I guess I have known what Oktoberfest was all my life, well I mean, as long as beer was an important part of my life anyway. I just never really thought twice about going there. I remember once, in my second year at university, one of my best guy friends mentioned that he and a frat-mate were going to try to go there; Germany seemed like such a foreign and distant land at the time, I thought “I want to go too” and that was it. It’s funny sometimes to look back on who you were not-so-long ago and be astonished at the changes in attitude.
When I first came to Europe, I’ll admit that Oktoberfest wasn’t at the top of my list of things to do and Munich (or Germany) wasn’t really on the top of my lists of things to see. Then I got this amazing new job and suddenly my very first assignment was to accompany to 150 college students to the world’s biggest drunk-fest, but an adventure is an adventure, no matter who you take it with.
The first weekend was the best, we arrived early on Friday morning to the shock of the beginnings of a German winter. The slight drizzle was discouraging at first but as thirty or more girls got ready in the same room for an entire day in under thirty minutes, I was far beyond impressed and certain the day was going to be one for the books. And I was right.
We arrived just a little late (because of a boy!!) in the main square of Munich to meet the rest of our group and our tour guides from Frankie’s Bike Tours, who were enthused to meet their newest group of irresponsibly crazy and fun bikers. We walked over to Frankie’s place and were fitted for our bikes, which were all cute and old with pink bikes for the girls and blue for the boys. Given that I was the tour leader and last to be accommodated, I ended up with the boys bike but what’s the difference really; I don’t know how boys handle that bar so high!
Off we went through the beautifully clean, straight and narrow streets of Munich. I was so happy to breath the clean, fresh air and watch as the students happily pedaled along. This is not by any means a highs stress tour, more along the lines of a leisurely historical stroll through the city of Munich. Our witty tour guide, Tristan, impressed us with his knowledge of important events and important monuments as we pedaled the streets. Many of the monuments and places of Munich held great importance during the WWII Nazi reign, including the ever-popular Hofbrauhaus, where Hitler used to hold his gatherings. It’s quite humbling if for a minute you pause and forget about the beer drinking to come, and transport yourself into this time in history when devastating events were taking place and everyday was one of terror for so many people. Among Hitler stories, we learned other stories of famous generals and rulers of Bavaria, as well as the underlying meaning behind some of the buildings still standing in the city today. I think that as Americans (maybe this rings more true on the West Coast), we sometimes forget that the buildings long outlive us and within, or even on, their walls they carry the sometimes dark and sometimes glorious history of the world around.
My favorite part of the tour and possibly of Munich was the vast spread of green grass and gravel paths that make up the enormous Englischer Garten. The English Garden (tough translation huh?) is more than twice the size of Central Park and was the most beautiful sight after ten months of missing my green parks and glassy lakes of the Pacific Northwest. We stopped at the Chinese Tower, another amazing beer garden of Munich, and had our first taste of steins full of Hofbrau Original and sausages with french fries. I was so content exactly where I was in that moment.
One hour later we hopped back on our cute little bikes and wobbled on. A liter of beer will do that to you. Two crashes, which ended in laughs, and some people watching and car-dodging later we were safely back to Frankie’s shop. After a little culture, a little exercise and lots of laughs we were seasoned and ready to complete our introduction to Munich. On to the Hofbrauhaus!!