This blog entry about the events of Friday, September 17, 2004 was originally posted on September 22, 2006.
DAY 23: “Happy Birthday, man,” I greeted Terence.
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” Jack said. “Happy Birthday.”
If there’s anyway to really celebrate a guy’s 32nd birthday, it’s at Oktoberfest, although it was actually debatable for months if Terence the Birthday Boy would even come; he was wishy-washy about spending the cash to travel all the way to Germany for only three days, but ultimately figured what the hell, it was more than just regular weekend trip and more than just a birthday. With me already planning on being at Oktoberfest and Jack wanting one last big hurrah in Europe before relocating back to the USA, it just made sense to go this year — and so he maxed out his credit card and got on plane. In the end, I think he had no regrets and came to believe in one law that I do:
Every man must make the pilgrimage to Oktoberfest at least once in his lifetime, the way a Muslim must make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
“MAN, I’M WASTED,” Jack said that morning as we got ready for yet another full day of beer-drinking festivities, although we would pace ourselves this time around, so as to enjoy the moments and not wonder exactly what we did afterwards. Hans-Georg picked us up at the hotel around 9:30 and by ten we were already out the door. The reason being that just around the corner from us was the roped-off parade route for the grand Bavarian parade that happens on the Sunday morning of the first weekend of Oktoberfest.
As we walked amidst the flag-waving crowds on the sidewalk, I noticed that almost everyone, perhaps one out of every three people was staring at me, or rather, glancing at me and then doing a double take.
“I think they like your style,” Hans-Georg told me. “Your t-shirt.”
True, I was wearing the screened-on lederhosen novelty t-shirt I bought at the festival the night before to add to my collection of kitschy t-shirts (not to be outdone by the tuxedo t-shirt I had at home). I expected to see a lot more people wearing the same thing, but it turned out I was the only one, and it caused quite a stir amongst all other guys wearing authentic lederhosen.
The parade finally made its way towards our area, and once it did it was pretty much non-stop for hours. Decorated horses pulled dozens of floats of people dressed in Bavarian garb, all waving to the masses. Numerous marching bands went by, playing their drums, xylophones, horns, and wind instruments with extreme musical precision. Wheeled vehicles zipped by: proudly-Bavarian shiny BMWs, old-fashioned big wheeled bicycles, small cars, even smaller buses, and Mini Cooper cop cars. Paraders were decked out in different kinds of traditional garb — even the little kids and the babies in the wagons — in bright shades of blue, green, red, and yellow, still pointing and giggling at my outfit. “Nice shirt!” one called out to me. Ladies in dirndls smiled and waved at me.
“Man, this is the best twenty-four euros I’ve spent,” I told Hans-Georg.
Amidst all the marching and waving, some paraders were sure to take a break for a quick swig of beer from one of their parading first aid rescue beermaids.
“I can’t believe they have all this, dedicated to beer,” I said. “It’s everybody’s birthday!”
The parade wasn’t all hand-wavers and brass bands; there were also troupes of colorful flag twirlers and acrobats flamboyantly prancing down the street. “Schwul,” Terence said, practicing a new word in his German vocabulary. An old German woman next to us started chuckling; Hans-Georg had regrettably taught Terence that word the day before: schwul = gay.
Soon groups representing different activities of traditional Bavarian life marched through like guys mounted on horses cracking whips and guys yodeling like the way Goofy yells — but the most impressive was the troop of hunters, some carrying spear-tipped bow staffs and crossbows (picture above). They were led in by the younger generation, carrying their latest kills on a stick. “Oh man, they got falcons!” Terence exclaimed. A team of falcon men strolled by, each with a real falcon perched upon his gauntlet.
“Hey guys, we gotta get spears and crossbows so we can get chicks,” Terence joked as we strayed away from the never-ending parade. “Chicks dig medieval weapons.”
