After a nine-hour overnight ride crammed in the back row of the bus, I arrived in chilly Munich, Germany for the annual Oktoberfest. Many students and I from the Florida State University (FSU) Florence program were ready for a weekend full of lederhosen, dirndls, beer and pretzels.
At the beginning of the week, I had no idea I would be up north in Germany trying to sing along to German drinking songs. However, I was convinced to buy a bus ticket, stay in a hostel for the first time and attend Oktoberfest. We took off close to midnight and drove all morning on Friday, Sept. 23 from central Italy to southern Germany.
When we arrived, we dropped our luggage at the hostel, grabbed some snacks and headed to the train station. We took the train from our neighborhood to the downtown Munich area and stopped at a lederhosen and dirndl shop. Lederhosen are the traditional pants with attached suspenders that German men wear at Oktoberfest. Women at the festival wear dirndls, dresses with tight corsets, a big skirt and sometimes an apron. Even outside of the shop, the town was abuzz with anticipation of the festival. The shop’s inside was filled to the brim with eager Americans wanting to fit in at the festival. Shop clerks were able to just look at girls’ waists and know what size they were. Within an hour, everyone was outfitted for the festival.
One word to describe the first day of the festival would be disorienting. We got there in the early evening and the Germans who had already been there all day were very intoxicated. The street was lined with kiosks selling things from curry bratwurst to souvenirs to Nutella crepes. Every 10 stalls or so, there would be a large tent with people pouring in and out simultaneously. These were tents where people would reserve tables and be waited on for as long as they would like. People also stood around in there hoping to get served as well, with about 50/50 luck.
Interestingly, the festival had a wide age range, with families with small children in strollers to middle-aged adults, all wanting to have a good time. There were also small rides there, like at most fairs, that children and drunk adults greatly enjoyed. There were also kiosks everywhere selling heart-shaped gingerbread cookies strung on ribbons with German text iced across them. Those cookies are called lebkuchen and are meant to be gifted to friends and loved ones. After just a couple of hours, though, we felt like we had had enough for our first day and headed back to the hostel.
This hostel was not as scary as I had built it up to be. My roommate from FSU Florence and I were put in a room with three girls who are students at a university in Connecticut. They were just as excited as we were to explore a new country and take part in one of Europe’s largest festivals. My roommate and I shared bunk beds that were surprisingly more comfortable than the dorm beds back in Tallahassee. We even had a private bathroom in our room for the five of us to share.
We woke up bright and early at 6 a.m. the next day to head to the festival. A half hour before the gates opened, we were in line and ready to go. Nevertheless, no one prepared us for the insanity that would ensue. Once those gates cracked open, the race to snag a table in one of those tents began. We weaved our way through the crowd in the tent to claim a table and we settled in for an early morning of Bavarian pretzels, strudel and most importantly, beer.
For three hours we sat in the tent in our dirndl dresses enjoying the comradery of other festival goers, singing along to drinking songs and enjoying the live band that came halfway through. We left to explore more of Oktoberfest and found another neat tradition there. We saw many people with wooden clothes decorated with charms and a name or phrase adorned to the tops of their dirndls or on their lederhosen straps. After a few inquiries, we learned these clothes pins are called glubberl and are one of the most customizable parts of the traditional outfit.
We rode some of the rides and picked up many souvenirs before wrapping up our weekend at Oktoberfest. It was such an action-packed way to immerse ourselves in German culture. I feel so lucky to have gone to one of Europe’s largest festivals. I cannot wait to see where my study abroad travels lead me next.