Oktoberfest 2013: A Guide for the Lazy and Unorganised

Oktoberfest. The one time slightly uptight Munich actually explodes into a riot of fun, drunken debauchery! Merry people everywhere, girls in slutty dresses, and piles of vomit on every pavement slab. Just like London at 4pm every Friday then.

Last year was my first time at Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival – and I was lucky to experience it with a local Bavarian who has been a lot. I discovered that you don’t need to be a beer drinker to have fun, although the prices of any other beverage there will make you wish you were one. You don’t have to book a table or buy a ticket. Just turn up and get involved. Ja wohl!

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Oktoberfest is the huge fair. It’s hard not to, as it is the largest in the world. The rides seem to go on for miles. They also look positively retro, and they’re great fun, especially after a litre or two of strong Bavarian beer. Word of warning – look out for projectile vomit when standing under them. Really drunk people and fairground rides don’t mix.

I’d like to point out that we didn’t see one female in this state. Just men. WIMPS.

After having a few rides (ahem) get yourself to a beer tent and find a space on one of the many long tables. I’d recommend doing this pretty early, as those tables do get busy and the punters don’t tend to budge much (except for the loo). Avoid being in large groups too. We were a three, and found it pretty easy to slide onto the end of another group’s table.

The social side to Oktoberfest is great. Of course the beer gets everybody chatting, and it’s a great way to meet people who have come from all over the world to enjoy the festivities. Everyone is there to have a good time. We got chatting to a very nice Croatian boxer and also a sixties British hippie who was selling glow in the dark thumbs. Here he is.

And here we are with our massive jugs.

But the real fun to be had is inside those beer halls. That’s where there’s loud band music, people dancing on tables and an all-round amazing atmosphere. They had already stopped admitting people when we arrived that afternoon, but we managed to get into one later on thanks to my cousin flirting with one of the doormen, telling him she had come all the way to Munich from Australia. Which she actually had. Not many men can resist a young, blonde Aussie, and with that, WE WERE IN.

The carnage inside was bloody brilliant. Hundreds of people all high on Bavaria’s finest. Men in Lederhosen, women spilling out of dirndls, and ‘liquid gold’ slopped all over the place. There was a great live band playing pop songs, and when they belted out ‘Hey Jude’ everyone got on the tables and sang along. It was a moment I will never forget.

Get yourself to Oktoberfest this year. You won’t regret it! (Unless you’re one of those guys throwing up in my pictures above).

Oktoberfest facts:

  • Oktoberfest 2013 actually takes place from September 21 to October 6.
  • It has been running since 1810 and is called ‘die Wiesn’ by the Bavarians
  • Oktoberfestbiers are the beers that have been served at the festival since 1818. They come from six brewers and must be brewed within the city limits of Munich.
  • They are strong – 6% alcohol minimum.
  • The fair is held right in the centre of Munich at the Theresienwiese. The underground trains take you right there. Don’t drive unless you’re crazy.
  • A majority of visitors are Bavarian. Be aware of the local guys girls. I have been told it’s a real badge of honour if one manages to pull a foreign female in front of his mates.
  • If you haven’t booked accommodation already, then good luck. Prices rocket in Munich during the festival. Consider staying somewhere outside of Munich, like the Five-Lakes district. It’s an easy commute from there into the city.

Prost!

Advertisements

German Hospitals Rule – There is Beer!

As regular readers of my blog will know (all five of you), I recently spent a week in a German hospital following an unpleasant car crash.

This was actually my second week in a German hospital, having spent a week in the same one last year after having my baby there. (Yes, an entire week! No chucking you out after a few hours here!)

So I wasn’t that shocked to discover on my second stay that German hospitals are very different to English ones – i.e. they are nice.

Or should I say Bavarian hospitals. I have come in for some stick lately for referring to Bavaria as German. Tut tut!  How dare I confuse a German state as actually being part of Germany!

I even took a few pictures to back up my claims. Do all German hospitals look like this or is it a case of mega-rich Bavaria coming up trumps again? If so, I really undersand why the rest of Germany is so jealous hates this state. Take a look for yourself.

Spotlights and polished wooden floors? Ja Danke!

Wards with balconies overlooking the gardens? Naturlich!

Plenty of green space for patients to wander about in? In England this would have been turned into a money-making car park long ago!

An empty bed? Definitely not an English hospital then! Watch and weep, David Cameron.

Fancy artwork on the walls? This would never have made it on to the wall of an English hospital, for fear someone would use it to attack one of the staff then steal some morphine.

And a kitchen for patients with free tea, and use of a coffee machine. How lovely!

However, it was in this said kitchen that I also found someone’s secret stash of beer. Remember this is a Bavarian hospital, where prescriptions for beer are readily handed out. (Americans – that was a joke).

My only complaint of the German hospital was the food.

This was breakfast, and the same was ‘dished up’ for dinner.

Bavarians eat a lot, so I was surprised to find really meagre portions existing anywhere in Bavaria. So meagre in fact that when my little German couldn’t bring me food, I had to order take-away from the pizza place across the road. And I honestly don’t eat that much. That pizza man must make a killing from all of the hungry Bavarian patients! Especially the ones with the beer munchies! The most profitable businesses in Germany must be the restaurants close to hospitals! Open one if you can.

Finally, I couldn’t help but laugh at this poster for the hospital hairdresser that I spotted by the lifts.  It’s amazing what men can get for 29 Euros these days.

A Bavarian Pole Party Fit for a…..Pole

The story of the Bavarian maypole has to be my favourite Bavarian tradition yet. For the blue and white poles you see dotted around this part of Germany aren’t just any old chunks of decorated tree. They are practically Bavarian royalty.

