Direct, no muss no fuss and much simpler than flying, I arrived into Munich, the capital of Bavaria, on the evening train from Budapest. It was easy — buy a first class ticket, get on the train a couple of minutes before embarkation, stow your bags, and away we go. I traveled through eastern Hungary, bucolic and somewhat scenic, then the entirety of Austria. The train passed green hamletted hills, little towns, tall steeples, the occasional factory, windmill farms and fleeting glimpses of the Austrian Alps thrown in for postcard measure. I ate from the dining car, bought a beer, read, played games and slept in comfort. After a 7.5 hr. journey, the train reached Bavaria and soon stopped at the Munich Hauptbahnhof or main train station.
I came to Munich primarily to experience Oktoberfest in this, its 200th anniversary. The historic festival originally began as a celebration of the marriage between Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese, Princess of Saxony back in 1810. Parades, games, music and (of course!) beer flowed at the huge wedding party. In 1818, Oktoberfest became an official beer festival and has been going strong ever since. Today approximately 1.5 million people show up to Oktoberfest each year in the capital of Bavaria.
I started out from the hotel, took the U Bahn’ (the efficient subway system) to the Theresienwiese — named after Princess Therese — the Oktoberfest area. Walking two blocks, I encountered a rocking’ carnival. Brilliant lights, screaming rides for kids and adults, food stalls, games of skill (in one you had to kick a soccer ball past a live goalie and hit a bull’s-eye), and everything else you’d expect at first rate amusement park. Thousands enjoyed the fun.
Then I saw the beer gardens…
%Gallery-7103%… which are mainly massive tents sponsored by different breweries. Open from 11 AM to 11 PM, the 13 beer tents can hold around 10,000 people each — all eating, drinking, talking and singing. I chose one, the Pschorr Brewery and walked in. Wow, what a raucous scene. Throngs of happy locals and tourists were enjoying the fresh Pschorr brew sold in big, heavy 1-liter glasses. It was a friendly though pushy crowd with virtually every seat taken. Numerous men were wearing traditional German lederhosen and women in sexy dirndl skirts. Many were not wearing the traditional outfit, which was no problem, but hey, if you can get your hands on the clothes you’ll feel right at home. I was lucky enough to find an empty seat and ordered a beer, a soft pretzel and some hensl — or rotisserie chicken. Typically German, the whole operation runs like clockwork — servers dash back and forth taking orders and returning in minutes. My beer and food quickly arrived (hot and delicious) as I conversed with some locals. “These 16 days are the best in Munich, it’s a time to see and be seen,” said local man Uvo Neigenfind.
A band at the front played all kinds of music inducing the crowd, many standing on benches, to sing along in unison. The tunes included “Sweet Caroline,” Take Me Home,” and a “traditional” old German disco classic, “I Will Survive.” Some thought this was an old German song but, ha, I recognized it immediately.
And the beer kept flowing…
Bob Ecker is a Napa, California based travel writer/photographer providing worldwide magazines and newspapers with compelling travel, hospitality, wine, culinary, skiing, film and innovative feature content. He is constantly on the go, traveling the world, unearthing new stories and uncorking emerging regions. He is current Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) member and former President of the Bay Area Travel Writers (BATW).