Category Archives: Germany

Friday Flashback: A scrawl from the past

This Friday flashback comes from a different page (an actual physical one).

I drew this picture on a lazy Sunday evening while sipping on the Oktoberfest beer we had brought back from the duty-free store at the Munich airport. Löwenbräu is one of the six famous old local breweries of Munich, all of which put up huge tents at the fest. The Oktoberfest beer itself is supposed to be different from and 2% stronger than the regular beer that these breweries serve – I’m no expert but real fest beer should be a ‘rich copper colour’, I hear.

(the drawing is nothing to be proud of, of course; but I had fun doing it and it reminds me of the good times I had on my trip, so here it is, making an appearance on my travel blog)

And in case you’re curious – no, the bottled stuff doesn’t taste as great as the real thing, but it isn’t a bad present to bring back for friends who couldn’t join you on the trip (plus, they won’t know the difference anyway!)

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Have you been to the Oktoberfest in Munich? Which one was your favourite beer and / or  tent?

Want to read more about the fest? Go here.

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Unfinished Business in Munich

I was excited to land in Munich at the early hour of 6 AM, when the city’s residents were still in their beds or were probably holding their breaths, squeezing themselves into dirndls and lederhosen, preparing for a day of raucous merry-making. The airport itself was mostly deserted with shops closed and only the enquiry desk inhabited by two jolly ladies in decked in their Oktoberfest gear, catching up on the morning gossip. After collecting our luggage, quickly freshening up and getting chided by staff at the S-Bahn counter for disturbing them before opening time (7 AM), we bought our public transport day-pass (Partner / Gruppen Tageskarte) from a vending machine and were on our way to town.

Once we climbed out of the platform area, the main hall of the Hauptbahnof (the central train station) was a different scene altogether. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that you were witnessing a Saturday night on the town, rather than 8 AM on a cool September morning. Tourists buying last-minute, heavily-overpriced Trachten to ‘fit in with the locals’; shopkeepers stacking ‘Made-in-China’ souvenirs in their stalls; women performing last-minute checks on their make-up; groups singing what I imagined were drinking songs while chugging beer by the bottle to prep themselves for the boozy day ahead; and train staff and police trying to make their way to their duties for the day, while expertly dodging all of the above.

Continue reading Unfinished Business in Munich

Visiting the Dark Pages of History – Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany

I wasn’t entirely sure till the last minute if I wanted to go through with this.

The last time I’d been in Munich, I had intentionally avoided a side-trip to Dachau, a former Nazi concentration camp just outside Munich. The reason wasn’t that I thought it would bore me or be too dull; rather, it was the opposite – I was afraid of being in the same spaces as former prisoners of the Nazis, afraid of letting my mind visualize disturbing scenes of torture, afraid of returning with a heart sagging like it was made of lead.

This time, things were a little different – I was all of 6 years older (and 6 years wiser, as I imagine). So this time, I didn’t entirely shrink away at the idea of visiting Dachau when I was making my plans for Munich. However, when we reached Munich amidst the festive atmosphere of an Oktoberfest weekend (the weekend of the boisterous Italians, specifically), I was wondering if a dark, depressing visit to a former torture centre was how I wanted to spend my morning.

Continue reading Visiting the Dark Pages of History – Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany

Friday Flashback – When the Black Forest Turned White…

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We’re all snowed in.

Pforzheim – the City of Gold (literally, Goldstadt in German). Home for a few months six years ago. Gateway to the Northern Black Forest. And totally off the tourist map.

The city lies just at the edge of the Black Forest – famed for its hikes, cuckoo clocks and Black Forest gâteau. The University of Pforzheim is on a hill adjoining these very woods – an absent-minded, leisurely afternoon stroll at the university could land you straight into this popular attraction.

This picture is from a cold December morning at the university, after a night of heavy snowfall. It continued to snow for the next few days – painting the entire landscape in different shades of grey – a heaving, overcast sky; flakes in the air; cars and trees cloaked with inches of snow and roads that used to be but had now disappeared.

Photo taken at Hochschule Pforzheim (December ’08)

P.S. Here’s wishing you a fantastic 2015, I hope this year brings you all the adventures and non-adventures that you wish for!

Ein prosit! – How to get into the Oktoberfest on a weekend

On our recent trip to Europe, our first stop was Munich. Munich was a late addition to our plans – when we realized that our September-end flight to Prague (our original first stop) was with a layover in the German beer capital, I quickly checked the dates for the Oktoberfest 2014 and voila! – our first stop was changed to Munich in less than a minute.

