Friday 26th September
As my mobile phone played its relaxing melody I knew it was time to wake up. It felt like I’d only just gone to bed which in truth I probably had because it was 4.40am and I’d got back from seeing Lee Evans at the o2 with Caroline at gone 12. Still after 5 years of it being on my bucket list I was finally off to the legendary Oktoberfest in Munich.
A quick shower barely revived me and I don’t really recall getting ready or the walk to South Ealing. When I arrived at the station it seemed the underground was still sleeping, the station was totally deserted and there was a maintenance train on both tracks. I looked at my watch and calculated I still had 2 hours and 30 minutes before I would be on the plane and therefore able to have a nap.
The maintenance train moved off, my train arrived and after 30 minutes I was back at Heathrow. I’d already checked in but I still had to collect the ticket and luggage label. I clicked reference number and went to enter the code which included a number. There were no numbers on the keyboard so I asked the nearby steward “how do I enter numbers?” I probably sounded irritable but he was incredibly understanding as he explained “you only have to enter your name sir”. I looked again. First name. Last name. Oops. There was only one retort to save face “good job I’m not R2 D2 then”. After the words left my lips I realised this was not witty and I hung my head in shame as he turned his back on me to help someone who actually required assistance.
The flight was uneventful; no engine failures this time. I did however miss breakfast snacks being brought round but the attendant kindly got me something as I think she could see the sadness in my eyes when I realised. Arriving in Munich, Germany seemed as efficient as I had expected and the only thing to hold me up were fellow tourists who couldn’t use the ticket machine even though options appeared to be in any major language you can think of. Ticket purchased I made my way to München Hauptbahnhof.
The journey took longer than I expected and it was very busy though no worse than the tube from Heathrow and certainly not at Moscow or Beijing levels. I got slightly lost in the station concourse but eventually found Chris and Ben. I quickly got changed in to my lederhosen and then left my bag in the secure baggage area before we headed for the world famous Oktoberfest site.
It was only a 10 minute walk from the station and as we arrived at the site my mouth probably hit the floor. I’d not ever really seen pictures of the site but I had a level of expectation yet the scale of the temporary buildings, the number of stools and the number of rides blew them away. Wow. It really was an adults playground.
Paul found us, apparently he had been at deaths door a couple of hours earlier after a heavy night but a beer had clearly revived him. He was his usual chirpy self and wasn’t surprised when rather than asking how my flight was instead said “don’t laugh at me John-boy because you’ll be dead in the morning”. Throughout Russia it seemed his objective was to destroy me and here I was at a place where the objective seems to be to get wrecked in as fun a way as possible.
He led us to our beer hall where Claudia (who Clare and Paul had met in New Zealand) had reserved us all a table. We sat down and it wasn’t long before the Steins of beer arrived. Claudia’s brother was also there and he ordered us all some authentic bavarian food including some giant pretzels.
It was shortly after the 2nd stein that dancing on the chairs began and having got a souvenir picture of Claudia, Clare (hung around my neck) that I began to lean the phase “zucke die da frauan?” Which I learnt in case I got lost and needed to ask someone to help me find “these girls”.
The beer flowed the Steins clinked (a lot) and each time with slightly more force. Some of Claudia’s brothers friends joined us and I tried my best to introduce myself in German but my fake lederhosen worked against me and I ended up with the name Robin Hood.
Eventually we all left and as Chris Claudia and I turned around realised Ben wasn’t following. Instead a guy forever known as ‘Canada’ started chatting to us and followed us around a bit. Clare and Paul appeared from nowhere and we were able to get a beer from one of the outside areas (not that I needed any more).
We went on the dodgems and a load of random girls appeared from nowhere and asked to steer which was fine by me. Then we went on the double shot tower – one of those rides that shoots you up in to the air. Perhaps the alcohol had removed my fear but it seemed particularly tame and whilst Chris agreed the surrounding screams suggested we were alone in that view. On the way home I got a currywurst and then at some stage lay down so Paul could stand triumphantly over me as I admitted defeat.
