Tuesday, October 7, 2008


For the final activity at orientation, the Buddy Program at the university took a group of 200 students to Oktoberfest in Munich. It was only one day, but the trip basically consisted of three very distinct parts--the train ride to Munich, the Oktoberfest celebration, and the train ride back to Vienna. It was an exhausting trip, but all in all, Oktoberfest is something that everyone should go to at least once.

The train ride to Munich was basically a pre-Oktoberfest party (meaning no chance to sleep). We took the overnight train from Vienna and reached Munich at about 6AM. There were definitely some problems with the organization of the trip, but that's a story for another time. It can be a bit difficult to find things to do in Munich on a Sunday at 6AM, but after a short rest in the train station, we headed for the English Garden. The English Garden is one of the largest parks in the world, and I was surprised by the number of people that were out in the park at that time of day. Not all of the places were open on a Sunday morning, but there was still plenty to see in the park:
(I don't think anyone expected a lovely picture of a swan in an Oktoberfest post.) After the park, we toured around Munich for a few hours. We mainly walked around the Marienplatz square and saw all of the famous buildings around town. I won't even attempt to explain the history of these buildings--although I know that a large number of buildings were destroyed during World War II, and the government decided to rebuild Munich with its classic look as opposed to a few other German cities that opted to modernize. (My thanks to Wikipedia.)

After the tour around Munich, we finally ventured into the Oktoberfest area. I guess the closest comparison for the U.S. would be a giant state fair...if the men at the state fair wore leather capri pants...and they served beer by the liter. There were rides, carnival games, and plenty of food inside the grounds.

Each of the major Munich breweries has a tent inside the festival grounds. Our group had reserved a number of tables at the Hofbrauhaus tent. The atmosphere outside the tent is similar to what you'd find at a family barbecue or picnic. There are a lot of people at picnic tables eating the popular foods--the only difference is that there are barmaids that carry 10 glasses of beer to the table at a time.

The atmosphere inside the tents is completely different. There are traditional German bands and thousands of people singing and toasting inside. You see the occasional fight, but for the most part everyone is extremely happy to be there. This part is something you actually have to see to understand how enormous it is.

Naturally with the crowd that's inside, outside of the tents there's a hill where the attendees can take their friends who've passed out. I think the picture is pretty self-explanatory:

So after you've been to all of the different tents and avoided upsetting the leather capri-wearing Bavarians, it's time to try the food. Basically the food here is cooked whole and on a spit. I opted to try the hendl, which is a small whole chicken...and an oxen sandwich on the side. I guess anything might taste good after a full day at Oktoberfest, but the food was some of the best that I've had since I've been in Europe.

So that leads me to the trip home...At 11 PM, we headed back to the train station to leave for Vienna. I'd been up for almost 2 days, so all I really wanted to do was to sleep for a few hours on the train. Unfortunately the Austrian rail system had completely lost our group's reservations. Now keep in mind this was a reservation for 200 people on the fully booked Sunday night train. After an hour of indecisiveness, they decided that they would just put everyone on the train and figure out the details later. Seats weren't an option, so they sent us to the luggage car. I managed to find a small place to squeeze halfway into the aisle, which was at least palatable until a few students decided they wanted to turn the train into a party train. A couple more hours of that, and then we were ushered off the train so that they could add 2 more cars. We waited for another hour, and then I managed to grab a very small seat for the final few hours. Definitely one of the worst rides I've ever taken. I finally got back home in Vienna at around 7AM and happily slept for the rest of the day.

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