. While we were walking on the street, we could've been in any industrial city in any country in the world. The second we stepped into Augustiner, we were in Germany. There was no mistaking it. This had everything you'd imagine, long wooden tables, beer wenches, liter steins, huge portions of meat, the whole nine. It was fantastic, as we drank out of our steins and ate our half ducks and legs of pig.
The next morning we went on a free tour of the city. The tour was run by the same company that put on the free tour of Berlin -- one of the best, most informative things I've done in all of Europe. I've recommended it to everybody I've met, including Adrian, who was equally blown away by the experience. This one was good, but it was no Berlin. It did have one level of randomness that Berlin could never hope to approach. While we were sitting in Marianplatz waiting for the tour and the Glockenspiel to begin (the Glockenspiel is the 'historic account' of a joust between a Bavarian and a Frenchman fighting for a Bavarian princess -- guess who wins) I looked over and saw a familiar face. Lo and behold, it was the guy who I sat next to on the notorious Vientiane-Hanoi bus. The real wacky part was he's from Munich, going on a tour of his own city. The tour, focused on Munich's two main legacies -- beer and Nazis. One of the first stops was at a beer garden where Adrian and I could get a little warmup with a liter stein. While we were on line we were debating whether to go half or whole liter. We were separated on line by an elderly woman of at least 80 when we made the decision to go whole. This turned out to be a good choice because if we had gone half we would've immediately been shown up by granny who grabbed a liter mug without hesitation. Had we gone the other way they might've asked us to leave the city. We probably would've had to check our testicles at the door as well
. One of the major stops was at the Hofbrau House, Munich's largest and most famous beer hall. It was here where Hitler made one of his first political speeches. Munich was probably the one city most supportive of Hitler and the Nazis, it's where he started his political career, where he planned such tragedies as Kristallnacht. It's a legacy the city has to deal with and as Jamie, our tour guide, pointed out, they're not doing a great job of it. There are a few memorials, like the golden cobblestones where people who didn't want to walk by a Nazi statue and salute could take an alternate route (a dangerous choice since Gestapo were monitoring the area). Of course there's no plaque to signify what it means, had we not been on a tour we probably wouldn't have noticed it at all, and even if we had it would have been of no significance. So it goes for all of Munich's memorials to the war.
The next day we had to check out of our hostel and go to Thalkirchen Campgrounds, where we'd be staying for Oktoberfest. As it turned out, we could've gotten a hostel bed, but it was pricey and we went for the atmosphere of the grounds. After checking in we went on a mission with Lee and Erica (two girls we had on the tour who had recognized Adrian from our days in Ios) to find the 100 Club. The 100 club is basically a group of psychotic Australians who go around Europe in vans in a drunken haze
. Apparently they never stop and there's barely a limit to their insanity and if anything, 100 Club was the apex. This we had to see for ourselves. The only problem was our directions to the location were terrible. So there we were, wandering random streets of Munich for nearly two hours, in the rain, all so we could watch a bunch of pissed Aussies lie in their own vomit. I'm sure at this point my mother's eyes are welling up with pride. By the time we made it, the grounds were in a state of chaos and Adrian and I were more interested in going back and getting food than watching people pass out from an all day binge.
We got back to Thalkirchen where the Oktoberfest pre-party was already at full tilt. Over the course of the day we started seeing more and more people we recognized as various workers from Ios kept filtering in. I also started to quickly realize that I was surrounded by nothing but Aussies and Kiwis. With liquid courage as my aide I set out on a mission that night to find a single person at the campground who was neither Australian nor Kiwi. About as easy as finding a bed in Budapest in early August I quickly found. Either way it kept me entertained for the night, allowed me to make plenty of friends and over the next few days, I was fairly well known.
Of course, the next morning was the real main event
. We (Adrian, myself and about five other people from Ios) got up early -- we were camping after all -- and were on the Oktoberfest grounds by 9. Oktoberfest isn't just a group of beer tents, it's a whole big festival, with amusement park rides, food stands, games, you name it -- it's an actual festival with more than just beer. Of course, all that was secondary, at least for now. We went to the Hofbrau House and got in shortly before they closed the doors. Then it was a matter of finding seats, since you can only get served if you're seated. After a half hour search we found some more Ios people with enough space that we could carve ourselves in. However, we were dangerously close to the Pig Pen, a standing room only area in which underwear is strictly forbidden. Anyone, guy or girl, found to be wearing underwear within the Pig Pen would have it immediately ripped off and have their undergarments thrown onto the gigantic floating man with a harp that rotates above the Pen. Since I didn't have atomic wedgie on my agenda, I only had one choice. So that's how I found myself, at 10 in the morning, standing in a quiet corner of the men's toilet, depantsing and freeballing for the rest of the day. Free and easy, like an unfurnished basement. And I'm sure my mother is just beaming at this point. On the first day, beer isn't served until noon so we had a couple hours to kill before the band comes marching in, the mayor makes a speech, symbolically taps the keg and then Oktoberfest is officially on. Literally seconds after the keg was tapped, Anni, our amazing beer wench was plopping down our beers on the table
. We were probably the first people at the whole festival to be served. I have to say, these waitresses are incredible. They carry eight to ten beers (weighing roughly 60 pounds or so, mug and liquid) without a problem, dodging drunken idiots while spilling nary a drop. Also amazing, leiderhosen. I'd like to thank the man who came up with that one, made for some excellent, excellent scenery over the course of my two days. Once the beer was flowing, well, what else is there to say, life was good. The beer was delicious and there was live music to keep us entertained, especially the numerous renditions of the Hoff (it is Germany after all).
