Last Thursday the only words I knew in German were “gesundheit” and “auf wiedersehen.” I’ve become so used to being able to comfortably express myself in two languages that I didn’t give a thought to my sad lack of practical communication ability until I arrived at the Munich airport. Luckily the border policeman who stamped my passport recognized my terrified look and switched to English after a few rapid phrases in German. All of a sudden I remembered that I was in a country I’d never traveled to – and I didn’t even know how to say “I don’t speak German!”
Luckily all I had to do by myself was find my way to the airport exit – after that I was rescued by the Jorgensons, who have all picked up an impressive amount in the three months they’ve been in Bavaria. At least, they all sound really German to my ears.
One major difference from France is how orderly everything is in Germany. Quiet hours are from 20h to 8h every night and in the middle of the day from 13h to 15h. These aren’t suggested quiet hours – they’re law. So is the prohibition from opening any kind of business other than a restaurant on a Sunday. It’s not like France, where everybody takes Sundays off because they want the break – in Germany Sundays are taken off because it’s law. Probably due in large part to these restrictions, München is a very clean and nice city. There are bike paths everywhere, the neighborhoods are quiet and well-groomed, and most activities are pretty family-friendly – the beer gardens, for example.
I was pretty surprised when four-year old Jack asked his parents if we could all go to a “biergärten” Friday evening. From my observations in Tacoma, “beer garden” conjured up images of white plastic lawn furniture wrapped in plastic Coors flags and sitting under a grimy tent at the Taste of Tacoma or the Freedom Fair. In Germany and the U.S. a “beer garden” is technically the same thing, but the ideas are very different. The beer gardens we visited this weekend were all clean and grassy, with picnic tables, food and beer vendors, and always with playgrounds – in short, really nice places to go with the family. The idea of a biergärten seems like a really good one to me, but somehow I just don’t think it would work out at home.
Maybe most people already know what a German beer garden is, but I at least was pretty interested to learn.
To complete the picture of my ignorance on the subject of Germany/ München/Bavaria, I had unwittingly purchased my plane tickets for the middle weekend of Oktoberfest – celebrated all over Germany, but no manifestations can compete with that of München, where the first one was held in 1810. I’m not sure if this is because I’m a girl or just because I’m really out of it, but all I really knew about Oktoberfest was that I thought you could drink a lot of beer there. I had kind of imagined pumpkins too, but that’s probably because of the “oktober.”
As it turns out, “you can drink a lot of beer there,” is a pretty accurate summary of the festival. Upon exiting the U-Bahn (public train system) the mass of people in lederhosen, keg hats and heart cookie necklaces sweeps you straight toward the Theresienwiese. There are rides, there are souvenirs, there is a ridiculous amount of food, and yes, there is beer. It kind of reminded me of the Puyallup Fair – except replace all the animals, the shows and the hobby halls with massive beer tents.
The beer tents open at 9am, and by 10am there are drunk Germans and tourists with their arms thrown amicably over each others’ shoulders, singing drinking songs and toasting. Lederhosen (meaning literally, “leather pants”) and dirndls are as common in the streets as jeans and tennis shoes.
Although there are rides and attractions for the whole family (a good thing, since I went with a family of three boys 7 and under), you really can’t leave until you’ve had ein maß (a liter of beer) from one of the beer tents. That was the first time I’ve ever consumed a liter of alcohol in front of a group of kids I used to babysit. That being said, the entire d’Wiesn was filled with parents getting loud and lusty with their children next to them for the ride. It was a hearty good time for everyone – with the exception of the puking tourists.
•• There really are pretzels everywhere in Bavaria – I wish I could live in a city that was filled with both crepes and pretzels – I don’t think I could ever choose one over the other.
••• To see more pictures, click here.