We were back for an hour or so (it was still only about 10pm) when the door buzzer went and as I opened it realised it was Ben. All reunited we set up the air bed and with a trusty glass of water went to sleep.
Saturday 27th September
I expected a huge hangover next morning but it seemed we were all fine. Still it took us a while to actually leave the house and by the time we did it was edging towards lunch. As a result we grabbed some food from a cafe at the metro station. It was only as we finished we noticed the rat traps and that a rat must recently have been caught in one of them.
We made our way to the English Garden looking for the surf area (apparently there is a wave in the middle of the river) which we never found. We did however spot a guy sunbathing nude which is perfectly normal and us being in clothes were the ones making a fashion faux pas. Soon we came across a beer garden. Totally unplanned but totally typical of Munich. It seemed rude to pass up the chance so we sat in the sun whilst we planned what to do next.
There was only one logical suggestion a traditional German/Munich beer hall. So we headed over past the Residenz and through old looking winding streets. We briefly got distracted from our mission when we saw a fox holding a gun in a shop and it seemed a perfectly natural reaction for Paul to pose with it.
We entered the beer hall which was huge on an epic scale and each table was packed. We went up the different levels and it was by total chance that a group left just as we we’d given up hope. The waiter came and 4 beautiful beers were soon on the way. I was feeling quite peckish so ordered some food at the same time.
Whilst we did some shaky face pictures and were in good spirits I don’t think any of us felt that drunk. It was however still only 4.30pm in the afternoon. We crossed the street and headed to Hard Rock Cafe but as we got to the entrance the bouncer blocked our path and turning to Paul announced “We only have one rule, you have to approach by walking in a straight line”. It was a interesting way to say we were to drunk and rather surprising considering we were in Munich where it seemed the whole city, especially during Oktoberfest is geared towards being merry. Saying that the Hard Rock Cafe was near empty despite it being a early Saturday afternoon so it’s possible the bouncer was doing his job slightly to well.
We found another restaurant and as we drank another stein Paul wrote an email of complaint to Hard Rock Cafe explaining how much of a loyal customer he and Clare had been on their travels. I made a few edits but between us we were fairly confident we had the perfect email and fully expected to be rewarded with at least a free drink for the miscarriage of justice we has suffered.
It was still early when we got home and the plan was to quickly get changed before heading back out for dinner. Clare had given up going out I was getting hungry again, hungry being an understatement if I’m honest and my usually care free manner was announcing I’d eat Chris if he didn’t hurry up.
There was however a hilarious moment when me and Ben were introducing ourselves to Claudia’s housemate and Chris announced his arrival walking in wearing just a pair of boxers. After a few seconds, which felt longer, he realised we weren’t just talking to Clare and Paul. In the end I gave up up waiting and I went to the local Chinese Pizza takeaway round the corner and tucked in like a monster that hadn’t been fed for a week. Chris Ben and Paul soon caught up but as I was being a bit indecisive about whether to join them they headed back in to town without me.
Ultimately I decided to head back for an early night as I had to be up early next morning to see Finja. There was however two issues I had not bargained with. The first was I didn’t actually know how to get back. I was wondering around the vague area, looking for the block of flats with a traffic cone outside. All of a sudden in broken german someone tried to talk to me. “Spreche sie English?” I replied and the person speaking went ‘damn you’re English, I’m trying to find my friends but I’m not sure which street they live on, do you know the area?”. I don’t think I was talking to myself but I guess there was a chance. I explained I was in the same situation and it was as I turned the next corner I saw the traffic cone. Hopefully he also found his friends…
The second issue I had not contemplated was that Claudia’s housemate and her boyfriend would be rightfully sitting in their living room which unfortunately for me happened to be my bedroom. There endured a rather awkward hour or so where I sat in the corner watching YouTube clips and they watched a film I couldn’t understand.
