I’m sitting on the couch, looking out on a foreboding, foggy horizon and listening to the wind swirl around our building. It’s officially winter, the gloomy grey season in Amsterdam, and when you’re in it, it’s hard to call to mind any memories of sun and warmth. But, in my long absence from this blog, there have of course been some adventures, and some lovely moments in the sun. So let’s get caught up. And maybe in the retelling, I’ll recover the feeling of those lazy autumn days.
First stop: Munich, October
If someone tells you they’re going to Munich in October (or, for that matter, September), you can be confident it’s for one reason: Oktoberfest. This year, we made good on a long-standing promise to a friend and joined the six million others who attend the Wiesn every year. Oktoberfest is like no other event I have ever seen. First of all, everything about it is huge. I was totally unprepared for the size of the Theresienwiese fairgrounds, the size of the tents, and the size of the beers. During the day, there are families enjoying the rides and food, but as the day goes on, the action picks up in the tents. They call them “tents” but they are enormous buildings with bandstands, and benches and tables for thousands of people.
For most of the night, the crowd is up on the benches, dancing and singing and drinking liter after liter of beer. And, as you may have noted in the photo above, there is a dress code for Oktoberfest. We’re always up for an authentic experience, so we dutifully bought and wore our lederhosen and dirndl. Leaving the hotel, I felt completely ridiculous. But honestly, once we were at the Wiesn, we blended right in. You’d stand out more if you weren’t dressed in some variation of the traditional trachten. My husband found his lederhosen pretty comfortable; I can’t really say the same for my dirndl.
On the Saturday night we attended – the last weekend of Oktoberfest – the festival was incredibly crowded and entrance to the tents was being tightly managed. We eventually found a spot at a table outside, with a couple of German women who were enjoying a girls night out. We were later joined by two Italians in their 60s and a group of Argentinian agronomy students in their early 20s. The table became a mash-up conversation of German, English, Spanish, and a bit of Portuguese. We didn’t always understand each other, but the beer and the atmosphere made for a fun night.
Oktoberfest has become a destination for tourists, and especially for groups of young people looking to drink to excess while wearing leather shorts. But it still retains some authenticity, especially during the day, when it’s obvious that the Wiesn is a family event and a celebration of the Bavarian culture and heritage.
I’m glad I went. I don’t think I ever need to go back. But if I do, at least I’ve got the outfit.