Ah Germany! The, up until now, world’s focal point of beer. (Currently the focal point of beer is Los Angeles.) I recently had a short stay in Germany with two goals: 1) Go to Oktoberfest and 2) Go to the historical rauchbier city, Bamberg. I accomplished both of these goals and lived to tell about it. Our beer exploits in Paris were not the most stellar, so I was excited to visit a country that has every fiber of its culture wrapped in and around beer. I chose Bamberg as a home base, as finding lodging in Munich during Oktoberfest is impossible and expensive. The other reason I chose Bamberg relates to the city and its history. Bamberg is incredibly old and is one of the only cities in Germany that did not suffer structural damage from WWI or WWII. All the buildings in Bamberg are originals and not reconstructed, not that there is anything wrong with reconstructing historical landmarks. Bamberg is also famous for its breweries, two of which serve a very famous style of beer called rauchbier, which uses malt smoked over beech wood to give it an extraordinarily smokey flavor. Before we go too far into Bamberg, let’s talk about Munchen.
We did not spend any serious time in Munich as our primary goal was the beer festival, Oktoberfest. We hopped on a train in the morning connecting directly from Bamberg to Munich. Oktoberfest’s festival grounds were a brisk 10 minute walk away from the main train station, so it was easy finding the place. If you felt like you were losing your way, you could quickly find it again by following the hoard of Lederhosen and Dirndl. For those of you who do not believe that German people where these outfits, I’m sorry to say you are wrong. During Oktobefest everyone wears Lederhosen and Dirndl, and I do mean everyone. Katie and I felt out of place in the sea of youngsters, college kids, adults, and older people who donned the festival garb, lodenhuts, and gams-barts.
The festival is free to the public, and admission to each tent is also free, however in order to buy food and/or beer you must be sitting, and therein lies the difficulty. As the day goes on, the tents get packed. People reserve tables, save seats, and stake their claim on the best place to get inebriated. We sat down at a table with some Londoners and Swedes, which was located directly next to a table of very rowdy Italians. As I learned when I got back, there is a special Italian police force for Oktoberfest employed to control their people (who knows if that is accurate, but it’s funny to believe it’s true). You order the house beer in liters. Beer comes to you in a giant glass stein and at a hefty €10+ each. Food is also expensive, but is comparable to any fair, carnival, or event food price in the USA. Think of how expensive your crappy Coors is at the baseball game.
Each tent has a specialty. The first tent we visited, the Armbrust Schutzen FestHalle, is known as the Crossbowmen’s tent. Antlers and taxidermy line the walls, and Paulner flows from casks to thirsty customers. Our second visit was to the local favorite, Augustinerbrau Festhalle, which was actually where we wanted to go first, but because both start with an “A” and have a “Festhalle” in the title, you can see how we were confused. Augustiner is the official beer of Munich, but isn’t a remarkable beer in my opinion. It may adhere to the Reinheitsgebot, but it tasted like a Budweiser. It’s hard to go from something as tasty as Paulaner Marzen to this ultra filtered Pilsner. Still, like Budweizer in America, this is the favorite of the masses. The Augustinerbrau tent is beautiful. Greenery, lights, pretzels, and tons of people. The music was lively, and the crowd was ridiculous. My favorite thing over drinking beer was watching the servers carrying as many liters as possible. It’s a sight to behold. After we were good and liquored up (3 liters will do that to you), we headed out to enjoy and inevitably, not remember, the rest of the fair grounds. Typically people stake out a place in a tent and stay their until close. I have no clue how people are able to drink more than 3 liters of beer, but many Germans, like these guys, managed some how.
Katie and I went on a haunted house ride “Geister,” which was, just like the ones at the carnivals back home, an exciting let-down that you were glad you went on. Honestly, Oktoberfest is an adult Disneyland, with massive amounts of alcohol involved. Because of that fact alone, it’s difficult to experience everything that it has to offer in one visit. We wanted to go to every tent, but managed to only go to two. Each tent has its own beer and food offerings, some of them similar. In addition to the large tent there are also small tents that focus on specific fare such as Pork Knuckles. A pork knuckle, for those of you unfamiliar, is the equivalent of one of those giant turkey legs you get at the fair. A sodium fortified meat mountain. While I didn’t experience it at Oktoberfest, I did have one in Bamberg. In the next post we’ll talk out the historical city of Bamberg and learn about some of the cool breweries it has to offer.