Yesterday I was talking to someone at work who is turning the big 5-0. She and her husband have decided to celebrate by going to Munich, Germany this year for Oktoberfest. She told me they are big craft brewery people and did the whole Oregon beer trail a few years ago and loved it. Because I can’t help myself and because I always think I’m helping, I told her my favorite Oktoberfest story from when Joe and I went to Munich for his 40th.
It involves this dude…
So before I tell you how my husband and I almost became a statistic – let me set the scene. Munich, Germany during Oktoberfest looks a little like New York City on New Year’s Eve – if it was only filled with Germans, Italians and Brits. The major difference is that this celebration lasts an entire week. My husband and I booked a hotel a few miles away from the actual fair (which is what it is. Rides, food, games, etc). It was the perfect distance – too far to smell the puke but close enough to see the hordes of people walking to their mecca morning, noon and night. Once in a while a sad, drunk dude held up by his two loyal friends would be walking the opposite way. It’s a 24/7 experience. You go to breakfast, you see drunk people. Wednesday at 4pm? Drunk people. But everyone’s laughing. Everyone’s friendly. Even the few Parisians we met there seemed to not hate us. What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t feel unsafe or threatening like a frat party gone wild. It feels celebratory and fun.
Then you make your way into the fair and have to decide which brauhaus you’d like to tackle on that day. The set-up is that each one offers a different variety of beer. The reality is they all tasted like Peroni to me.
Our second day at the fest we decided to go into the biggest tent – the Hofbräuhaus. Imagine 9,000 people singing John Denver’s Country Road over and over again. At first you think it’s insanity – then after a stein or two you wonder why anyone would listen to any other song. Ever.
Once we got in, we looked around like visitors at a zoo. There weren’t people hanging from the ceiling but it seemed like there could be and no one would have said a word. There were no empty tables so we found a spot to stand and Joe went to go find us a beer. There were no bars – it was all table service. If you didn’t have a table, you weren’t getting a beer.
We took a good walk around the tent and ended up back where we were. No seats. Here’s when it helps to have a husband who looks like he totally belongs in any German or Irish pub. These are his people.
He walked up to a group standing near us enjoying some beers and asked how they were able to get served. That’s how it began. Immediately this 10 foot tall (really) mustached fellow put his arm around Joe and said,” welcome welcome! We will get you whatever you want!” He spoke English with the perfect German accent,” Welcome to zee festival!”.
He and his wife, a formidable woman double my husband’s size, took us under their wing. No waiting in lines for anything for us! They seemed to know everyone in the tent. They had grown kids and grew up in the city of Munich. They asked all about us and our travels and how we were enjoying their country. After a few hours the group they came with left and we decided to go to another tent with them. Why not right? We had our own private guides! We felt like locals. Let me also tell you all that my husband is generous by nature. And like all generous people, when someone is generous to him, he feels indebted. Our new German friends seemed to get all the drinks for free all night, we never spent a Euro.
At the next tent they started telling us about their business. They owned a small bar in the basement of their home. They lived about an hour out of the city. By now I was getting tired. No matter how much fun I’m having, there’s usually a point in the night when I’m done. And because I wasn’t a fan of the beer, I was also pretty sober.
“You two should come to zee bar tonight! We jump in our cah and go, yes?”. “If you want hashish, we have zat too..”
Then I got even more sober. A basement bar. An hour outside the city. Drugs from a German guy who looked like a Bond villain. I looked at my husband who was laughing and smiling and basically ready to hop in this car. I don’t think he heard any of the details of our impending death and disfigurement.
“Our cah is at zee back of zee tents”, said his wife in a deep baratone. I tried to give Joe my usual eye. The one I use when the kids are around us and I want to say,” WTF?!”, but he wouldn’t lock eyes. He was in a German trance induced by John Denver.
I decided to make a big dramatic scene and prayed that Joe wouldn’t fight me on it. As we walked outside the tent I grabbed him and said loudly,” so sorry! I’m not feeling well, we have to leave. Maybe we will see you tomorrow!” And we started walking away. No goodbye. No nothing. Joe just stared at me. It didn’t matter. I’d explain later. When we were safe.
Were they dangerous? Probably not. Did I let my imagination get to me? Maybe. But here’s what’s kept me alive for 43 years. When I hear a stranger invite me to their basement, I run for zee hills. You should too.