It was the 3rd October 1984 and George Orwell’s prediction had, as yet, not materialised. I remember it well as it was just 5 days after my 21st birthday and the party had yet to stop. Our jovial local pub had arranged for us to join a 5 day tour to Bavaria and the highlight was to be a day at the world famous Oktoberfest. Our bus was sponsored by Lowenbrau, the famous Bavarian brewery and was loaded with hundreds of cases of beer which seemed rather excessive (or maybe not).
The lengthy bus journey was to be a whole day and we passed the time playing cards, listening to our flashy Walkmans (no iPods in the last century!) and chatting amongst ourselves and making wonderful new friends. I confess that I didn’t really join in the card games as the money being bet in each hand was more than my entire week’s spending money but that didn’t deter the Landlords and Ladies of south Lonfon! Still, it was fun to watch.
Our hotel wasn’t actually in Munich but the quaint, alpine town of Inzell, about 90 minutes away and close to the Austrian border. Our first night was to be an introduction to Bavarian Culture which, naturally, meant beer, lederhosen, more beer and serving ladies with huge biceps! As part of the raucous entertainment, there was music, dancing and the highlight was a little drinking game. Each table appeared to be home to a different pub from around the UK and so each table was required to supply a team of three hefty drinkers. Now, as the scrawniest and youngest I was not going to be involved in this, or so I thought. But, for some reason unknown to anyone, especially me, I was elected along with our landlady and a gentlemen, who shall remain nameless (but worked for a brewery). The first round was to drink a stein glass of beer as fast as possible as a team. The game started, I drank a pitiful amount, passed the glass behind me to my team members and before I could take a breath my team-mates had finished it: what’s more, they’d finished it before all the other teams. Game Won! Time to sit down. Alas no, because as winners we remained on the brightly lit stage for a drink off. Now, there was no way I was going to win this one. Three chairs were brought onto the stage, a litre stein placed under each one and we had to stand on the chairs. Simple rules, using only one hand, pick up the glass and drink. What they didn’t tell us was the ‘glass’ was 50% lead and was heavy, really heavy! I couldn’t even lift it! A quick rethink, I sat down, cheated, got disqualified and took the beer back to my seat. Sadly to say, I’ve no idea which one of our team won but it wasn’t important (to me!). I do believe that the evening went downhill from here but I’d be lying if I remembered anything more. Suffice to say, I know it was fun.
‘Twas chilly and overcast the following morning as we boarded the bus heading for Munich and the main event. A few tired heads and more than a few folks with raging hangovers but you only get to do this once in your life (if you’re sensible) so you have to be brave. After an all too short nap we awoke to the sight of Munich and made a short tour before arriving at the Marienplatz, the spiritual centre of this old city.
The Glockenspiel, Marienplatz
This ‘square’ is famous for two things; the glockenspiel that strikes whilst telling a lovely story with characters that move around the front of the tower, and the Hofbrauhaus which is away in one corner of the square. For some reason, it’s considered a good idea to warm up in here before going to the beer festival so who was I to disagree. A quick drink, some more typical Bavarian music and a snack before we jumped onto the bus and noticed that the hangover had, for the most part, disappeared.
The Lowenbrau “Tent”
Entering on a midweek day and in the early afternoon, the queues were fairly short and we were politely guided to our home for the next few hours; the Lowenbrau Tent. It’s a huge tent with room enough for a few thousand revellers, using tables of 8-10 people seated on long benches. Inside is absolutely heaving and in the centre there is a wide stage with the oompah band playing. Everywhere is decked out in the blue and white of the Bavarian flag, colours shared by the sponsoring brewery too and they even supply a rather fetching local standard hat to put you in the correct frame of mind. The service is taken care of by, what we used to call, ‘serving wenches’ (I know it’s not PC but hey).
Don’t try this at home – or anywhere!
These adorable ladies have to negotiate between the tables and the hordes of heavy drinking tourists, carrying half a dozen steins of beer, 3 in each hand. If you’ve ever tried this, you will understand what an incredible job these ladies do. When not serving beer and collecting glasses, they’re delivering plates of chicken and chips to the drinkers. All in all they do a quite amazing job. As the afternoon passes by, the singing and dancing increases and there is one particular song, which is played frequently, that you realise is all important. It’s called Ein Prosit and is a fabulous way of having a drink and saying cheers to everyone around you.
The hours pass by and there is no point trying to calculate how much you’ve drunk or how many steins have passed your way as the drink just keeps flowing until you’re either ready to leave or you fall off your chair and take a relaxing snooze under the table. If you’re feeling a little adventurous there is also a fun fair in the beer fest grounds. Whoever thought of this must have been either crazy or sadistic. Who would send drunken revelers on a roller coaster around the park? Naturally some of us did try this and I think the roller coaster won!
Early evening and we try to locate our bus for the journey back. You remember, it’s the blue and white one. How many similar coaches could there be? The haul back to the alps started in a lively vein but the alcohol soon took hold and all that could be heard on that bus was a cacophony of snores and belches as we sped down the autobahn.
A final night at the hotel following a small nightcap and then the final day brought us to the long journey home. I think this is how it happened but if anyone is able to add or correct me, please do. Suffice to say, I felt so imbibed that when I returned to the Prince of Wales Pub I walked in to the bar, faced the cigarette machine and ordered a beer from it. I also needed 3 day off work just to sober up. All in all, an utterly amazing trip.