One of the main entrances to Munich's famous Oktoberfest.  This picture gives an impression of the crowds that come to the festival, even on a cold, rainy Saturday.

Oktoberfest in the Rain

The rides at Oktoberfest, seen as we entered the park from the subway. Oktoberfest crowds in the rain outside a beer/show "tent". Revelers at Oktoberfest.  I have no proof, but these guys look like American college students to me.  I base the conclusion on the cheap souvenir hats, the general manner of dress, and the way they are smoking cigars as if it's not an accustomed thing. Another traditional Bavarian outfit at Oktoberfest.  This sweater is a look that Pat really likes; I may still wind up with one myself. Xandie, our house elf and budding beer waitress, shows the proper technique for carrying liter-sized mugs. A schnitzel stand at Oktoberfest.  The sign translates as "Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite schnitzel from Graz" (Graz is Arnold's home town in Austria).  Since Schwarzenegger had been governor of California for less than a year, we felt obligated to send this picture to Steve Harvey of the LA Times, who printed it the next day.
Xandie takes a ride in a Flintstones car at Oktoberfest. Rain never interferes with celebrations in Germany.  Here, revelers sit in an Oktoberfest Biergarten, umbrellas up, drinking away. Waiters with squeegees and towels would appear to dry off benches as needed. A traditional Bavarian outfit at Oktoberfest.  Lots of people take advantage of the festival to wear traditional clothes. A not-so-traditional Bavarian dress at Oktoberfest.  Women, especially, seem to like to apply a modern twist to the traditional clothes. Geoff tries on a proper Oktoberfest beer hat (scanned from a photo by Pat).

When one thinks of Germany, the first thing that comes to mind is beer. So we naturally just had to visit Oktoberfest this year. Dave Barry would never have forgiven us.

I'd been to Oktofest twice before, so I knew exactly what to expect: huge crowds, beer mugs the size of your head, and singing that makes you plug your ears. What could be more fun? They also offer plenty of carnival rides for Xandie's benefit. Since the hotels had been booked up 27 years in advance, we just did a day trip. It's nice living in a small country.

I only made two teeny little mistakes:

  1. We went on a weekend. When I went years ago, it was a weekday. Guess when the really big crowds show up?
  2. I picked a cold, rainy Saturday.

As soon as we got to Munich, mistake #1 hit us in the face. We had brought lots of stuff to keep us entertained on the train, knowing that we could stash it in a locker for the day. The Munich train station probably has a thousand coin-operated lockers—all of which were taken. It was like a mall parking lot at Christmas: baggage-laden newcomers would prowl the aisles, looking for somebody who might be about to empty a locker. When they spotted a victim, they would quickly stuff a Bavarian pretzel in his mouth to keep him quiet, form a protective phalanx around the locker, and stuff it full of luggage and beer. (I never figured out why anybody would bring beer to Munich. Like they don't have enough?)

We gave up and decided to carry our 50-pound backpacks all day. After a short ride on a jam-packed subway, we emerged directly on the Oktoberfest grounds. That brings us to mistake #2.

When you're going to a big outdoor event, rain is obviously an impediment. But at Oktoberfest it's not a problem because you can go into the so-called beer tents (which are actually permanent structures big enough to enclose Rhode Island). Kids are allowed, they serve overpriced food, and you get to learn traditional German drinking songs with complicated lyrics. (The favorite with American college students, who seem to make up 40 percent of the crowd and 75 percent of the overindulgers, goes like this: Olé, olé, olé, olé and so forth.)

The trouble was, everybody else had the same brilliant idea. Normally, overcrowding closes the beer halls at 8 or 9 PM. After that, only savvy locals can get in. But on this day, the doors shut at about 11 AM.

We got there at noon.

After going on a few carnival rides (carefully choosing the covered ones), we'd had enough rain. I'd been taught the savvy-local trick on a previous visit, so we headed to the outdoor restrooms at the side of a beer hall. The idea is that you blend in with the returnees (looking drunk helps) and slide right past the security guard.

Unfortunately, they've caught onto that trick since I last was there. I don't advise arguing with Oktoberfest guards. They have contests to see who can throw customers the farthest. I found out the true meaning of the word bouncer.

So we tried the frontal approach: get in line and wait. I'm convinced that the line was moving faster than the Pacific Tectonic Plate, but only barely. After 45 minutes, we gave up and went on another ride. Giving up became a theme of the day.

We noticed a small area with outdoor tables. The Germans are masters (oops, excuse me, Meisters) at ignoring hardship. A waiter with a squeegee wiped the benches off just enough so that our noses would be above the water level. We sat there, umbrellas up, holding cold liters of beer in frozen hands, pretending to have fun.

When the rain picked up yet again, we gave up and went shopping for souvenirs. I found an official Bavarian Oktoberfest Squeegee for only €39.95. Then we caught the subway back to the train station, surrounded by people singing Olé, olé, olé, olé.

As the train to Karlsruhe pulled out of the station, the rain stopped.