Each village in our rural parts has one of these poles proudly standing somewhere central and stretching high – very high – into the sky. You usually see them somewhere central, like outside the local Rathaus (town hall) or by the main green. As you can see in this picture, even the guinea pigs at Munich Zoo have one.

They are made from a tree cut down from one of the many nearby forests, and then decorated with the emblems of local trades people, like the butcher, the baker, and the candle-stick maker. Every few years they are replaced by a new pole, which is usually hoisted up on May Day during a party involving lots of beer, men in lederhosen, and women in dirndls. It’s a very proud moment for the villagers, because it’s taken a lot for that pole to go from tree trunk to the biggest erection in the village.

The Royal pole would usually have spent the days or even weeks leading up to May Day being guarded at a top secret location by the local villagers. Sometimes it’s hidden in an old barn, or somewhere big enough to hold this bloody huge tree trunk. Not the easiest thing to conceal in say, someone’s lounge, is it?  The pole is guarded with the villagers’ lives because it is completely legal for rival villagers with nothing better to do to steal the pole before it is put up. Yes, really. Despite being a land known for its rules and religion, the Germans bend the ‘thou shalt not steal’ commandment when it comes to the Royal Poles, allowing a kind of pole theft- free-for-all. Respect.

In fact, this did actually happen this year in a town not far from us. In the dark of the night one town’s pole was pinched by the folk of a neighbouring town, who managed to locate it with the help of secret servicemen and then override its alarm system. Yep, some of these poles have an alarm system. For a village to have its pole stolen under its very eyes is a huge embarrassment. The said pole was eventually returned, along with crates of beer for the thieves and their red-faced victims to enjoy together.

On the Royal Pole’s big day, its appearance is given the final once over before it is released from its secret hiding place into the big wide world. It is then usually paraded around on the back of a truck or by horse as part of a celebratory procession, a bit like a blushing carnival queen. The men of the village then precariously hoist it into position, often using long bits of wood. This can take hours. During that time lots of beer is consumed by the lads with the life of the pole – and many of their neighbours watching – in their sweaty, beery hands.

This is a nerve-wracking time. Not because the huge tree trunk could fall down and seriously injure someone. But because, more importantly, some poles have been known to break and then those buggers from the other villages can come along, point at the broken trunk, and laugh out loud at their competitors’ agony.

Once the pole is finally in place, the party really gets started, and even more beer is consumed.

This tradition in Bavaria goes back to the 12th century, and it clearly hasn’t changed much since. But of course in the end it’s all a bit of fun, and a great excuse for Bavarians to bolster their great community spirit and have a few beers at the same time. Prost!

Regensburg: Bavaria’s Coolest City?

I love Regensburg.  For a city that boasts some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe, Regensburg is young, vibrant, fun, and cool. The University City is also stunningly beautiful and full of really really interesting places to devour food. The world’s oldest sausage kitchen? It’s in Regensburg! Germany’s oldest chocolate shop? Yay, in Regensburg! One of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria? Yep, Regensburg. (Why would a hospital need a brewery? Contrary to popular belief Bavarians, beer only cures confidence issues).

But back to Regensburg. It’s easy to explore the German city’s main attractions, colourful squares and cosy alleys in a day. It’s also just 90 minutes on a train from Munich, and well worth the trip.  (It’s been declared a World Heritage Site, don’t you know.)

Regensburg. What an alley!

We arrived by car from our little part of Bavaria and spent a full day soaking up the best of Regensburg. The first thing that struck me about this city is how similar it is to Prague. From their narrow winding backstreets, to their huge gothic cathedrals, and their old bridges over the rivers, the two medieval cities are somewhat in sync. While it’s not as large as the Czech city, Regensburg crams in over 700 spots for eating and drinking – minus Prague’s huge crowds and drunken stag parties. Hooray!

It also has lots of cool shops, a buzzing street market, and a relaxed, laid-back vibe. Me loves.

The temperature was a whole 1C on the day we decided to visit. But the sun was beaming down on the cute, cobbled streets, and it seemed everyone was out visiting the market, drinking in cafes, or simply wandering around like us.

Regensburg street scene

Regensburg is very different to where we live in Bavaria. We live in a small village where people generally have one eye and women get beaten with a stick every time they leave the kitchen. Ok, so it’s not that bad, but you get the picture. I love it here really, but we all need a change from time to time. A day in Regensburg was just the very fresh and fricken cold blast of air that was needed. Sometimes you only need to take a little trip up the road to enjoy a break from the norm.

Don’t miss:

  • Lunch at the Historische Wurstkuche, the world’s oldest sausage kitchen. While these little beauts look a bit small, what they lack in size they definitely make up for in va-va-voom flavour. The restaurant makes its own sweet mustard too and it goes really well with the pencil sausages. The Wurstkuche is situated right on the banks of the Danube River near the Stone Bridge, but it also has an inside area for those cold German days. How lovely! Unless you’re a veggie, which I was when I first came to Bavaria. Kind of given it up now.

Sausages

  • Having a sweet at Germany’s oldest chocolatiers, Prinzess Cafe. Praline heaven. 

DSC_0457

  • A stroll across the Stone Bridge, which was built between 1135 and 1146. Great spot to enjoy views over Regensburg.

Stone Bridge

  • A beer at Spitalgarten, one of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria. Sit outside in the biergarten under the trees, right on the river. 

Spitalgarten

  • The Dom, Regensburg’s awesome Cathedral. Now I don’t usually go all gooey for churches and all things holy, but this place has to be seen. It’s huge. It has magnificent stained glass windows. And it feels very eerie inside.

The Dom

Do you live somewhere with a completely contrasting area just up the road? Or do you have any experiences of Regensburg to share? Make my day and leave a comment! And here are some more pictures of Regensburg.