Arriving at Munich’s Oktoberfest 2010

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…

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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).

In Oberammergau: the most “passionate” performance you will ever see

Now you can visit a plague-ridden era and watch history unfold. No, this is not an invitation to get busy with swine flu. Instead, head out to Oberammergau, Bavaria and witness a performance that has been carried out for centuries.

In 1633, Oberammergau’s population was decimated by the Plague. The villagers were brutalized, but their spirit remained strong, and they promised to act out the events of the last days of Jesus Christ, ending in the resurrection, every tenth year. This Passion performance, sans any influence from Mel Gibson, is an extremely local affair. If you weren’t born in the village or haven’t lived there for at least 20 years, the best you can do is watch with the masses. The stage is reserved for the true villagers.

Half the village is engaged to assist, from acting to playing music to creating costumes – in the case of Oberammergau, that’s 2,500 people out of a 5,200-person population. In what seems like a scene from The Greek Passion by Nikos Kazantzakis (who is more famous for his other book, The Last Temptation of Christ), lead roles are sketched out on a chalk board, while all of Oberammergau waits anxiously. The parts are assigned the year before. In the run-up to the performance, the cast grows its hair long and cultivates beards (not the women, of course), as wigs are not permitted.

While you’re in the village, ask around to see if the actors assume the characteristics of their assignments, as they did in the book by Kazantzakis. In the novel, the poor guy assigned to play Judas couldn’t get anyone to hang out with him. But, he took the part for a good cause.

From May 15, 2010 to October 3, 2010, the forty-first Oberammergau Passion will be performed 102 times, with each showing lasting around five hours. It runs from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM, with the time in between reserved for dinner. Though the symphony-sized orchestra is protected from the elements, the actors are exposed to the whims of the seasons, much like the figures they depict.

If you’re interested in experiencing this rare event, catch a flight to Munich, and drive the 55 miles to Oberammergau. Packages are available in town for one or two nights. Without a doubt, this is a unique performance, and any travel or theater junkie should absolutely experience it at least once. You could put it off a decade … but why wait?

Here’s a bit from ol’ Mel, in case you need a refresher:

Photo of the Day (10.26.08)

Imagine drawing back the shutters in the morning and gazing out onto the rooftops of a picturesque medieval village like this one. Flickr user arex was fortunate enough to have just such a chance, taking this photo in the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany. I particularly like the perspective – the A-frame rooftoop in the foreground offers some interesting architectural detail while also adding a little color from the flower box. Farther in the background is an eye-catching cluster of rooftop peaks and valleys, culminating in the spires of a cathedral off in the distance. Pretty neat.

Have you taken any photos of rooftop vistas in quaint Bavarian villages? Or maybe a cityscape in Birmingham, Alabama? Add them to our Gadling pool on Flickr. We might just pick it as our Photo of the Day.

How Much Would You Pay for a Pair of Lederhosen?

A new world record has been broken recently — most expensive pair of Lederhosen. A version of the traditional alpine outfit recently sold for 85,000 euros, which is $115,000. Lederhosen, which are traditionally made from the hide of an animal — typically a goat, pig or elk — is strangely enduring fashion trend in the Alps. This particular pair is adorned with 116 diamonds, each set in gold. Doesn’t that seem a bit … I dunno … excessive?

onsidered to be to the Alps what the kilt is to Scotland (according to the Lederhosen entry on Wikipedia), the leather knee-length shorts-and-suspender-combo can be worn while hiking outside, pounding back a few at Oktoberfest, or anywhere else, I suppose. Still, I don’t think I’ll be picking up a pair any time soon — and certainly not at that exorbitant price.

Don’t stop here — Gadling has a ton more Oktoberfest 2007 coverage!

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Photo of the Day (7/11/07)

Fussen
Here is a magical night shot of a little town called Füssen located right outside of Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. While I’m sure it is just as charming with the sunshine – the fog makes for a nice touch. Round of sound to StrudelMonkey for hanging around these parts of the globe to capture such a sight!