So… down to the serious business of what I ate, drank and got up to at Oktoberfest 2006. This was our third trip (with our last trip in 2004 being documented here and recorded on film here. For a running photographic accompaniment to this post, feel free to chek out my photo album of Oktoberfest 2006 pics.).
This time around we toyed with the idea of spending only half our time in the tents – maybe visit other beer gardens, maybe go back to the Viktualienmarkt and then head for the tents in the mid-afternoon. Try to have a balanced weekend. On the flight over, we bumped into Anne and Glenn who had been at our table at Oktoberfest 2004 – and they mentioned how friends had found pictures of our 2004 table on "some recipe site" – none other than Cooksister! Fame at last! While sitting on the plane (reading the endlessly fascinating Anthony Bourdain’s Nasty Bits) the only topics of conversation I could hear around me were a) what tent are you going to go for tomorrow? and b) how many hours before the tents open are you planning to get there to queue? Oh dear. Clearly we had to rethink our ideas of a mid-afternoon arrival if we were to have any hopes of getting a table anywhere! We still had unhappy memories of being unable to get into any tent on our first day at 2004′s rainy Oktoberfest…
We made it to our hotel at about 22h45 (the fab Hotel Bavaria, which has recently installed bathrooms so lovely I wanted to pack ours up and take it with us!) and since Nick was starving we headed straight out to try and find some food before everything closed. Across the road from the hotel is the Bavaria Brauhaus (on the corner of Gollierstrasse and Theriesenhohe) and the lovely folk at the hotel’s front desk had suggested we might try there. The Bavaria Brauhaus is unmistakably Bavarian in its blue and white livery and looks from the outside like your average corner beergarden, but it’s actually rather gigantic inside. For some reason it reminded me of a Las Vegas hotel – a huge building housing a bunch of divergent restaurants (Apparently, this is not far off as websites describe it as a "US-style brewpub" owned by the Hacker-Pschorr brewery.) At the front door there’s a lovely-looking Italian place with (I seem to recall) a proper wood-burning oven. If you walk right to the back there is a proper beer hall with a double volume ceiling hung liberally with hops and serving Bavarian specialities. Sadly, neither the beer hall nor the Italian place was still serving food. In between these two is a third restaurant that looks non-specifically South-east Asian – I never saw a menu so I can’t tell you what the cuisine actually was.
The reason for the lack of menu was that the only part of the complex still selling food was the Mongolian-style grill where you made up your own bowl of food – so no menu required. I have not eaten at a Mongolian-style grill in probably 15 years, which is when the one we had in Port Elizabeth closed down, but it is a great way of eating. From a chilled buffet you choose from an array of chopped meat, vegetables, seafood and starches (rice or noodles), plus some sauce. You then hand your bowl of raw stuff over to the griller who stir-fries it all in front of your eyes on a flat grill. At the Bavaria Brauhaus, you pay per weight in your bowl – so small eaters can get away with a small bill. We were also very kindly given a discount, seeing as it was the end of the evening and some of the supply of raw ingredients was depleted, but this really didn’t bother us. Within minutes we sat down to a steaming bowl of crisp vegetables and tender seafood, toasting our good fortune with half-price Mai Tai cocktails (they have some sort of late-night happy hour to draw in the post-Wies’n crowds). The weekend was off to a good start. Recommended for those who can still walk after the Wies’n closes and feel the need for yet more beer.
The next morning, we grabbed some breakfast (the Hotel Bavaria does a particularly good one) and at the crack of 09h30 we walked the few hundred metres to the Wies’n where we met up with Donnie and Tegan. The crowds were already flocking in, but luckily the lovely Anne & Glenn had queued from about 9, and although they still not managed to get a table inside a tent they had snagged a table at the Paulaner tent’s outside seating area (see picture above). So there you are, all seated comfortably at the table… but no beer will be served until the Oktoberfest is officially opened by Munich’s mayor (see my previous post for details) at noon. Our table whiled away the time by variously playing cards, drinking a Maß of water (to prepare for the long day ahead!), and chatting to our waiter.
Another popular way to pass the time is to eat. Each tent has its own menu, usually peppered with Bavarian specialities and sometimes a couple of exclusive dishes (like the ox dishes of the Ochsenbraterei tent or Fischer Vroni’s steckerlfisch – whole fish skewered an cooked over an open pit of hot coals). A popular option with the boys is the Schweinhaxen or pork knuckle pictured on the left. The cooks in these tents are absolute experts at getting the crackling perfectly crispy and it comes with the ultimate Bavarian comfort food: a dumpling (visible on the left). Donnie and Tegan also ordered some Weißwurst for breakfast.
