Oktoberfest was the biggest vacation mistake I have ever made.
Not because it wasn’t everything you could imagine but rather ironically, I didn’t plan enough prior to visiting. And this is me we’re talking about. I feel as though every blog post I’ve written so far refers to some regret I had for over-planning on a trip, adding too much structure to enjoy myself. And yet, for some reason I assumed that we would simply “go to Oktoberfest and enjoy!” with little research done on my part. In fact, when talking to one of my leaders before departing, she asked where my tent reservations were for, to which I confusedly responded, “Oh, we’re just going to walk up and see what we can do!”
We visited Oktoberfest on Saturday, September 21st, the day immediately following one of the greatest highs I have ever felt—successfully proposing to Cindy. For further context, this Saturday would be the most rigorous travel-day of the trip. It began with a speed-train from Paris to Stuttgart, Germany with a short layover (just long enough to grab some Burger King) before hopping back onto an inter-regional train to Munich. Once in Munich, we transferred to the U-Bahn and traveled to the Olympic Village, the location of our hotel.
The Olympic Village was some distance from the town center (though very accessible via the U-Bahn) and the closest I could get to the fairgrounds within my budget. The Village was beautiful and structured for holding masses of people and yet sparsely populated, to the point of feeling eerie. Our hotel took up residence in a former Olympic housing tower, occupying the few middle floors among other offices and residential units in an awkward but effective use of the space. It could have easily appeared unpleasant if not for the beautiful rooms and warm hosts who spoke fantastic English and were dressed up in their colorful lederhosen in celebration of Oktoberfest.
It was in talking to these hosts that we had our first awakening—you need to be in a tent to get beer; you need a reservation to be in a tent; you can sometimes manage to get into a tent without a reservation during the “shift change” at 5pm, when the day-reservations leave and the night-reservations arrive (they allow walk-ups to back-fill those who did not show for their reservation); we had checked-in at 4:45pm. It was at that moment that I realized my mistake! I had always wrongfully assumed that you could order beer on the midways between tents and that the tents simply offered seating, branded German beer, and oom-pah bands! Once that light-bulb illuminated, I grew worried but tried to remain positive as we set out from the hotel for the Theresienwiese, the fairgrounds containing the event.
A short train-ride to the event and my nervousness and excitement grew with each passing moment. Walking into the fairgrounds and seeing an event exactly as I had imagined was exceedingly charming. To our right, we passed a classic slide with an exciting conveyor-belt lift. We stayed for a bit to chuckle as the cute kids were assisted up the speed ramp (as well as the drunk adults who would attempt it unaided, flip, and be pulled to the top by the rear). Further down the walkway and on the left was Olympia Looping, as close as you can get to a “famous roller coaster”, among other classic German coasters and it was a sight for sore-eyes.
I think woes about getting beer were all in the back of our minds but we were all starving and focused our immediate efforts on food. Bratwurst on rolls would serve as a perfect solution (although I personally stayed away from the sauerkraut)! Without beer, we guzzled a few Cokes to hold off our thirst and obtained tokens redeemable for a partial-refund if we would choose to recycle our bottles. That is how you go green.
After dinner, we strolled the midways and looked for an “in” at a tent. We were in no place to be picky about which tent we entered and simply kept our eyes focused like desert hawks pretending to not care about the prey we so desperately watched. Our eyes were peeled to the tent-entrances, only occasionally looking at the crowds ahead as they part for the flashing fin of a paramedic vehicle. Despite the frustration of the situation, it was only after five to ten minutes of walking that we saw our chance: a security guard lifted up one of the crowd-control ropes to valve new guests into the tent area. We ran for it and made it inside of the very crowded exterior patio surrounding the tent.
And that is where it started to go downhill for me.
This tent patio was a dense mess of humanity. We attempted to filter our way through the crowd unsure of how the “process” worked. Where do we get the beer?! On the right, the hustle-and-bustle of a stein-washing station filled the air with noise and steam and on the left a mob pleaded with the doorman to let them into the tent. We were surrounded by an ugly concoction of angry beer-wanters and drunken beer-havers. I began to feel uncomfortable.
I am not generally an anxious person but working in crowds and having learned a lot about crowd dynamics, I tend to grow anxious when I feel as though there is no control of flow to a lot of people. I pride myself on having few irrational fears but among a short list appears to include mobs, nightclub fires, angry mosh-pits—situations where a lack of coordination among a large group of people can go south in tight space. And this was a tight space. At one point, we were so close together that our chests were compressed against the chests of strangers. We were beyond “excuse me, pardon me” and instead a solid block of humanity. I struggled to free my arms from my sides and couldn’t escape the thought that if I went down, nobody would help me up and I would surely be trampled; I thought of the paramedic runs I had seen earlier and connected dots that may or may not go together.
I couldn’t take it anymore. The beer didn’t seem to matter at that point, I didn’t feel safe. I pushed and prodded my way through the crowd until I saw an exit. Though much more spacious around it than near the tent entry, I couldn’t imagine us getting served without fighting the mob I just escaped. I told the others, “You go on without me, I can’t do this anymore” and slipped under the crowd-control security barrier before hearing a “WAIT!” from Cindy.
Now out of the tent area back on the midway, I turned around to hear Cindy exclaim, “We found someone! We’re getting served our beers!” My heart dropped. It was clear from the cold look on a security guard’s face that I was not getting back into the tent patio. I asked the man if I could rejoin my group and attempted to explain my situation, but the answer was simply, “no.” Still shaken from the experience I just had, I didn’t have it in me to argue, push, or attempt to slip-in when he wasn’t looking. I was locked out of the party I had structured our trip itinerary around.
And that is how I spent my Oktoberfest. Leaning against a light tower, centered in a midway, and sipping a Coke Zero as I watched my three dear friends sipping beer from their steins on the tent patio. Realizing the irony that of the four of us, I was the only one who even generally enjoyed beer, I grew filled with embarrassment, envy, and disillusionment. I didn’t want to play the games. I didn’t want to ride the coasters. I wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep. In short, I would never even get the secondary Oktoberfest experience, choosing instead to return to the hotel with my tail between my legs.
If my engagement the day before was one of my greatest-highs, this was one of my greatest lows. Knowing that I would have to return home and tell this story felt so embarrassing and I shut down at the thought. My friends immediately knew how I felt and being tremendously respectful to me (and probably just a little bit tipsy), they agreed to call it a day and we left the fairgrounds. I was ready to resign for the trip, no longer interested in what I had planned for the upcoming days, but my friends wouldn’t let me wallow. They assured me that tomorrow would be a new and exciting day and pushed me to look into a day-trip we had considered to the Neuschwanstein Castle.
With the wide expanse of the Olympic Villiage, fresh travel plans, and the care of my friends, I took a deep breath and got over it. I was once again excited for the trip and saw beauty in the sunset over the west of Germany.
I would still love to go back to Oktoberfest and do it “right” one year.
I tend to not take many photos when I'm tired or angry, but for more photos from Oktoberfest, check out the gallery below: