Thursday, October 7, 2010
Dortmans take over Oktoberfest!
Beer. That's mainly what this blog is going to be about; German beer and lots of it. But before we get to that, I better talk about Berlin, as that is where I first flew into. Berlin is a strange city and Berliners are even stranger. But I guess that's not such a surprise when you look at the history of the city. It has an alternative/artsy feel about it, everywhere you turn there is technicolour graffiti adorning the grey Soviet-style buildings or some sort of art installation. The first day I got there the sun was disarmingly shining (this tricked me into thinking the weather was always going to be like this...) so I went for a stroll down to the East Side Gallery, which is part of the old Berlin wall and has some of the best "graffiti" in the town, getting political, hippie and abstract all over the place. I also checked out Checkpoint Charlie, which had an exhibition on the history of the Berlin wall. A lot of it was news to me, considering I was 4 years old when the Berlin wall came down. You hear a lot about WWII when you're growing up, but not so much about the aftermath and what happened to Germany and the rest of Europe as a result of everything that went down. I learned even more about this history in the Topography of Terror, an exhibition about how Hitler came to power.
My last few days in Berlin were rainy and grey, and all the depressing history was kinda getting to me, so I caught a bus to rainy Prague instead and spent a few days kicking around this beautiful old city. I met a funny group of Aussie guys and a couple of girls, and we all decided to hit the town and see what Prague nightlife had to offer. The hostel took us to a weird club which was full of weird robotic lights and everything was decorated with scrap metal. It looked kinda cool, but the music was reggae/dub which is okay for a few songs, then it just gets a bit boring. So we legged it to another club called Mecca. This place had girls in leopard skin underwear dancing on podiums and crappy trance music, so us girls went downstairs to where they were playing 80s and 90s music and we totally got the dancefloor going. Then we went back to the hostel and played Uno for a while before sleep got the better of us. The next day the sun finally decided to make an appearance and we went for an adventure to the Prague Castle, which was basically a huge fortress... we were wandering around asking "Where is the castle?" only to be told "Uh, you're in it". Oh. Fantastic views were our reward as we reclined on a grassy patch in a vineyard and took in our bearings. That night Olivia and I went to see Norwegian singer Hanne Hukkelberg, which was a really cool experience, as I have missed seeing good live music. It was one of those surreal experiences where you walk outside after the 2 hour show and go "Oh, I'm in Prague... I kinda forgot for a while there."
So after Prague I caught a bus and train to Munich to meet up with the Dortmans crew for an epic Oktoberfest. Nothing can describe my excitement at arriving at the camping grounds to be greeted by Dan, Kate, Ana, Laura and Kate's friend Coxy. It was great to see some familiar faces again. So in true Dortmans style we had a few beers, which were needed to help us sleep in the arctic overnight temperatures in Munich. I didn't even have a proper sleeping bag, so I curled up in a little ball in layers of thermals, pants and jumpers and had a pretty unrestful night's sleep actually. But it didn't matter. Next morning we all got up at some ungodly hour, had breakfast and put on our most German drindles (actually Sam tells me they are called dirndls... we were calling them drindles the whole time!) and lederhosen for the opening day of the 200th Oktoberfest 2010.
Queues for the showers were phenomonal, so most of us decided to keep our shower tokens (yes, you had to pay one euro for the privelege of 5 minutes of hot water) and go dirty. Then Ana and Kate unveiled a surprise for us all... some yellow and green plastic kazoos. I repeat, some yellow and green plastic kazoos. These were to be our pride and joy for the rest of Oktoberfest, as we played "Guess the tune" and pretty much annoyed anyone else that didn't have a kazoo. After a few steins, we even resorted to communicating only via kazoo ("Uh, sorry Megan could you please kazoo that again, I didn't quite understand..." from Ana).
