Hello again my lovelies!
Today is one of those great days where you feel so content. After a prodigiously bad summer Hamburg has come through with a gloriously beautiful autumn. Today was sunny and at least 25 degrees (celcius, duh), and the good weather is supposed to continue during the long weekend. Monday is a holiday - something like the "Celebration of German Unity" - so we finally are having a long weekend. To further sweeten the deal this afternoon is super quiet at work, so I figured rather than kill time on facebook I'd kill time catching up on my blogging: lucky you!
As you'll likely be aware, last weekend I went to Munich (known within Germany as "München") to experience Oktoberfest in true Bavarian style. Things kicked off bright and early Saturday morning when I headed off to the train station to begin my six hour long ride. The train was clean, fairly new, and comfortable. My only real complaint regards how it is labeled. The trouble is that each compartment is covered in numbers, and to the uninitiated it can be next to impossible to figure out what number refers to what (class versus compartment versus wagon versus seat). On the line I was traveling with the train's designers had decided that the most important number to display was the "class" number, which appeared not only on the side of each compartment but also on the doors, where it could be very easily confused with the actual wagon number. These were the hardest to figure out, partly because it would seem that there were two wagons per number and this number was not prominently displayed. So, there were two "3" wagons, two "2" wagons, etcetera. After significant bumbling around with my suitcase looking for the right seat I finally found it and got settled it. I was extremely pleased to find an electrical outlet by each seat, so for much of the trip I entertained myself with movies. The countryside in Germany is exceptionally beautiful, and luckily it was also a sunny day so this were looking especially picturesque. The towns are all very similar: nestled in valleys or on hillsides, each is dominated by a large centrally-located church and surrounded by little white houses with red tile roofs. From the train you could admire all the winding country roads, the meandering rivers and the sprawling farmland bordered by neat tree-lined lanes.
Most of the ride was quiet, though I noticed a neighbouring rider catch my eye several times. Shortly after the seat beside me was vacated (we stopped many times over the course of the trip) he approached and asked whether a water bottle under the seat was mine. I told him no, and then he started asking about my accent and where I was from. I answered politely, and I suppose that was enough for him because he promptly collected his bag and sat down beside me, which I found highly amusing. I don't recall his name, but I do remember he was almost seven feet tall (I'm serious! I asked and he said he was 6'9").
When we arrived in Munich I met up with my hosts and we parted ways. I was staying with an old school friend of my aunt's who I had met in Hamburg earlier that week. Her husband and son came to gather my luggage and then the son and I headed off to meet his friends at Oktoberfest.
I'll confess things got off to an unsteady start. My host's son was quite young (17) and I wasn't sure how mature he or his friends would be. When we got to the fest we didn't have reservations at a table and so that meant a lot of waiting in lines. Not everyone was comfortable speaking English, and I figured it would be a little too patronizing to ask everyone how they were enjoying highschool and what kind of extracurriculars they engaged in. Furthermore, I was shocked by the rampant and overt drug use that seemed to be occuring everywhere. Call me a naive country girl but I wasn't expecting that. I was, however, determined to enjoy myself so I decided to turn a blind eye to everything I didn't like and just enjoy it for what it was.
And it's a good thing I did! Once we overcame initial language shyness my host and his friends turned out to be a friendly enough group who were easy to get along with. While waiting for ticket business to get sorted we realized that I had become something of a stranger-magnet. Maybe it was because I was still in casual clothes (everyone else was wearing a drindl or leiderhosen), or maybe it was my natural Canadian friendliness, but I made lots of friends. First, it was a couple of mid-thirties Italian guys who were taking care of their too-drunk friend nearby. One of them just sort of strolled over and started chatting me up (too bad he wasn't my type). We chatted for a few minutes before I found an excuse to leave. Shortly afterward I was approached by an American wearing some kind of sports jersey. He happened to speak fluent German, and was so drunk he kept forgetting that I don't. So, he would start a sentence in English and halfway through switch to German, at which point I would have to say "Ich spreche nicht Deutsches! Ich bin Kanadierin!" Which is pretty much the only German I can speak.