Weißwurst, translated literally, means "white sausage" and it is a Bavarian speciality. It is a sausage made form finely minced veal and pork bacon, flavoured with parsley, lemons, mace, onions, ginger and cardamom. The filling is stuffed into a traditional casing of pork intestines and divided into sausages about 4-5 inches long. They are traditionally made fresh in the morning and should be eaten for breakfast as the lack of preservative make them highly perishable. Before serving, they are heated in water just below boiling point for about 10 minutes and then brought to the table in some of the cooking water to help keep them warm. (The attractive tureens visible behind the schweinhaxen were the serving dishes for their Weißwurst.) Traditional accompaniments are sweet mustard and pretzels – but the really fun part comes in how to eat them. Etiquette dictates that one does not eat the skin – and I’d like to see you try to delicately remove a skin that looks like a condom from a cylinder of meat that looks like… oh never mind! :o) Suffice to say that you will need this handy guide on "How to eat Weisswurst"!!
At the stroke of noon, a cheer went up around the Wies’n and our waiter Michael came out carrying an armful of Maß – hurrah!! And soon after that the band struck up and we were sitting in the sun, singing Ein prosit, ein prosit, gemutlichkeit! Bliss. Before long, we had a request from a German lady to join the end of our table – if you are not seated, you get no service, so people will often hover in the tents, looking for a spare seat at a table. So we shifted up and got chatting to the rather charming Valentina and later, her husband Max (that’s them in the picture, flanking Donnie). In broken German (ours) and broken English (theirs) we managed to exchange . They were amazed to hear our entire table was from the Southern hemisphere, and we was amazed to learn that Max is 85 years old!! If this is what drinking Bavarian beer does for you, I’d better start drinking more ;-) Valentina was younger at 65 but also remarkably sprightly for her age. More questions revealed that Max had been married and widowed twice before and that he had been coming to Oktoberfest for… 30 years! He is a butcher by trade and still works every day, and had actually fought in the Second World War. A nicer couple you could scarcely hope to meet.
As the day progressed, I have to say that a lot of beer was consumed by all. But the great thing about the beer at Oktoberfest is that is seems to taste fresher than other beers – you know for a fact that it has not been knocking about in some pub fridge or cellar for months! And talk about very low food mileage…! But fresh or not, enough litres of any beer will, erm, somewhat loosen the inhibitions and before you knew it, it was dark and I was standing on a bench singing Hey baby at the top of my voice. Time to move on! So at about 21h00 Nick and I wandered off in the general direction of Hackerbrucke station and Il Castagno for a pizza. This is the Italian place we discovered in 2004 and it serves decent pizzas and very generous salads. Don’t be deterred by the fact that the door is guarded by a bouncer – his main function in life is to keep the hordes of drunk people streaming from the Wies’n to Hackerbrucke station from treating the restrooms like a public facility! Service is quick if somewhat impersonal, but the food is reliable and tasty.
I do have to say that the next morning I questioned my rash decision to drink neat beers all day on Saturday as opposed to shandies. The line between hardcore and stupid narrows daily… But the good coffee and excellent breakfast had me feeling perky again by 10 a.m. This time Nick and I were first to arrive at the tents and managed to secure a table indoors at the Paulaner tent with no difficulty – hurrah! A quick call to all our friends and soon the whole lot of us had set up camp. The day started off very slowly with shandies all round and more Weißwurst for breakfast for Donnie and Tegan. And in a remarkable feat of manual dexterity, with the whole table available to him to drop his mobile, Glenn instead managed to drop it in the 2-inch across mustard bowl that came with the Weißwurst. Respect, dude!
A day spent inside the tent always provides more entertainment that outside – you can hear the band better and there’s always stuff to watch. We were there for the ceremonoius arraival of the band; we saw at least one person being bundled out before lunch for misbehaving; we watched the table across from us being occupied by three successive parties (what looked like girls from a school sports team; a bunch of teenagers who left after somebody spilled beer from the balcony onto their mobile phone; and then a table of young Bavarian guys in lederhosen dancing like maniacs to Viva Bavaria); and unlike the day before, I remembered to have lunch! Your choice of lunch dishes, as I said, is quite vast, from a simple pretzel or a plate of sliced radishes to soups, dumplings, roasts, duck, and my two favourites: a spicy sausage and potato goulash and the famous Wies’n Hendl.
