BK’s college friend Bonesaw had yet to show up that Saturday morning, so Ann stayed behind while the rest of us went to secure a table at the Augustiner tent.
At Oktoberfest, each of the big Munich breweries sets up large tents that serve as the beer halls for the festivities. To be able to have a tent at Oktoberfest, the brewery must be based in Munich, and is usually one of the ‘Big Six’ – Hofbrau, Lowenbrou, Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten, Augustiner and Paulaner. These are the same beers that have been served there since the festival started in 1814. Entry into the tent is free, but in order to be served beers, you have to be seated at a table. Now to get a table … well that’s the tricky part. The take reservations, but usually only for entire, 10-seater tables. And you have to call in the reservations well in advance, usually around the January timeframe. We had neither — 10 people nor a reservation — so the only option would be to show up early enough to score an unreserved table. When you get one of these, you don’t leave, so they run out fast and they stay ran out.
They tapped the kegs and started serving at noon, so we showed up at around 7:30 AM and faced an already large crowd waiting in front of the closed doors. Keep in mind, this wasn’t a “line”, it was a mob of people, many of them several deep into the stash of beers they brought from home. The four of us found an empty space just at the end of the entrance area, right on the boundary with the main pathway. We thought they were opening the doors at 10, we had a lot of waiting ahead of us.
We later found out that the doors actually opened at 9, and by that time, the crowd was tense with anticipation. Every now and then, as the security staff prepared for the onslaught of beer-seekers, one side of one of the two large double-doors would be opened just a little, and the crowd would go nuts. Immediately all the free space between you and the 10 people immediately around you would become compressed into a singularity. By the time the doors opened for the last time, we were being pressed on all sides at an immense force. The crowd would move back and forth and side-to-side as people would try to make their way to the doors. The litter of bottles and trash on the ground would sometimes make it difficult to find sure footing. As a result, we almost toppled several times. There was no doubt in my mind: if you fell down, you were going to get trampled.
The security guards were doing their best to make sure only a controlled flow got in through the sole open door. The four of us pushed, pulled and rode the crowd until we reached the door. A girl next to me who was sick of the constant danger of getting either crushed or stepped on cried, “THIS ISN’T FUN ANYMORE!!”.
When I reached the door I saw the end, the empty entrance area of the tent, the Holyland. There were about 10 of us trying to squeeze through a door opening wide enough for about 2, and after some struggling, I was ejected from the crowd and stumbled through the doorway. The security guards seemed to yell something at me, but I ignored them and continued walking. Immediately after I went through, they stopped people from entering to control who and how many come in the tent.
I was dazed and confused as I walked into the beer hall. Partly because I was expecting some kind of reward for survival of the Gauntlet, but also because there were already people inside, sitting at tables and eating food. I thought they just opened the door?
We had agreed on a plan when we were in line: once inside, we would each fan out, staying close to one other person, and each person would try to get a table. Inside, I ran around like a madman searching for an open table. I had lost the others but soon found Dave also in my area. Many of the tables were at least partially taken, we only needed one that could squeeze in 6 more people. Dave spotted Mike, who had found a table with one person on it. We rushed up and claimed a few of the other spots. We started looking around for my brother, when we saw him standing on top of an empty table. I rushed over and helped him reserve it while Dave and Mike came over with their stuff. We all sat down and breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it: we were in the tent and had gotten a table, the rest of the day was made.
Still, it was only about 9:30 and they wouldn’t serve any beer until 12. By around 10 Bonesaw and Ann showed up. We thought that tight security would prevent us from bringing any drinks (including water) from home, but we soon found out that everyone around us had brought both food and drinks from home. The group that eventually shared our table even started doing shots.
Finally, at 12, to much applause and relief, they started serving the giant, litre glassese of beer, or Mass (say ‘M-ah-ss’). Our beleagered waitress didn’t get our round for some time, but then again, she wasn’t exactly a large fraulein who could run around with 6 in each hand.
The rest of the day was spent toasting the people around us, standing on tables and inhaling second hand smoke. The tent was a perfect place to people-watch, and we found comedy in the groups around us, particularly one ginger guy wearing an ascot who turned as red as a tomato after his first Mass. We named him The Human Torch. The food was, suffice it to say, pig-centric. I had the pig knuckle, which is apparently the knee of the pig. And disgusting as it sounds, it was deliciously tender. Even though we left the tent only around 8 that night, it felt like it was 4 in the morning. We had each downed around 4-5 litres of beer (around 12 – 15 bottles of beer) and were feeling quite loose.
On the walk out of the festival grounds we tried a Toboggan ride which is basically a fast conveyor belt that takes you up a ramp to a set of stairs that take you to the top of the slide. The draw is watching drunk people make idiots of themselves on the belt. Which I did. With idiocy to spare. I landed flat on my back with my first step and rode the conveyor belt to the stairs like a dead cockroach, legs and arms up in the air.
Many will argue that the purity of German beers, with no preservatives or additives, prevents you from getting a hangover. Be that as it may, I was expecting the worst the next morning. I drank as much water I as I could before bed and threw myself onto the futon. Oktoberfest had been pretty much what I had expected: an insanely good time drinking a lot of great beer. A hangover was an easy price to pay.