Anyway, eventually he stumbled off and after what seemed like hours we made it on to the patio of the Fischer tent. As we entered I was hailed by a group I can only assume were Eastern European (you come to recognize regions after long enough in Europe), and one member pointed to his friend going "Eh? Eh? Ja!" His friend was gangly and supremely goofy looking so I just smiled, shook my head and moved on. Once inside things were a lot of fun. The benches were crammed with people and everyone was friendly and talkative, which is an environment in which I thrive. The servers moved around with up to 4 or 5 litres of beer in each hand, just as you might imagine. After a short time I wound up making friends with the gentleman seated behind me, who owned a gym in Munich. Our table was also joined by a group of Poles, though I didn't get a chance to speak to them much.
Just as a matter of interest I may as well tell you that the beer served at Oktoberfest is ONLY served by the litre. Additionally, it has a higher alcohol content then you will find anywhere else, and so is especially deadly. For this reason the tents close at 11:30 each night, though even before we had gotten in we saw at least three First Aid crews rushing off to deal with what could only be alcohol poisoning cases.
So, when 11:30 rolled around we stumbled our way home for a much-needed rest.
The next morning I was up surprisingly early and changed into the borrowed drindl I would wear that day. It was a little loose but would get the job done. Drindls are supposed to be worn very tightly, and the place you tie your apron bow communicates a message. If you tie it at your left hip then it means you are single; if you tie it at your right hip then it means you are married; if you tie it at the back then (apparently) it means you are widowed, though apparently no one does this. There is a huge variety of styles when it comes to drindls and liederhosen, which I found very exciting and fascinating. the white undershirts can have long, short, or capped sleeves, often with lace or ribbon, sometimes puffed and gathered and sometimes tapered. I was surprised to learn that the undershirts only extend to the bottom of your bust, which I gather is to avoid bunching beneath the very tight drindls and also to avoid excessive heat. The collar selection is very broad, with the more traditional styles featuring an almost Elizabethan-style ruffle with a low-cut neck, and more modern styles that can button all the way to the neck but that are worn open. Those are just two examples, and there are many many more. The overskirts also come in many styles. Some dip below to hit underneath the bust while others rise higher to hide most of the undershirt. I wished I could've gotten more pictures because there were really so many beautiful dresses. The liederhosen were just as elaborate. The trousers were made of a soft embroidered suede, that could be worn with or without the suspenders. The undershirts were just as varried as those worn with the drindls, and sometimes then men wore beautiful wool jackets as well. These had such an interesting cut to them I would have murdered to get my hands on one, but unfortunately the opportunity never arose. Quite a few of the men wore stockings or wooly socks as well, and I even saw two men sporting clogs as well.
Shortly before noon my host-family and I headed off once more to Oktoberfest, where this time we had tickets to the Ochs tent (ox tent). When I say tent, however, you must imagine huuuuuge halls with white canvas ceilings, swathed with blue and white (the Bavarian colours) strips of silk like something out of a Medieval tournament. Anyway, we settled ourselves at our table and then got to the serious business of eating and drinking. If you've never tasted German food I feel the need to warn you it is overwhelmingly salty. Whether in the North or the South they salt EVERYTHING, and enthusiastically so. The servers were a truly impressive sight as they would carry table-sized trays with a dozen different meals stacked on them - often with large entrees such as an entire chicken! There was a big bandstand in the middle of the tent, and the band would play all kinds of music regularly punctuated by drinking songs. The absolute favourite went something like this:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit,
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Then everyone would go "eins, swei, drei, suva!" and take a drink. I'm not sure about the spelling of that last word, as the Germans pronounce "w" as "v", "v" as "f", "s" as "z", and other such nonsense. It sounded like "zufa" so who the hell knows how it's spelled. Also, in case you're curious the German word for "cheers" is "prost".
Anyway, the families stuck around for a few hours, but around five in the afternoon the parents and children headed off and once again I was entertained by the 17 year olds. While on Saturday night we had meet up with some of my host's acquaintances on Sunday night two of his better friends came by, both of whom were friendly and easy to get along with. We moved from our table on the balcony down to the thick of the action near the bandstand. Here we joined a random Polish family and continued the serious business of drinking.