From that point on for the rest of our trip, an inside joke evolved where everything was put on a point system and thought of in two ways: leaning towards being schwul (not that there’s anything wrong with it), or being “crossbow,” or very manly. Manlier than “crossbow” was “falcon.”
“Okay, ten crossbow points equals one falcon point,” I said, making up stupid rules as we went along.
OUR INSIDE MAN Hans-Georg took us not to the Theresewiesen right away, but on a sightseeing tour away from the city center. Jack was fine with it because: A) he, nor his brother Paul had seen anything outside the regularly visited places; and B) he was still pretty hungover. Terence and I had already seen most of Munich and its environs on a trip we did when we were at the naive ages of sixteen, when a younger Hans-Georg led us around in 1991 (ironically during another time the American Army was fighting in the Middle East). Anyway, it was refreshing not to be in the regular Disney World of beer for a change and besides, Hans-Georg was taking us to places with biergartens where beer was served outside of Oktoberfest.
“It’s not so nice,” Hans-Georg said, comparing regular city life to the beerfest. “But that’s life.”
Taking advantage of the German honor system of having a bus/train ticket (when they hardly check), we took a bus ride through the city to the university section of town — where guys in flashy cars supposedly cruised around on the nights of regular weekends — near one of Munich’s more modern, but impressive landmarks, the larger-than-life Walking Man outside the Munich Re office building. We walked from there to the Englisch Garten, Europe’s largest public park according to one source. In 1991 Terence and I were there and found a nudist colony in one area near a small flowing river — a much slimmer Terence bared all that time while I went swimming — but this time, we didn’t see any nudists, only the same flowing river.
“Maybe this is where you were when you at the beach,” Jack told me.
Our raison d’être this time around was not for German nude “beaches,” but for something a little more Chinese: the Chinesischer Turm, a towering “Chinese Tower” in the middle of the English Garden in German Bavaria. Inside one of its tiers was a German brass band playing traditional beer drinking music to the big outdoor biergarten below, a place that Hans-Georg said was popular and packed in the summer months. This time of year, most people were drinking down at Oktoberfest, so it was pretty a chilled out place aside from the on-lookers staring and pointing at me and my shirt, whispering to each other in German, uttering the word “lederhosen” and smiling.
We had noon-time beers under the Chinese Tower to accompany the small steering wheel-sized pretzel and weisswurst ("white sausage” made of veal and pork) that Hans-Georg got for us, served with sweet mustard — collectively the traditional Bavarian breakfast (including the beer). “You couldn’t eat this everyday,” Hans-Georg said, which led to a discussion about the conspiracy theory that Dr. Atkins of eponymous diet fame actually died from a heart attack. Jack, still hungover, sat out on beers for this round and did the “schwul” thing of just drinking a Coke despite our stern advice that the only real cure for a hangover is to just drink more beer. However, that didn’t outdo the schwul thing that I did: try and eat the traditional Bavarian breakfast in the traditional Bavarian way — by sucking out the meat of the sausage from its casing.
“That’s schwul,” the others said.
“That’s it. We need to go to crossbow training camp now,” I said. I ate my second link with a knife and fork.
A FREE TROLLEY RIDE to the other side of town later, we arrived at another one of Munich’s famous landmarks, the 17th century Baroque Nymphenburg Palace, where I ignored its initial beauty to rush off to the bathroom for having “broke my seal” from the beer at breakfast. (It was still broken from the day before and additional beers weren’t helping.) Relieved, Hans led the four of us around the palace grounds (no pooping allowed), to another exit gate and eventually to his apartment in a quaint residential neighborhood where we saw one guy cruise around in a Ferrari. We had more beers and coffees at Chez Hans-Georg, a great, simple apartment mostly furnished by Ikea. Terence made fun of me for itemizing everything: “Hey Hans, this right here — is this from Ikea too?”
My retort: “You know they say four out of ten guys are schwul. And look, there are four guys right here.” All in good humor.
