where they’re from. US, Australia (lots of Kiwis too), Italy, Brazil…Pick a spot on the planet, someone is representing them in the restroom… …so I did what I had to do and washed my hands. They were out of papertowels. Damn…and then I went out the exit door. The current that goes along the outer isle of the tent is both the line going into the restroom and the line going out of the restroom. You have to follow the river (again, police holding this line in check as well) until you get to a dump-out point. From there, you can find elbow room again and stroll over to your table, chit-chatting and smiling along the way.
In all, going to the bathroom takes about an hour. You have to include it in your plan. It’s a vital piece.
…so we drank and ate and drank, and peed and drank and drank. It was around 6pm or so and we decided to head home to regroup for After-Festing.
…another great tent exit and we were on the subway to home for a dog-walking and a few hours of sleep. (6pm-ish)
…we napped and re-showered and headed out at around 11pm to a dance club…the crowd was mostly post-Festers that still looked sober enough for the bouncers to let them in. Somewhere along the way, we picked up another one of Shawn’s friends.
…big dance club without about 6 or 7 separate rooms, two stories on one side, one story on the other.
…yadda yadda yadda…
Sometime during the night, the friend we picked up a few hours ago went home.
..Several ear ringing hours later, we all found each other again and headed out. There was a pizza guy set up outside the door of the club. Brilliant spot for a pizza guy. Brilliant.
It was around 5 or 6am. We debated for a second on sticking it out until 8am. That’s when the late-late clubs open up…but we couldn’t hang. We were feeling our age. We were done and went home.
Sunday: Sunday started slow…and ended slow. We left the house around 2pm or so, had a breakfast beer to stop the barking in our heads, stopped by a museum and took Natasha to the train station for her ride back to Bamberg. Shawn and I then went to the fest again. This time to just look around at the crowd and rides. We then went home and spent the rest of the afternoon laying around like corpses and watching tv. It was great.
The plan went off without a hitch. We peaked at the right times, no one lost their chicken. It was great.
…it starts getting cold in October. The leaves die off. Everything turns brown. Outdoor restaurants take in their tables. People start wearing gray.
…and it’s time to harvest the hops. Time for a little respite before winter.Time to look back at summer and say ‘Woohoo!’. Time to look around and smile.