Our travels through Germany concluded, intentionally, with a stay in Munich at the end of September. The fact that coincided with the last days of Oktoberfest was no accident. We are fortunate to have friends there, who accompanied us to the festival and helped interpret what was going on. I was caught off guard. I'd expected the long tents, and immense, wooden tables of beer steins and salted chicken But I hadn't expected the carnival rides.
I'd expected the long tents, and immense, wooden tables of beer steins and salted chicken (a festival specialty: each taste renders the other more delicious in a never-ending cycle of deliciousness). But I hadn't expected the carnival rides. Turns out the festival takes place at a Munich city intersection fairground (that lies mostly dormant the rest of the year), and one entire axis is dedicated to the kind of thrill rides you'd expect at Great Adventure or Disney Land. Valentina immediately decided she wanted, at the age of 3 years, to ride them all, from the Vomit-o-Tron to the Hyper-Shake-o-Puke. Above our heads was a cloud of radio interference: happy, screaming Germans trying to keep their beer and chicken down (up, as they spun) as they whizzed over us. We negotiated instead a ride on the enormous Ferris wheel, one of the world's largest, which she found thrilling, if a little tame.
The festival was permeated with a fun sense of nationalist pride I found intriguing and enticing. We knew we were getting close to the fairgrounds long before our train reached Munich, as increasingly the Germans – young and old & ndash; that boarded our train were dressed in liederhosen and dirndls, the traditional German costume1. My friend Christophe laughed. "You never used to see anyone wearing liederhosen when I was a kid in the 70s" he said. "It was the dorkiest thing you could ever do. But it's come back into vogue, and if you see some guy in leather pants, you can guarantee he's off to Oktoberfest to get wasted."
In fact, we didn't see much debauchery, although toting two kids in strollers kept us from wandering in to the areas where debauchery could be expected (in fact, we were excluded from entering the beer tents for reasons of security). The whole festival was clearly tightly patrolled and scrupulously kept to standards of safety and hygiene. Long gone are the days of smashing the beer stein on your way out, and we paid a euro "bottle tax" for every beverage we bought, to ensure the bottles were correctly recycled. Impressive.
Ironically, I didn't get to drink much beer. But I discovered a couple of
delicacies elsewhere in our travels, like the König Ludwig Dunkel
(King Ludwig Dark), a delicious, mahogany colored beer I'll remember as one
of Germany's more ephemeral pleasures. And I'll long remember the sight of a
train wagon full of Germans in traditional clothes, off for a day of fun.
1) For the record, dirndls, in their modern incarnation, are gorgeous and provocative, in a classy, traditional way. They're no longer authentic: apparently a certain kind of bosom is reserved only for married women, a tenet long disregarded in the 21st century. But they look great. I also tried to buy some liederhosen for my son (1 year old). But I balked at the price: $100. They're good quality leather, after all.
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