From there, we walked to the Hirschgarten, what Hans-Georg told us is Munich’s largest biergarten when it’s not Oktoberfest, seating 18,000 people. No barmaids here; the policy was to take a stein from the cabinet, wash it yourself and bring it to the bar to get it filled. After having done so, Jack was amazed that the beer was actually helping his hangover.
We sat with our beers and chat guy talk about crossbows and falcons, while on-lookers were still staring and pointing at my outfit. We established that together, the five of us were Team Crossbow, and our manly powers were our “Falcon Force.” I announced that I would attempt to earn lots of crossbow points later that night by drinking a beer, grabbing a roasted chicken and eating it like an apple with my bare hands, drinking more beer, and then riding a roller coaster all drunk. After leaving the biergarten, I did the crossbow thing of pissing in public, in the corner of a construction site.
BACK IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD of strip clubs, Paul felt inspired by my kitschy lederhosen t-shirt and bought the same one at the tourist shop in the train station. Terence got one shortly thereafter — both for fifteen euros each. “Thanks guys. Thanks for making me feel ripped off,” I joked. (I’d paid twenty-four on the festival grounds the night before.)
Jack was skeptical on buying a shirt he probably wouldn’t wear again, but was inspired by the rest of us — and our peer pressure — to buy one. He didn’t regret it when he saw a reflection of us walking in unison from a passing subway train window. “You know, it actually looks pretty cool,” he said.
“Everyone is staring at us,” Paul noticed. He finally knew what it felt like for me the entire day. “I think we’re the only ones that bought these shirts.”
And so, with the four of us in matching lederhosen t-shirts, and Hans-Georg in his real lederhosen sans suspenders, we officially formed Team Crossbow with our Falcon Force, and head back to the big leagues of Oktoberfest.
“Beerfest!” I exclaimed with my arms triumphantly in the air, as I’d been doing ever since we watched the movie on bootleg two days before.
Our playing field was the Spatenhaus tent, which was still crowded despite the crowds of people we saw leaving the Theresewiesen since it was after all Sunday, a school night. Making our way passed the beer fans and early table dancers, I managed to find us some seating a table where three girls were sitting alone — one German blonde, her visiting friend from Vienna, and a Munchner brunette so attractive that Jack deemed her Chick Of The Day. I approached her on behalf of the rest of us. “Uh, is anybody sitting here? Can we sit here?” Chick Of The Day discussed something in German to her two friends and then scootched over the bench for us to sit. Terence turned to me and looked me in the eye.
“Major, major crossbow points.”
It wasn’t so major when the guys the girls were with came back from the bathroom or something — although it was barely a buzzkill because they were a couple of fun lovin’, beer drinkin’ guys who immediately bonded with us over steins of beer and talks of crossbows and falcons, the most falconist thing being Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) from the international hit TV series, 24. “The next season, he’s going to China,” I told them.
“Yeah,” Jan, the guy in blue said. “Jack Bauer versus one billion Chinese people. It’s not a fair fight — for the Chinese!” He continued, “When Jack Bauer falls into the water, Jack Bauer doesn’t get wet, wet gets Jack Bauer!”
The other guy, Manuel, was a bigger riot, mostly due to the fact that he already had seven liters of Spaten Oktoberfest brew in him — his girlfriend had cut him off. In a drunken stupor, he’d put his arm around my shoulder to give me advice and words of drunken wisdom. “Repeat after me: Oktoberfest!”
“Oktoberfest!” I shouted.
“Oktoberfest!!” he reiterated.
“Oktoberfest!!” I repeated.
“OKTOBERFEST!!!!!!!!” I yelled with my arms in the air.
He continued his lesson by teaching me the ways of the locals, including how to yell that traditional Bavarian hunting call that sounds like Goofy’s signature scream. “[Here we don’t call it Oktoberfest,]” Manuel said. “‘Oktoberfest’ is what the foreigners call it. Here, we call it Wies’n.”
He was as happy as he was shit-faced. “You are my Wies’n padawan,” he told me. “I am the Wies’n...”