I loved Munich on my first visit 6 years ago. The city was pedestrian-friendly, had a beautiful city centre and an extremely efficient public transportation system (gotta love the Germans for this!). The only slight apprehension at the back of my mind was the accommodation that tends to triple price-wise and get sold out months (even an year, maybe) before the fest and the actual getting entry into a Festzelt (the huge beer tents at the fest grounds) part. On my last visit, I had noticed that the tents were all full even on a weekday by 4 PM. And the thing about the Oktoberfest tents is – if you don’t have a seat, you don’t get served.

We landed in Munich early on a Saturday morning (the second fest weekend a.k.a. Italian weekend). Because of jet lag and my online research suggesting it, we decided to save our drinking adventures at the fest for the next day (our Munich sightseeing actually began with the Concentration Camp at Dachau but more on that later).

Our strategy (which worked well) was:

– Leave our AirBnB accommodation early morning around 8 AM

– Reach the Munich Hauptbahnof (Main Train Station) by 8.30 AM, dump our luggage in the lockers there, grab a snack and head to the fest

– Reach the fest by 9.30 AM and get seats inside one of the large beer tents – stay put till it was time to leave for our 5 PM bus to Prague

My online research and advice from local friends in Munich seemed to suggest that getting there at 6 AM was a good idea to queue up for the tents that open at 9 AM – but waking up at 5 AM is a no-go on any day! (this also turned out to be unnecessary, fortunately – but does hold true for Saturdays as we learnt later)

When we reached the fest grounds, we were actually turned away from one of the tents because of our big backpack (not entirely sure, but I think it was the Paulaner tent). This was a scare as having to go back to the lockers (at the train station) would have meant getting back only about an hour later and that would’ve been too late to grab a seat… Thankfully, the Hofbrau tent next door welcomed us – backpack and all; and when we got in, we actually got a choice of multiple seats on the unreserved benches (yay!). But it REALLY DOES fill up in a matter of minutes so don’t be too picky!

Of course, when you’re drinking beer from 10 AM in the morning and want to last the whole day, the key is to pace yourself. And also, never let go of your seat at one of the unreserved benches. You’ll see people hanging around you all day, waiting for you to leave so that they can grab your seats. Tent-hopping is also a bad idea in general on weekends – the only real chance is if you move from one tent to another before 11 AM and are not more than 2 – 3 people.

The fest itself was incredibly fun! I know it sounds trite to say this but it was one jolly party of hundreds, if not thousands of revelers. This was my second time and I wouldn’t think twice about going again. The atmosphere is buzzing but sober till about 11 AM but once a Mass (a litre of beer at the fest) or two have been taken care of, you’ll witness  hundreds of people standing up on benches, singing, dancing, cheering (and jeering if you volunteer to chug and then fail to). It’s just one hell of a party!

We couldn’t, but if you enjoy your beer and don’t mind a sea of ‘happy high’ people, you may want to visit on more than one day – weekdays are supposed to be much easier, entry-wise. Munich itself is lovely, though could get a little boring by day 3 / 4 but is a very convenient base for day trips like Dachau, Neuschwanstein or even, Salzburg (Austria)!

I’ll leave you with some shots from our visit and a popular fest song that you can memorize before your visit ;).

P.S. Some other practicalities of getting to / being at the fest:

  • Theresienweise and Goetheplatz are the two closest U-Bahn stops to the Theresienweise (fest grounds) but a short walk from Hauptbahnof would be less suffocating, even if it takes a little more time.
  • In case the tents are full and you can’t get inside, some of the tents also have seating outside – on a sunny day, this works just fine but the atmosphere is a little tempered down, compared to the inside – this could be a good / bad thing depending on you.
  • Be friendly with others at your table – it can be a little awkward at first (you could break the ice with a communal ‘Cheers!’ or ‘Prost!’ maybe ;)) – but the more of you, the more fun it is!
  • Vegetarians may want to grab a snack before getting into the fest – your only choice of snacks is ‘Pretzels’ but they were a couple of vegetarian mains on the menu this year.
  • ‘Trachten’ or the traditional costumes are not required – of course, putting one on will put you in the festive mood sooner.
  • Reservations aren’t too practical for small groups / couples.There are restrooms inside the tents – you may want to keep some tissue paper handy because the stalls tend to run out very often.
  • This goes without saying, but keep your valuables safe – a couple of litres of that strong beer tend to make one light-headed and happy without reason but you don’t want to ruin that buzz with a realization of lost belongings.