Another long weekend of traveling, but as per usual it was quite worth it. We pulled up to our hostel in Munich on Friday morning and despite the 8 hour bus ride we just endured we were up and ready to explore the city. Our travel company offered a walking tour of Munich complete with four kegs of beer, but because we were exhausted, it was 10am, and we knew we were going to spend the next day consuming beer, we opted out of this tour and decided to wander Munich on our own. It was a decision I definitely don’t regret.
Our wandering led us to just outside the Oktoberfest grounds where we were able to purchase our Dirndls. (Traditional German-wear is a must at Oktoberfest.) Though it is unfortunate spending money something you’ll only wear once, it is another way of immersing yourself in the culture of the weekend. A Dirndl consists of three separate parts: the white shirt that goes underneath, the actual dress complete with a corset, and an apron. The way a woman ties her apron signals her current relationship status. Married, in a relationship, single, or widowed: who knew a simple placement of a bow could say so much about someone?
We spent the afternoon at a very American-ized coffee shop, named San Francisco Coffee. FINALLY I was able to enjoy my first American coffee since being abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my daily caffe latte, but having coffee rather than an espresso-based drink was something I missed dearly. That night we ended up at a restaurant that is about as American as it can get: Hard Rock Cafe. There we met up with friends from Saint Joe’s studying abroad elsewhere. While indulging in our American food we crafted our game plan in preparation for the craziness of Oktoberfest. We planned on meeting at München Hauptbahnhof, the central station of Munich at 5:40 before heading over to wait in line for Hofbrau, the tent notoriously crowded with Americans and other English-speaking Oktoberfest-ers.
The fest doesn’t open until 8am, and the doors to the tents don’t open until 9, but because Hofbrau is so popular it was necessary to get a good spot in line. In the tents, if you’re not at a table you won’t be served so we were determined to claim a table.
Saturday morning we woke up at 5am, somehow managed to put our Dirndls on correctly on the first try, and headed to the train station. Upon arriving at Hauptbahnhof I saw my roommate, aka one of my best friends from home, Shannon and immediately started crying. One month without a best friend is one month too long. There we were, about 15 SJU students all studying abroad in different countries and cities, meeting up at a train station in Munich. We came from Florence, Rome, Madrid, London, Belgium, Galway, and we were all together. I couldn’t have been happier. As fun as my time abroad has been so far, I’ve started to miss home, my family, my friends, my school, so being with other Hawks was incredible.
Three hours later, after waiting in two separate lines, we finally made it into a tent and even managed to claim a table to fit all of us. I use the word “tent” loosely. It was more of an oversized hollow building, filled with hundreds of tables, thousands of people, and of course, beer.
Last year’s Oktoberfest had 14 large tents, 20 small ones, and sat about 100,000 people.
5.9 Million people attended and 7.7 million liters of beer were consumed.
Things I learned at Oktoberfest:
- A single stein / mass is one liter of beer
- If you stand on the table, you must chug your stein and thousands of people cheer for you
- If you are struggling to chug the stein, people start booing and throwing things at you
- If you can’t finish it you must dump the remaining beer on your head
- The white powder you see everyone snorting is not cocaine, but crushed mint powder meant to “refresh” you so you can keep drinking
- The pretzels aren’t as good as you’d think
On Sunday morning we took a train to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Unfortunately I only had about 45 minutes to tour it, but what I saw was eye-opening. It was chilling seeing in person what I had learned about since elementary school. I know about WWII, I know the facts, I know the numbers, but being at one of the camps was unbelievable. Standing in the same spot where so many lives were lost was haunting. Dachau was originally built to hold the capacity of about 6,000 people. By the end of the war, Dachau saw 200,000 prisoners, and took the lives of 32,000.
Overall, from exploring Munich, to spending Oktoberfest with my friends from St. Joe’s, and visiting Dachau, my time in Germany was amazing and I’m looking forward to returning whenever I get the chance.