Sometimes a man needs to hop on a plane to attend a party with over 6 million people. Science and psychology tell us this is the best way to spend our discretionary funds, but I’d do it even if they didn’t. The idea for last week’s trip was actually hatched more than a decade ago, when I was deployed to Iraq in austere and dangerous conditions for the summer of 2003.
My constant companion and “battle buddy” during my first overseas deployment was Shane. Sometimes when we were in our tent late at night or in a bunker waiting on the mortars to stop flying, we’d talk about what we wanted to do after the war, and since neither of us was interested in going into the shrimpin’ business, we decided to talk instead about how to spend the next “big” birthday we had coming up: 40 for him and 30 for me. We decided we’d go to Pamplona when he turned 40 (since his birthday is in July, when the San Fermin festival takes place), and since my ancestry on my father’s side is German, I wanted to go to Oktoberfest in Munich. Unfortunately, Shane was not able to go to Spain on his 40th birthday, and I had no money to travel internationally on my 30th. However, a few years later, when a colleague turned 40, I went with him to run with the bulls of Pamplona, and I decided when I had my turn, I’d make the trek to Oktoberfest. Since I’m not particularly patient, we went the year after our Spain trip, even though it was 2 years before my birthday. However, I decided earlier this year that I wanted to go back during the year of my 40th birthday, because it was that awesome. And so, I went.
One of the guys from the trip two years ago went with me again–Mike. Once there, we met several other Atlanta attorney friends (and a couple of Dallas attorney friends) and, during what was perhaps the highlight of the week, spent a day with my distant cousin (I think he’s a 4th cousin, as his great great grandfather was my great great grandfather’s brother. Incidentally my great great granddad left Germany for America after killing a man in a duel over a woman; he was a fugitive); his name is Andreas. We’d last seen each other in person during a family reunion in 1990, when he was in 3rd grade, and I was in 9th.
We arrived Monday morning, checked into the Courtyard, and went to the Deutsches Museum to explore what may be the coolest museum I’ve ever visited (and I’ve been to a lot of museums–all of the Smithsonians in DC, plus all the famous ones in New York, Chicago, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, etc.). The mining exhibit was so good that we thought the site of the museum was an actual mine (maybe it was…I never checked to be certain).
After that, we had some lunch and met our friend Chad, who’d just arrived from a weekend in Amsterdam, and then walked into the Wiesn (the area where the beer tents are) to see if we could get into one somehow.
We got a table upstairs in the Schottenhamel tent, where the festival begins each year (and it’s the largest of the tents, with seating for 10,000). We met folks from Greece, Sweden, and Austria, made lots of new friends, and stayed until the celebrations closed down.
The next day (Tuesday), we went to the Hofbrau tent at noon as part of a tour we’d purchased. Our friends Bryan and Cheryl joined us from Dallas (by way of Prague), introduced us to their friends Jim and Ruth, and our Atlanta friends, Ashley and Dominic, came. There was some chicken and lots of enormous glasses of beer.
Then, that tent closed for the afternoon session, and we went into the Lowenbrau tent for the evening session, where I found a group at a table right next to the band and was able to get in their good enough graces to join them. We closed that tent down.
On Wednesday , we went to the BMW Museum. Since all 5 of us have (or have had) BMWs, we were all excited to see the historic cars and concept cars they had on display. It did not disappoint. There was a temporary exhibit dedicated to Mini Coopers, too, that was fun to see.
Then, we went to the Nymphenburg Palace and learned about Bavarian monarchs, including how King Ludwig I commissioned a “collection of the most beautiful” series of 36 paintings of area young women he found attractive.
That evening, we reconvened with the Dallas lawyers (who’d gone to Salzburg for the day) for dinner at Zum Alten Markt, a tucked away authentic German restaurant where we’d made reservations. After a great meal, we walked to the original Hofbrauhaus for beers. On the way back to the hotel, I recorded some buskers covering “One” and snapped a picture of City Hall.
The next morning, Mike and I shopped for our families in the Marienplatz area and stopped in the St Michael’s church (and crypt) before meeting my cousin Andreas and his girlfriend, Steffi, about 11am.
I was a little worried about recognizing him, given our decision to meet in front of City Hall (which was crowded), since I’ve only seen him on Facebook or Skype for the past several years, but we recognized each other, and they were willing to shop with us for another hour or so as we picked out kids’ gifts. Then, Andreas treated us to an excellent lunch at Weisses Brauhaus before we broke up for a bit to put on our trachten and meet my blogging friend Martin at the Kafer Wies’n-Schanke tent at 3:30pm.
The tent was unlike any I’d ever seen–it was smaller and much nicer inside than the others, as it looked more like an upscale Caribou Coffee than a beer tent. It’s known for being the choice tent for celebrities and for its great culinary options in addition to its beer. We already had a huge spread of food when we sat down.
Can you see the resemblance in Andreas and me?
After the Kafer tent’s daytime session ended, we went to the Hacker Festzelt – Bavarian Heaven tent for its evening session. Eventually, we ended up at a pizza bar.
I loved hearing about my family history and its extension in Germany. Any concerns I had about not having anything to talk about with someone whom I’d committed to spend an entire day and evening with were quickly gone, and we had an outstanding time. In fact, when over half of our group (including his girlfriend) retired for the night, Andreas stayed out late with Mike, Martin, Chad, and me until midnight or so, when I was too exhausted from the week’s activities to continue. Who would have thought a blogger/advertising executive from Munich, a CPA from west of Berlin who shares my surname, and a couple Atlanta trial lawyers would enjoy each other’s company for several hours? I loved the privilege of being the spoke in that wheel.
The next morning (Friday), Mike and I flew back to Atlanta, and one of the best trips I have ever taken concluded. I hope it’s not too long before I can return, but this time bring my bride and children, as I cannot recommend Oktoberfest in Munich highly enough.