They finally went to bed and so did I but I’d been asleep less than 5 minutes when my phone rang. Paul was back but had come out the wrong station exit and lost so I went to find him. I thought I knew the way but it seemed I still didn’t and after 15 accepted I was lost again. Paul phoned me and just by total chance he was standing the other side of the road. I was able to lead us back to the park and he led us to the traffic cone.
I went to sleep again and was perhaps asleep for 2 hours when Chris and Ben got home. It turned out that at 11pm the Oktoberfest site closes with Chris describing it as ‘someone suddenly turning off all the electricity’.
Sunday 28th September
My alarm had been set early as I’d agreed to meet Finja for a coffee before she started work and didn’t want to be late. I actually woke up before the alarm which felt rather unfortunate because I was tired. I got ready and made my way to the station questioning how I got lost twice the night before.
It turned out we were meeting in the centre of Munich but as it was still early most of the streets were deserted. I saw what looked a giant church spire so as I was early went to investigate. Loads of tourists were staring at the Neues Rathaus Glockenspiel clock tower and as I looked at my watch I noticed it was one minute to 9. I think we all expected to see the figures move and we were all a bit surprised when nothing happened and it was all very anti climatic. An American announced they’d wait because “something is bound to happen soon”. They will have been waiting a few more hours as Finja later told me it only operates at 11am. Oh and it wasn’t a church but the New City Hall
I headed back to Starbucks and Finja arrived shortly after. It was great to catch up but neither of us actually drank coffee (though there had been a time in Australia when I’d become a consumer) so we both got a hot chocolate instead. After that we went on a stroll around the still empty streets that would later be heaving with probably mostly tourists. We went as far as a water fountain but it was a cold, damp morning so there was no incentive to go closer than we had to.
Finja gave me some ideas on how to spend the Monday I had to myself but unfortunately the two hours we had to catch up went to quickly for my liking. Still it was lovely to catch up with another of my friends I’d met travelling.
I met up with the others and after a quick beer we met up with Claudia and her boyfriend before going back to Hard Rock Cafe. This time we got in though throughout the time we waited for a table I expected the bouncer to put two hands on Pauls shoulders to kick him out for his email. Unlike the day before my appetite had deserted me so I ordered a couple of sides.
When mum and I had done to Hard Rock Cafe with Paul and Clare in Sydney I was slightly jealous when she was able to buy the souvenir hurricane glass. Despite already having a stein from the day before I still wanted to expand my personal collection of vessels that can hold alcohol so there was no hesitation this time.
After leaving Hard Rock Ben had to catch his flight home so we went to the station and put our souvenir glasses in the locker had been using. Then after he had gone, Chris Paul Clare, Claudia and I headed to the Oktoberfest site. Paul won on one of the shooting stands and we then each watched the oldest ride that has been in operation at the festival.
The premise was that people had to stay on a spinning roundabout as long as possible before being thrown off. It sounded easy but then the organisers started using ropes to catch people and swung a big ball to knock people off. I was tempted to have a go but never got near the front and even if I had would probably have been crushed by the number of bodies trying to clamour on.
We left and went to a bar at the back of the site where I ordered a drink that was half coke cola and half beer. I did this because my body was beginning to rebel and I thought it sounded different to the usual radler (Lemonade and beer). The first taste or two seemed alright and I began to wonder why they don’t sell the combination in British pubs. A few more sips later and I began to decide it didn’t actually taste that great and that cola and beer perhaps aren’t drinks that should be mixed. Lemonade makes it refreshing but cola just gave it a odd taste.
We tried to get a group picture but where ever I stood the sun light blocked me out and then almost to sum up how much or a failure the idea had been I dropped my camera on the floor. Luckily it was undamaged even though the lens had been out. We left the bar and I brought a toffee apple, which worryingly was my first bit of fruit or veg in 3 days and then a commemorative Oktoberfest stein. This meant my hand luggage would just be my 3 glasses and my camera and considerably more heavy.