“You are the Wies’n Jedi… meister!”
“Yes! I was going to say ‘professional,’ but I am the Wies’n Jedi-meister!” he said. “And you are my Wies’n padawan.”
“WIES’N JEDI-MEISTER!!!!!!” I shouted, arms in the air. The girls laughed — and with his girlfriend distracted, Manuel ordered another stein of beer.
“I like you guys,” Manuel confided in me. “And I don’t mean that in a gay way.”
“Don’t worry, we’re not schwul.”
That was just the beginning of a long, incredibly fun second night of Oktoberfest. More and more people stood on their benches to dance as the night progressed — some, not surprisingly, falling down from DUI (Dancing Under the Influence). Our barmaid served up more beers and the roasted chicken I wanted — but I got schwul points for chickening out on my previous announcement of eating one like an apple; the chicken was way too hot for me to pick it up with my bare hands and I kept on flinching. No matter; the rest of the evening was a blast, full of table-dancing and singing along to the many favorite songs played by the German brass band (with a guest electric guitarist), tunes like: “Y.M.C.A.,” “Hey Baby (Ooh, Ah)” (from Dirty Dancing), “Volare,” “Smoke On The Water,” “What’s Goin’ On” (4 Non Blondes), “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Lola” (The Kinks), and everyone’s favorite, John Denver’s immortal “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Also, somehow every now and then a group of Italians would start an infectious chant of the baseline of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” There were also some German songs I didn’t really know, but I did come to remember the traditional Bavarian toast song, sung every so often with beer steins swaying in the air:
This was always followed by a four-count to drink: “Eins, zwei, drei… G’SUFFA!!!” Glasses would clink and then beer went down the hatch. This was only ameliorated by cheers of “Prost!” every now and then, not only between us but with our neighbors at surrounding tables:
“Hey, nice shirt!”
On the other end of the table, Paul and Jack were having a good time while Terence the Birthday Boy was having arguably the best birthday party of his life. The band even played a rendition of “Happy Birthday” — not necessarily for him, but we’d like to think so since Manuel had gone up to request it.
“I can’t believe you have all this, for your birthday,” I told Terence. “I can only hope to aspire to this when I become thirty-two.” Donning a kitschy hat he bought with a big-busty Barbie-like doll torso serving beer in front (only to be groped by drunken passers-by), Terence drank to his heart’s content, singing along, and dancing — by himself, with others and even the cute bathroom attendant girl.
The birthday party didn’t go on all night though; beerflow is stopped by 10:30 for closing time by 11 p.m. — a wise decision from an event planner’s point-of-view since it would start all over again at 9:30 in the morning anyway. We wandered the emptying tent with our bros and remaining brews, meeting more Germans along the way — two of which were German army guys that drove the four hours (one way) in their single day of leave for their obligatory pilgrimage to Oktoberfest. The two were sniper rifle pros, having scored huge Spongebob Squarepants dolls in no time at a shoot-the-target carnival game with their keen sniper skills. The Spongebob dolls undoubtedly caught the attention of girls who wanted to have them, but they wouldn’t come without a price.
“Suck my dick!” one of them called out to a girl, who offered nothing.
“Spongebob for blowjob,” I told him. He started laughing hysterically like it was the funniest thing he’d heard in his life.
“Hey you! Spongebob for blowjob!!! SPONGEBOB FOR BLOWJOB!!!”
The German army guys calmed down and went into quieter negotiations. One of the girls offered ten kisses instead of fellatio. “Okay, ten kisses for Spongebob,” Terence butt in and offered. She gave the Birthday Boy ten kisses, scoring him many crossbow points. Terence just laughed and ran off cackling. “Sorry, it’s not my Spongebob!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!” Falcon points.