It was SO. MUCH. FUN. Oktoberfest is everything you imagine it to be. It is over a thousand people crammed into one tent all set on having fun. Everyone is in a great mood, everyone sings and dances and it doesn't matter where you're from or whether you speak a different language. As the afternoon wears on people climb up on top of the benches and the singing continues. Strangers become friends and you simply soak up the festive atmosphere.
The Poles we were seated with were a pretty hilarious bunch. The father was in a grand mood because he had just won a thousand euro on a football (soccer) bet, and he was there with his brother (?) and his daughters. None of them spoke much English but through a mish-mash of French, German, and English we somehow were able to communicate. Behind us sat a group of Italians, one of whom was impertinent enough to try and lift my skirt while I was standing on the bench. As it so happened it was was the Munich folk call "Italian weekend". "Italian weekend" is a particular weekend of Oktoberfest which the Italians have a kind of unspoken agreement that it is the weekend they will all attend. As it was explained to me, "they have to do everything together." True to their reputations they are a grabby bunch, which is made worse by crowds. When you're walking around to have to be mindful to guard your chest or else they will take absolutely any opportunity to grope you.
Anyway, we stayed in the tent until closing, at which point we agreed it was time to enjoy the fair. What I hadn't realized before coming to Munich was that Oktoberest isn't just the beer tents: it's also a big fun fair, with merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels, rollercoasters, etcetera. During the day families and children the rides, but in the evening people leave the tents and enjoy the rides. Contrary to what I expected, which was that going on a ride while drunk was a recipe for vomiting, in actual fact drinking just makes you bold enough to try the rides you would never attempt sober. The end was result was that I had a huge amount of fun.
The next day I was up again early as I was dying to find a drindl of my own before leaving and I wanted to see just a bit of Munich before leaving. I went down to Marienplatz, which is the central square of the Altstadt, and was able to complete my drindl mission quite quickly. I wound up getting a very traditional one. It hits just below the knee and comes up under the bust. The dress is navy blue and white, with plaid on the skirt and a floral pattern on the bodice with a subtle plaid ruffle. The bodice laces up corset-style in the front, and the apron is green and white in the same floral pattern as the bodice. The white undershirt is a traditional style with puffed sleeves coming just above the elbow and a low ruffled neckline. I am totally in love.
After finding my drindl I explored the exterior of the Neues Rathaus (I understand Munich has two Rathaus), a giant piece of Gothic architecture. I got to see its giant dancing clock chime the hours, and then moved on to see the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), the final resting place of King Ludwig II. Both of these (the church especially) were completely awe-inspiring and I wish I had planned a longer stay in the south - there was so much to see! I should also add that all weekend the weather was beautiful - 26 degrees and not a cloud in sight. Munich is so different from the North, both in culture and in appearance. During Oktoberfest the city swells from its usual 1.2 million to close to 7 million inhabitants, which may have been a little deceptive culturally speaking. However, southern Germans have a very particular look about them. Many of them have deep brown tans and a sandy blondish hair that is a far cry from the fair-skinned residents of the North. It wasn't easy coming back, I'll say that! But come back I did, after an unforgettable weekend.
This week at work has been fairly quiet, with most of my attention being alotted to my travels rather than any particular project. With only a few weeks left in my stay here my schedule is filling up fast. This weekend I intend to absorb the last major sights of Hamburg (and hopefully get some rest). Next weekend I'll be off visiting family in Lyon (to the South-East of central France), which will be followed by a very brief stay in Paris. I'm hoping to visit the Musée du Louvre, and could hardly be more excited. The weekend after that I will likely be headed off to visit Berlin, and the weekend following will be my trip to Dublin. The next Monday (Halloween) will mark my return to Canada, though I may be making a detour to Toronto to investigate a career opportunity.
Speaking of work, today is my last day with the crew in Design. On Tuesday I will be making my last (maybe) department change and moving to spend two weeks with the Online team. I am a little nervous as I don't have much experience in this field, but it's an important part of this business and I'm glad I'll be getting to sample what goes on: the more I know the better.
I'll do my best to update (probably during the week after my weekend advertures) but it's going to be insanely busy so I'll make no promises.
With any luck the next time I write it'll be to say that I've met a prince in Paris and am engaged. A girl can always dream.