We went back to Claudia’s and got changed in to our lederhosen for one final time before returning to the Oktoberfest site for one last time as a group. We went in to one of the beer halls but there were no seats so we sat outside and soon had some Steins on the way. After a couple we moved inside again and found a table buy the party was winding down and we couldn’t find the person serving our area. Still this didn’t stop us joining in with the singing.
Realising there was no chance of beer we headed to our trusty bar at the back of the site. As it was close to last orders we got two beers so we wouldn’t make the same mistake as at the beer hall. Eventually they began to start closing the site and they started to use a spray hose to clean the bar we were at. The hose seemed to have a dual purpose at being a water cannon to remove those who had not finished their drinks.
It seemed the site was pretty much closed so we began to make our way home stopping at McDonald’s. There was no where to sit so we decided to sit on the floor and eat it at the station which we dubbed our McDonalds picnic. Chris and I also found it quite funny when we saw some police buying doughnuts.
We arrived back at the house and the others tried to have a quick nap before their flight and I stayed up to wait for them to leave. My flight wasn’t until 9pm on Monday so I knew I’d be able to catch up on sleep after they’d gone. The house felt very quiet when they bundled out of the door to get the bus and I finally went to sleep.
Monday 29th September
I still wasn’t really suffering hangovers but the lack of sleep had caught up with me and I so any plans to cram as much in as possible went out of the window. I wasn’t going to overdo it. I spent a couple of hours having a quick clean around asking the Leeds lot various questions as by now they were back in the UK on the train home. The one thing I never did find was the community bin or the place to recycle all the bottles we had somehow accumulated.
I eventually left with a plan of action which involved finding the haribo store so I could buy a life time supply and to climb the church Finja had recommended. Going to the Olympic Park and the tall tower would have to wait. I never did find the haribo store, Google had been little help and even tourist information had no idea what I was talking about. Instead they told me to go to a ‘Bears & Friends’ store.
I made my way there instead and whilst not on the scale of the mystical haribo world I was still pretty impressed. Next I headed towards the church and climbed St Peters Church steps to the top. Each time I thought I was there, I wasn’t and my legs were suffering when I got to the top. It was hard to believe just a week before the same body had been capable of running 8km in a gorilla outfit. It is fair to say I am need of a detox but with the Camra beer festival at Ascot, the Rugby League Grand Final, a 30th birthday and a rugby union match at Twickenham taking it easy isn’t an option in the foreseeable.
The view was however probably worth it and I was glad to have done something vaguely cultural besides drinking. After taking in the view and searching out where the Oktoberfest site was in relation to where I stood I headed back down.
I wanted to look for a Steiff bear and whilst there wasn’t a special store I was told to go in a department store. I eventually found what I was looking for but nearly collapsed when I saw the price so instead I took a photo. Next I had a walk around the food hall section as I’d been told to get mustard in a tube and I thought I could buy some chocolates. Leaving the store with enough money for a beer and some food I went in search of the oldest beer ha in Munich.
Fortunately I found a table and ordered the German equivalent of sausage and chips in curry sauce. It was also nice to have one final beer, and one I hadn’t already had though it wasn’t the same alone. I was feeling tired and just wanted to be on the plane but I still had some time to wait. After finishing my drink and paying the bill I collected my bag from the locker at central station and headed to the airport.
The time at the airport was a blur, I got hungry again and craved a McDonald’s but sadly for me there wasn’t one after security. Instead I spent my remaining euros on a can of red bull, chocolate and a bag of haribo sweets. Eventually it was time to board and I inadvertently fell asleep and this time I missed the dinner snack. Again a kind attendant found me something and again I went back to sleep.
Landing back at Heathrow I was expecting a challenging journey home similar to when I got back from Portugal with Carissa and Sophie. Instead it was a breeze and I was home and in bed less than an hour after I had landed. Oktoberfest had nearly destroyed me but it was worth every minute and I am so glad I can finally say I have been and I survived.