On the the day before the grand opening of Octoberfest, we wait in a small parking lot north of Verona.. The bus arrives from Milano packed with Italian beer aficionados. We will drive through the night stopping several times as per the rules of the Euro Zone require a rest to the bus driver.
Tourist buses that are used to transport people in Italy are outfitted with televisions that show movies. Seats are more comfortable than the seats I remember with Greyhound, and we settle in. It will be an 8 hour ride including restroom stops.
The featured movie is the American made Wedding Crashers with John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey. The men in the bus find it especially funny. I am laughing at the laughers more than with the movie. (There are a lot of 24 to 30 year old guys in the bus so a movie about guys picking up hot women every weekend keeps them totally attentive.) It always amazes me that most jokes translated into Italian are still funny. I am watching the lips way too much and wondering how the studios, in dubbing the voices, found people with a similar voices that sound so close to the original actors.
We wake up just as we are entering Munich and the sun is rising. The only shops that are open are the bakery shops. Noses are at the windows as see heavenly goodies displayed in the shop window. You can almost smell it! There is no comparison, between Munich and Padova, there are so many breads, many different brown breads, and pastries of all types. I want to yell to the driver to stop the bus, while in my mind I see a vision of kidnapping my Italian village baker and forcing him to see what could be!
Grouped outside the bus the guide sternly tells us that at 10:00 the bus will leave the parking and head for the hotel. Anyone not there will use the map handout with instructions on how to get to the hotel. There will be no waiting for anyone. Further instructions inform anyone who boards the bus and becomes sick and vomiting will walk home.
Walking towards Octoberfest entrance we immediately see a bakery packed with goodies of all types. The differences between bakeries in Germany compared to the ones in Padova is astounding.
Walking past each beer pavilion we see lines of young people decked out in Bavarian costumes. They have plastic boxes holding bottles of beer which they will allow them a head start on celebrating. It is 8:45 and they will not be allowed to enter until after 12:00 when the Mayor of Munich announces the opening of the festival with a twelve-gun salute.
Taking the subway to the center of Munich we walk past a market where the parade will begin. We are surrounded by all the floats and wagons stacked with beer barrels. Music is flowing and so is the beer. The horses, also in colourful costume, patiently await the start of the Parade. Men in all types of lederhosen, hats with big feathers, and women charmingly dressed in Bavarian dresses. It is all quite dazzling.
We find an extensive food market and it is truly a really a nice one. They have so much produce displayed beautifully, including truffles, and at least 5 kinds of chili peppers. In Padova we find only two types of chilis and they are not hot, but sweet. We see rhubarb, something not available in northern Italy.
We buy some warm pretzels and walk over to Starbucks where we pick up a package of coffee beans to take home. After watching the parade begin and the big clock in Munich ring out the hour we take the subway back to Octoberfest where the parade is headed.
After some great music and a few mugs of beer we decide to take a tram and go further away from the loaded pavilions and find a restaurant along the tram line. This turns out to be a great idea and we enjoy what I call Man Food: pork, mashed potatoes with a rich brown gravy, and purple cabbage. I am happy, my Italian wife not as happy but puts up with the German cuisine.
After this we walk through a big park and see a huge beer garden packed with far fewer sloshed locals and and lots more family groups with children. The feeling tone of this beer garden was very pleasant.
We walk through the park and over to the famous Hofbrau Haus. I am a fan of good beer and what I call “Oom Pah" music and this place always seems to have a partly smashed band of brass players having a good time. They have played the tunes so many times that even playing wasted they hardly need to see the printed music, instead put all their energy into keeping everyone singing and swinging their beer steins in the air. Taking a close look at everyone I notice the ratio of males to females is about 9 to 1. Most of the males are fairly polluted with eyes glassy, and slurred words. A fellow, at our table, about 30 years of age, moans, leans forward and pukes in his mug. Maybe this is the reason why the mugs are made of grey ceramic? Friends carry him out of the building. After a few songs and one mug of beer we eventually leave this drunken revelry and head back to the park by subway.
With 6 million beer lovers sucking down 7.7 million litres of beer you have to expect to see folks who have gone over the edge. And sure enough as we come out of the subway we begin to see staggering people, lots of them helping each other maneuver. One fellow in lederhosen , one arm curled around a night pole, talks to it.
In the park we see a grass covered hill on our right, covered with people lying down, mostly semi conscious. Over 100 volunteers, and doctors are stationed in the medical centre while ambulance attendants carry a kind of stretcher with a plastic dome where they put the unconscious inside and carry them off. Portable johns have huge lines, and there is a sign saying that there is no cellular coverage in this area. It is obvious that you cannot sit in the johns call your friends.
You can imagine the problems this festival creates. Electric power consumption totals approximately 2.7 million kilowatt hours. We see more and more trash overflowing from the bins and cans provided as crowds wander about and clog the intersections where one can hardly move. It is worse that Disneyland on a school holiday. There are more people than can be jammed inside the pavilions, so the rest wander around aimlessly.
The next day, surrounded by the beautiful Bavarian Alps, we observe the Disneyland like castle as we drive the road. Ludwig II of Bavaria was a visionary in this respect, creating such a beautiful castle with all those spires perched on the side of a mountain.
Parts of the castle are unfinished, as Ludwig mysteriously met his end at the bottom of a lake nearby and the funds to finish it were publicly cut off. Actually I think that the view of the castle is better than what is seen inside.
One thing about living in Europe, you begin to get too used to seeing castles and the extravagant furnishings. I never thought I would say this when living back in the states. I am also getting tired to see cathedrals.
The drive back through Innsbruck and down the pass to Verona was quite beautiful. The Fall colors, the robber baron castles perched on the hill tops, and the blue lakes and streams make it a painter’s paradise. Being a painter I am quite happy but we will skip the pavilions and head to the market and revisit the beer garden.