To put the icing on the proverbial birthday cake, I took Terence with me to end the night on a high note: by riding the Olympia roller coaster, with five loops to represent the five rings of the Olympics. Riding drunk and not vomiting = major, major falcon points. Afterwards we wandered the festival for the rest of the evening, where everything was already in efficiency shutdown mode. The festhalles were cleared, food stands were closed, and the cleaning crew began a long, long night. After pissing in hidden corners (and in stalls in the women’s room), we wandered with other random people walking around. Around us, two drunken crossbow guys started brawling while two schwuls were making out. We made our way back to our hotel, taking more and more pictures with random people along the way, including one hot dirndl-wearing girl who was not German, but Australian — a surprise to me since, despite my early premonitions, I’d fortunately met nothing but Germans during my days at Wies’n.
“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” Terence chanted to impress her — but it didn’t work.
“[God, I hate that. Please don’t say that.]” she said. “It’s so embarrassing.” And there was the catharsis of my generalizations of Australian travelers since the beginning of this “Tomatoes, Grease & Beer” blog.
Back at the hotel, we parted ways with Hans-Georg, officially disbanding the five-fold Falcon Force of Team Crossbow. “Thanks for everything, Hans,” we said. “Danke danke.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”
ALL IN ALL, I have to say it was my best night ever at any worldly beer festival — I’d wisely cut myself off at “happy drunkeness” before crossing the downhill threshold. For Paul, it was a tremendous introduction to German culture, and for Jack it was a great send-off before making the long trek back to the American eastern seaboard. My cousin Hans-Georg would be back the following day, at a designated table his company had reserved in advance. And as for Terence, it was such a great birthday that we toyed with the idea that we’d have to do it every year for each passing age. “I can’t top this [back at home,]” he said.
Whether or not we’d return the following year was not yet determined, but I must say that while “Every man must make the pilgrimage to Oktoberfest at least once in his lifetime,” it’s a spectacle worthy enough to go many, many more times. And anyone who does gets major, major crossbow points in my book.
Next entry: Buzzkill
Previous entry: The (Drunken) Man Show
WHICH MEMBER OF TEAM CROSSBOW GETS CAUGHT WITH STOLEN PROPERTY AT THE
Find out in “Buzzkill,” the exciting conclusion to “Tomatoes, Grease &
Posted by Erik TGT
I bet it’s you =)
Uday and I definitely have to go to Oktoberfest!!
Posted by Anonymous on 09/22 at 02:45 PM
man that does sound like fun!!! perhaps i too will be close enough to
partake in oktoberfest next year! no news about switzerland yet. we’re
hoping we’ll find out next week
Posted by civil013
Terence just laughed and ran off cackling. “Sorry, it’s not my
Spongebob!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!” Falcon points.
Posted by markyt on 09/22 at 09:53 PM
Awesome entry! Yes, I said awesome. And none of these girls looked 15.
Nice work. Great birthday, indeed. Gotta get me one of those hats
Posted by Dan 3 on 09/23 at 09:44 AM
Fantastic entry....I sure had some good morning laughs reading this. Did
they take away your stolen beer steins at the airport? Hey you don’t
have to travel to Germany next year. Kitchener, Ontario has a huge
german population and has a mega huge Oktoberfest each year! I have been
numerous times and it’s very similar. You could drive to this one! With
your blog followers from Ontario it could be a great beerfest!
Posted by Anonymous on 09/23 at 10:11 AM
Love the t-shirts! Read this early in the morning I feel like I woke up
with a major hangover.........I can’t believe you didn’t vomit on the
roller coaster! Do you guys have cast-iron stomachs???
Posted by Janice on 09/23 at 12:14 PM
JANICE: It’s from the years of training.
Posted by Erik TGT
Why didn’t Hans-George get a shirt to match the rest of the team?
Posted by tallgirl
TALLGIRL: He’s German, with real lederhosen—the rest of us were just
a bunch of posers…
Posted by Erik TGT
not sure if my other comment posted. but erik, i’ll be in nyc the last
weekend of Oct… let me know if there’s a “place to be!”
Posted by civil013
The (Drunken) Man Show
THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY
Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year.