Amongst the first things you notice when you walk in the main entrance to the Wies’n are the stalls selling rotisserie chickens. There are banks of chickens, probably a hundred or more per stand, revolving slowly on their rotisseries and turning a delicious shade of brown, while perfuming the air with the irresistible aroma of roast chicken. Somehow, attacking a half a roasted chicken with your hands seems to be an entirely suitable accompaniment to litres of beer, so I went with the general flow at our table and ordered half a Wies’n Hendl. A testimony to their popularity is that fact that at the 2005 Oktoberfest, about 480,000 of these chicken halves were eaten, and when mine arrived I discovered why. They are seriously divine. No, I imagine they aren’t free range, but they are cooked in such a way as to taste exactly like the roast chicken you remember from childhood: moist and juicy flesh covered in uniformly crispy, salty skin. Heaven! After reading up a bit on the recipe for these, I discovered the secret: not only is butter and parsley placed in the body cavity, but they are also… basted with butter while cooking!! Can you think of anything more sinfully delicious? Nope, me neither.
After lunch, the afternoon passed quietly for a while. Glenn initiated a game of "Next" – a drinking game pretty much along the line of "I drink, you drink". Hmmm. After that, various people wandered off for rides in the funfair (there is a GIGANTIC funfair that shares the fairground with the beer tents), a nap on the grassy slopes around the perimeter of the Wies’n, or (in my and Nick’s case), a stroll up to the huge and impressive statue of Bavaria who watches over the entire Wies’n for a panoramic view, and then a stroll through a few of the other tents. At the Lowenbrau tent we were walking through and minding our own business when a guy placed himself squarely in my path. I thought "oh great, flypaper for freaks, that’s me" – until he took off his sunglasses and I recognised him as an ex-boyfriend from 10 years ago! Utterly surreal.
By nightfall we were all present and accounted for, back at our table… and that’s when the evening suddenly went into turbo mode. At the table behind me, a Polish group (family??) had settled in and I do have to say they looked like the cast from Deliverance, sans the banjos. Later in the evening, one of their female members was to
write carve a heart and "Oktoberfest 2006" on Nick’s torso with an inkless ballpoint pen (don’t even ask). And at the table in front of me was… well, Borat! Yes, yes, I know he told us he was Ahmed from Istanbul, but We Knew. And Borat reckoned he was quite a chick-magnet. Particularly when he unleashed his "Lord of the Dance" moves. Seeing is believing – check it out:
[Apologies for the fact that the video is on its side - I have no movie editing software!! Any advice in this regard appreciated... Ed.]
From then on in it was just dancing on the benches, lots of singing and lots of laughter. Tried to avoid "Borat’s" flailing limbs when he danced; sang along to embarrassingly cheesy songs (remember Van Halen’s Jump??); switched from Radlers to proper beers; and (of course) donned my flashing bunny ears! As I mentioned in my 2004 Oktoberfest posts, there is nothing that will get you the attention of all kinds of random men faster than a pair of these. (OK, so maybe removing all your clothes would do the trick too ;-)) It’s just the funniest thing to watch!
And when we’d finally had our fill of the tents at about 22h00, Nick, Donnie, Tegan and I wandered off into the funfair to sample some candied peanuts, look at all the sparkly lights on the rides, and (in the case of the terminally insane boys) take a ride on some horrific mechanical arm that swung 8 people around in a full circle perpendicular to the ground, while their seats rotated freely. You’re welcome to it, boys!! Nick and I ended our evening sitting on the grassy slope separating our hotel fron the Wies’n, eating a riesenbratwurst (foot-long brawurst in a roll). A hot dog has never tasted so good
And so on to our last day. Some of our party had already left, so we decided to have a lie-in and then check out the city for the day. Did some shopping at my favourite department store Hertie and (unsurprisingly) bought some foodie gifts for me – a new salt mill and some rather nifty WMF stainless steel cocktail spoons. Their stems double as straws, and after you’ve had your drink you can use the spoon to scoop out any yummy macerated fruit left behind. Clever. From there we attempted to find the Zum Flaucher beer garden as it is meant to be one of the prettiest in Munich, with its setting in a park on the banks of the Isar river. But alas, after a long walk to get there, we found it closed on Mondays! So we headed back into town and walked through the (much quieter) Wies’n before ending up at an Augustiner pub on Landesbergerstrasse where I had an excellent schnitzel with mushrooms. And of course a Maß of Augustiner beer to tide us over on the long journey home.
So, Munich, until next time, auf wiedersehen and prost!