Oktoberfest. The world's most prolific celebration of consumption. It's basically Coney Island on steroids, plus beer by the liter. There were amusement park rides, a Ferris Wheel, Fun-Houses, carnival games, food vendors, sweet shops, and souvenir huts. But the main draws were the beer halls.
People travel thousands of miles, pay hundreds of dollars, and sometimes wait for hours outside just to sit at a table and drink beer. The beauty is in the simplicity. There is literally nothing else to do in a beer hall but sit, drink, sing, and talk with strangers.
I learned very early that a table is a precious commodity. If you arrive early in the day, or reserve a table, you can walk right in , sit down and order a €10 liter jug of beer. If your table is not already full, it soon will be. It is best to position your bulkiest, most intimidating members at the end of the table to fend off the standing-room crowd when others get up to use the bathroom. When the brass band on stage starts playing the Beer Barrel Polka, or a traditional German song, you stand and shout with everyone else, pretending to know the words. Also important to note: after toasting with everyone at your table, be sure to bang the bottom of your jug against the table before taking a drink or the next round is on you. I learned this technicality very quickly, as a slip-up would have been catastrophic for my Oktoberfest finances.
But I've gotten ahead of myself. I spent two full days biking along the Rhine River, stopping at Boppard, St. Goar, Bacharach, Bingen, Rudesheim, and Eltville. The biking trail was easy to follow, as it hugged the riverbank from Koblenz all the way to Mainz. I took my time since my pack was heavy and the scenery was straight out of a classical painting, but also because my bike had probably been around since before the Berlin Wall was built. It might as well have been one of those bikes with the enormous rear wheel and handlebars that wrap around your waist. Nonetheless, I made it into Mainz, grinding gears, bald tires and all. My friend Matthias picked me up and drove me to his house in Trebur.
I stayed with Matthias and his wife, Katja, for three nights. I had met them in Australia while touring the Red Center. They showed me the meaning of German hospitality. I was introduced to proper German beer, authentic Schnitzel, Rhine Valley apple wine, and an unbelievable homemade onion cake. I feel like I learned more about German culture there in three days than in any of the cities I visited. It was difficult to leave, but Oktoberfest beckoned....
I stayed in Munich two nights, spending nearly all my time in the Oktoberfest grounds. I was able to meet up with my friend Evi, who I also met in Australia, and she let me tag along with her group of friends at the festivities.
After Munich I caught a train to Berlin, spending three nights in the nation's capital. With such little time to spend in a playground of tourist attractions, I thought a whilrlwind tour would be appropriate. I visited the Reichstag, seven museums, Brandenburger Tor, Olympic Stadium, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall Memorial, The Jewish Memorial, the Berliner Dom, Gendarme Market, Hitler's bunker (which is now nothing more than a hotel parking lot), and the Tiergarten.
Now I exhale on a train on the way to Prague. Future stops include Budapest, Vienna, and Murren, Switzerland. As I leave Germany after staying only ten nights, I feel like I've only taken the first few sips from a deep, frothy stein. There was so much I missed. But the train doors abruptly close and the carriage rolls forward, inching south along the rails for the former Soviet bloc and another whirlwind sampling.