Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blast from the Past: Oktoberfest

So when I was 23, just after college, I moved to the Czech Republic and lived there for a year teaching English and generally screwing around. This was before I went to graduate school, moved to New York or met Aviva. I lived with one of my best friends, Scooter, in fact this year was the crucible that really forged our friendship, and dated a wonderful Czech girl named Pavla. It was maybe the most fun I have ever had in my life and I would send out long emails to my friends and family in the states (clearly this was before blogging became popular) explaining all the strange customs, humorous misunderstandings and crazy adventures I was having. Looking over some of these emails, I realized that as tremendous as the drinking has been here at the beer garden in Astoria, its nothing compared to my year in Prague, as one of the first things I did when I reached the Czech Republic in October 1999 is jet over to Munich for Oktoberfest ... and here's how it went down, described in an email I wrote about it after getting back to Prague ...

"Last Thursday was my birthday (my 23rd) and so despite my jet lag I
dutifully went out with Scott and got fairly intoxicated, to the tune of 4 liters of Czech Beer. I know it is difficult to imagine drinking a gallon of beer over four hours but I managed quite handily, and was even able to walk home. The place we drank, the Globe is a wonderful English used book store here. And it has free beer every Thursday from 6 to 8. I met quite a few Americans, English and South Africans, got some numbers and had a generally fabulous time. I did not make it to club Viagra - I will have to do that another time.

Friday evening Scott and I got our tickets to Munich and left for Oktoberfest at 10:30pm - I had to walk downtown because the tram was too bumpy and my stomach still couldn't take it. We kind of slept on the train - I lay on the floor for about 8 hours without really sleeping - got kicked in the head by the passport control, and got to Munich at around 6:30 am, amid a mass of other backpackers and year-abroad kids, all eager to start the festivities. checking only 17 hostels and pensions and were off to the beer tents. Due to Scott's incredible luck we found a place to stay for the night after those of you who are unfamiliar with Oktoberfest, it is an 15 day celebration of beer held in Munich every year. Although Americans know it as a drinking festival, it is actually like a huge fair. There are roller coasters and water slides and all kinds of rides that spin you around, this turned out to be a particularly bad idea later, as well as twelve gigantic beer tents.

These tents are each
run by a different brewery and each serve their own particular kind of beer, along with their food specialty. The tents are basically covered football fields - complete with wooden floors and ceilings about 60 feet high, hundreds of benches, several kitchens, and a stage for the Oom-Pah band. We got to the fair about ten and when we entered the Spaten tent around 1030 am it was already packed. Scott, myself and these three American girls we picked up sat down at a table with several Italians and ordered a round of beers. The waitresses are all wearing traditional German outfits with corsets and long spread skirts, and they walk around carrying massive amounts of beer all day. The German beers come in one liter glass steins, and we saw a waitress carrying as many as fourteen of them at once. We got our beers and started drinking and toasting with everyone around us. My favorite person was the 75 year old woman at the table behind me who drank 2 full steins in the time I drank one.

It is difficult to describe the next 8 hours, although I can say it was
possibly the most fun I have ever had. People everywhere are drinking and toasting each other, standing on benches and cheering with the table next to them and just yelling and singing national drinking songs. By noon I had finished my second stein, gotten to know my Italian and German neighbors and I asked Helmut (an enormous, hairy German sitting across from me) to get me what he was having for lunch. Thus the huge plate of ox and mashed potatoes. Delicious. We also started on our third liter. Just around one the band came out and began to play and although the tent was loud before the band - wow, afterward it was almost a riot. The band is a whole bunch of old drunk guys on horns and tubas, playing to the drunken antics of guest conductors from the tent (a new conductor for each song). They play a lot of German drinking songs and a lot of the new American song Mambo #5.

At around 3 pm the American girls left to go sightseeing and a
couple other American girls, as well as a bunch of traditionally dressed German girls sat down at the table. I think that Scott and I were popular because we were such a contrast to the drunken Italians, who were wonderful to us and were constantly trying to grope all the women. The girls put up with it and everyone was happy when the Italians bought the whole table another round. So I spent time from 3 to about 6 dancing with the German girls and toasting and getting free beers from the Italians.

I got to know some of the Germans,
all of 18 and very cute - they had the princess Leia curls going and got their addresses if I am every in Munich again. By the time we got up from the table at 6 we had polished off 6.5 liters of beer, could barely speak and had difficulty walking. I deposited Scott on the ground at the front gate and went to meet some of the American girls. I did not find them, and when I got back to Scott he was asleep and being video taped as part of a Danish travelers video about the excesses of Oktoberfest. He actually woke up half-way through the taping and gave an interview.

We went back to the hostel for dinner, then back to another drinking tent, this time the Hofbrau house - the international tent. This place was nuts, we had to finesse our way in the side door past the guards and the scene inside is indescribable. Like a frat party gone way out of control. People were throwing steins, dancing around topless, hanging from and falling off balconies, you could not hear the band over the yelling. I saw twelve people carried out by emergency medical services the first half hour I was there.

So we found a
table to stand at, started drinking and met some Finns, some more Italians and some girls from Seattle and a bunch of guys from the US army (scary guys). We drank two more rounds and then left when the tent closed at eleven, and we tried to steal the steins but the stein patrol stopped us. The cops there are nuts - they do not care if you throw glass steins or jump of buildings or drink till you are unconscious - they are only there to stop theft of steins and to keep people out of crowded tents. Unable to get steins or to really hear, see or communicate at all, we stumbled back to the hostel.

We woke up Sunday feeling exhausted, ate at the hostel and went back to the
tents, solely for the purpose of stealing the steins we had been unable to get the night before. We had one beer each and then got up and walked out with the steins - which now sit proudly in our apartment. Then we went back to the train station, got and the train and crashed - woke up in Prague six hours later ... a grand start to the year."

Ah, good times.

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