At some point in the evening, I found myself separated from the group so I decided to wander the grounds a bit. I started talking to a girl from York who had gotten it in her mind that York was better than New York. And thus I had my second excuse in as many nights to run around like a fool and make new friends, taking a poll of everyone who walked by as to which city they would prefer, York or New York. Guess what won.
The next morning we were entitled to a much more casual start since there wouldn't be nearly the same rush to the tents. We also decided that we were going to do the day properly, going on rides, eating nicely
. For certain, Oktoberfest was one of those "spare no expense" occasions. Most of the time when you're traveling you're scrutinizing every purchase, every dollar spent. But there are certain occasions where you just have to ignore the money issue -- basically a special situation that you might never find yourself in again and the last thing you want is to be sitting around years later wishing you had plunked down a few extra euros to make the experience as fulfilling as possible. New Year's in Sydney was one of those, La Tomatina was one, as was Sziget. And that's pretty much the list. We started the day with an indoor roller coaster. I've never been on an indoor roller coaster, but I can tell you it's as amazing as it sounds. You can't see a damn thing and the seats spin around so you're constantly facing the people in front of you and behind you and you constantly have the sensation that you're going to crash into the car in front. Plus we were all laughing so hard at the dopey horror props inside that by the time we got off the ride we were practically pissing ourselves.
When that was done it was time, of course, for beer. The only problem was the never-ending parade was going through and all the beer halls were on the other side of the road. We finally made a dash for the Paulaner House, grabbed a stein and then hit the next ride. That one should've been skipped. We went on one of those silly swing rides that from a distance look to be OK, but up close is rubbish
. Pants, the English guy I was sitting next to (Pants is his last name, before you ask), and I spent the whole time yelling at our two friends who thought the swing would be a good idea. Once the €4 was sufficiently wasted it was time to go to Hofbrau House for two very important things -- half a chicken and beer. If half a chicken doesn't sound all that enthralling, then you've never been to Oktoberfest. We stayed at Hofbrau for a bit (I didn't bother wearing underwear at all this day, in case you were wondering) until Adrian and I made a move to Lowenbrau, where we quickly became separated from each other. Faced with being on my own again, I had to come up with a new ploy to make friends. This time I tried going up to random people, putting a really shocked look on my face and going, "Oh my god, it's you, I can't believe you're here!" The first girl I tried it on played along and started guessing my name. When she came up with Dan on the second try, I decided that this schtick was one to try again.
It worked with mixed results until I put on a convincing argument with an Australian girl and her friends. The ironic thing about this was the girl was someone I actually had seen before. She was on Ios at the end of my time there and we had any number of mutual friends -- sometimes the world is smaller than small.
And then the next day I was off. As much as I would've loved to have stayed, kept the insanity and good times rolling, it was probably for the best that I was moving on. I had gotten my experience and eventually you always reach that time when you have to say goodbye. Plus I had a booking for a hostel in Brussels, so that was as good an excuse as any. So Adrian and I shook hands and parted ways after two weeks together and then I was on the train to Belgium, a country famous for its...chocolate.
A few days before I left I was up in our study doing a test run of packing my bag with my dad when we started discussing my trip. At the time, I was expecting to be home by late July -- early August at the latest -- and casually mentioned that should I be able to stretch my money out I'd love to be able to catch La Tomatina at the end of August. My dad rolled his eyes and snidely commented, well there's that, then I'm sure you could make it to Oktoberfest and so and so on and this could go on forever. Well, I cruised into La Tomatina and three days before Oktoberfest was officially set to kick off Adrian and I were on a train into Munich. We had come to the agreement that since so many people raved about Munich it would be a good idea to get in early and see the city in sobriety with the added bonus of having an outside chance of finding a hostel bed by getting in early (what, you thought I'd book a bed a month in advance? ha!). We got into town early in the evening so we dropped our bags at our hostel and immediately went out for dinner at the Augustiner Beer Hall across the street