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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Good morning crew,

After a couple of days of driving around some of the more medieval tourist spots in Germany, like Heidelburg and Rothenburg, we finally made it to one of the big, modern cultural centers; Munich.

Situated on the banks of River Isar ("Da, wo die grune Isar fliesst..."), Munich is the capital and largest city of the German state of Bavaria.

Munich is at least 800 years old. It has been the seat of the Bavarian Dukes, it was the home of the Bavarian prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire, and was even the capital of the sovereign Kingdom of Bavaria.

Since World War II Munich has become a thriving center for information technology, biotechnology, publishing, art and culture.

But we weren't there for art or culture, because our visit to Munich just so happened to coincide with the original and world famous Oktoberfest.

Munich's Oktoberfest is 206-years-old and for beer-lovers it is the center of the universe. Last year an estimated 6 million visitors staggered through the fourteen beer tents (or festzelt) and consumed nearly 8 million litres of beer.

And we were there.

As the wife and I walked up to the gate I felt a subdued excitement. Beyond those metal gates practically every race and culture from around the world was represented, united in one place by their love of beer (and pretzels and bratwurst and schnitzel).

After passing through very minimum security we were a little confused by what appeared to be a carnival. There was a ferris wheel, games, concession stands, little gift and souvenir kiosks, but the famous beer tents appeared to be absent. Of course, we were used to our own little local Oktoberfests. The Theresienwiese fairground at the center of Munich is gigantic and we had just penetrated the first street.

After walking about a quarter mile we came upon the main attraction. Spread out before us was a wide avenue packed with humanity, and on either side stood the famous beer tents, marching into the distance.

They are huge enclosures. It is hard to believe that they are really just temporary buildings. And there are so many of them! Interestingly, only beers brewed in Munich are allowed at Oktoberfest, but that turned out to be quite a selection. We walked past the Augustiner tent, Lowenbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, and Spatenbrau, but we only had a few hours and I was looking for the Hofbrau tent.

When we finally battled our way through the crowds and got to the entrance of the tent we could already hear the low roar of the patrons inside. It was barely after noon but the place was packed.

Stepping inside we were met with a sea of at least 5,000 revelers and almost all of them were chanting and clapping. We couldn't understand what they were chanting, but it was obvious by almost everyone's attention on a central stage that they were trying to encourage the band to start playing.

With that many people shouting and clapping at the same time the air itself was pulsating. It felt like a heartbeat. The wife turned to me and yelled, "I'm scared."

I gave her a big, stupid grin and yelled back, "I'm home!"

Grabbing her by the hand I began leading her through the swarm of lederhosen and dirndls looking for a seat. There were rows upon rows of picnic type tables and benches, but every single one seemed to be packed. I was starting to get nervous that we wouldn't be able to find a seat at all when we finally found a half empty table all the way in one corner of the tent.

As it turned out we got pretty lucky, because we were in the corner where all of the waitresses were hustling in and out to fill up liter mugs from the giant kegs of Oktoberfest Pils that were hidden away in a back area somewhere.

I was able to grab the attention of one harassed but still amiable young lady almost immediately as she hurried past us and ordered the wife and I a couple of mugs.

It was an odd thing, to sit there in that thronging mass of humanity, knowing we were foreigners but still feeling like we were part of a community. When we got our glasses the wife and I toasted each other 'Prost', and maybe it was the emotional impact of being part of that 200-year-old tradition, but I have to admit that golden nectar tasted better than a lot of beers I have drunk back home.

Believe it or not, the wife's parents came with us into the Hofbrau tent. They are not big drinkers, and they hate crowds, but I don't think they wanted to miss the experience.

They didn't want to order beers of their own (each mug is about 30 fluid ounces after all), but they had a few sips of ours and took a few pictures, so at least they got to say they were there.

It was unfortunate that the entire tour as a group was going to be leaving Munich at the end of the afternoon, because it really limited our time in the Hofbrau tent to a couple beers. And it was alarming how fast the time disappeared, but it seemed like providence was smiling on me, because not only did the band start playing, but in that short amount of time they not only played 'Ein Prosit', twice, but they also played the 'Hofbrauhaus Lied' which I had spent months learning the lyrics to. So I was able to fulfill that little fantasy by singing along with the 5,000 other drunks in the very Hofbrauhaus festzelt at Munchen Oktoberfest.

Our Oktoberfest adventure didn't quite end there, but I'll fill you in on the rest of the details later.

Laugh it up,


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