So we got a shuttle bus into the fest, to be greeted by a fairground complete with ferris wheel and 14 MASSIVE tents. Calling these thing tents is like calling Uluru a pebble. We picked a table outside the biggest tent, the Hofbrau and then waited until midday for the opening of the festival and the tapping of the kegs. We entertained ourselves in true Dortmans style by buying HUGE pretzels (everything is oversized at Oktoberfest) and playing "How many things can you do with a pretzel?" We were getting very creative and cracking ourselves up, and this was before even having any beers. Then at midday a procession of floats holding kegs and lots of people in traditional dress came through the crowd, even little kids were being weened early on as they hung off the floats with fake steins of beer. Parades of brass bands came through playing German songs and some of those German boys looked very cute in their lederhosen. Finally the kegs were ushered into their tents and the man kicked off the festival by tapping the keg, and fountains of golden beer poured into the steins. Beer wenches crowded around the kegs to fill up the dozen steins they held in their Herculean hands (I still have no idea how they hold so many of these... each stein holds one litre of beer!). And the race was on... each table tried to get the attention of any beer wench that came through the door, and I have never seen anyone get so excited over the arrival of beer. The energy was contagious. Many shenanigans ensued until... the big toilet disaster. Unfortunately, the downside of drinking so many beers is that you and every other beer drinker need to go to the toilet a lot. So, silly me, I left it quite late and got to the toilets only to find they were CLOSED. So Ana and I hurried to another tent where the line was majorly long. I viewed the situation and estimated roughly a 30 minute wait... I knew I didn't have that long, I needed to go NOW. So I farewelled Ana who again laughed at my misfortune (she got her comeuppance when she had to squat under a truck later on...mwa haha) and I ran across the road to where I found a Chinese restaurant. These wily entrepeneurs were charging one euro for the use of their toilets, but I swear it was the best euro I ever spent. No line, clean toilet, plenty of toilet paper. Ahhh. You can sometimes take these necessities of life for granted. I heard later there were many girls squatting under trucks and in parks because the toilet situation was so dire, and a few boys at our table even filled a few steins... eeeewwwWWWW!
Day two of Oktoberfest, we were up at 8am ready to do it all again. This time we scored a table inside at the Lowenbrau tent with a couple of other people we met. Our beer wench was a character, always pushing us to buy more beer and showing us how to eat a German sausage. We were seated next to a table of Marios and Luigis with cool handlebar moustaches. This time the drinks started flowing from 10am onwards, and the first one went down like nails. We ordered a German platter to accompany our beer, and this ended up being much more entertaining than it was delicious. Apart from ham, we weren't able to identify anything on the platter, so it became a fun game of "Guess what we're putting in your mouth?" There were some things that resembled dog food (I'm pretty sure they were) some black sausages and other weird looking things. The looks on their faces say it all.
Soon enough, everyone was dancing on tables, shouting "Prost!" and singing along to the German songs, despite not knowing a word of German (cheers being the exception). Beer was everywhere and things were gettin' loose (as Dan would say). Laura was falling asleep on her beer stein, Ana was falling asleep between a guy's crotch and I was ready to never drink another drop of beer in my life. It seems after seven litres in the one weekend I had reached my beer threshold. So we retired after another day of hard work. We had to get some sleep before the DORTMANS ROAD TRIP OF 2010.
We had a bit of trouble with car hire, but after some negotiation, we got two little cars for quite a good price. These were the honourable vestibules which would be carrying us forth to visit more Dortmanses in Holland. For some of us, this was the last stop in a Euro trip of a lifetime. So we piled into the cars and hit the Autobahn, Dan getting our little Ford Focus up to a cool 190 km/h. We made a pitstop where Laura found some fascinating self-cleaning toilets, which she claims were the highlight of her whole trip. Our fantastic navigation skills got us to Dinther in one piece (who needs GPS?) only my navigational skills were pretty dodgy, as I directed us to the wrong house. And Dan only drove on the wrong side of the road once, which is pretty good.
We were greeted by that famous Dortmans hospitality to a fantastic 3 course meal of soup, meat and veg and custard. We were beaming afterwards, after living on a diet of pretzels, beer and German sausages for two days. For once we went to bed without having any beer. We had a great night's sleep before sightseeing around Dinther and Den Bosch the next day. The Dortmans girls, Ilse, Noreen (sorry if I spelt it totally wrong!) and Marlies fed us some Dutch delicacies and then we ran around town before going back to the house for delcious pancakes and a party full of Dortmans. Which meant more beer. The next day Laura and I stuck around to catch up with some rellies on Oma's side. To our amusement, we found one of them riding a bike along the main street of Dinther. His name was Fritz and he was 84. After door knocking all around Dinther to try and find out where he lived, watching him cruise past on a bicycle was the highlight of my day. He had a cheeky grin and gave us a wave while doing a u-turn and nearly getting hit by a car in the process. He looked exactly like Oma and just as healthy.
We also met Oma's younger brother Wim, all of them lived within 5 minutes walking distance in the same town. We probably could have knocked on any door in the cute little town and they could tell us where they lived. Which is pretty much what we did!
Phew! What a long blog. I will have to tell you about New York and Central America another time. Hey, guess what? I will be home in about 5 weeks! Can't wait chicas!