Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 14 and 15 - The Homann Boys and Oktoberfest: Oh Lord Help Us All

Well, today's the day my brother, Scott, joins the party.  I took a night train into Munich from Berlin and he flew in from Houston and rolled into town around 3 pm on Saturday.  The fact he's here is big news for me, but even more significant (obviously), is that I have my very own bathroom for two whole days (It's the little things people)!!!  Only kidding of course.  We haven't had a Bro's trip in a while, so this should be a great time as he will be in for the whole week.

Anyway, I checked into our hotel, which is in the Olympic Village near where the 1972 Summer Olympics were held, and then went into the city center to people watch and see some sights.  Here's a few shot's of the Marienplatz, which is their historic square.

No Christmas Lights (points off for that), but it turns out that Munich went and got themselves a courthouse too (this is for my Mom's side of the family).  This is the Neues Rathous (which mean New Town Hall in German). The tower here is 260 ft tall.

Here's a shot from the other side of this beautiful building.

As you know from the last post, it's Oktoberfest time here in Munich.  Oktoberfest is the largest fair in the world.  Some 6 million plus attend the event every year and they eat over half a million chickens, a quarter million pork sausages, and drink the equivalent of 3.3 million six packs of beer over the course of the 3 week festival.  The first one took place in 1810 for the marriage of King Ludwig I and Queen Therese.  To put it in Scott's words, "This is the Texas State Fair on steroids, HGH, and The Clear all combined into one fat horse pill."

I've decided to do this post a little differently.  We did a bit more here in Munich than Oktoberfest, but I'm going to devote this update completely to that event.  The other main activity was going to Dachau, which is one of the most notorious concentration camps from WWII. Since we are looking at two complete opposites in regards to mood (festive vs somber reflection), and I'm also going to Auschwitz next week, I'll simply include the Dachau pictures in with that post.  Since I think it's important to show the stuff we saw at the camps, we'll simply combine the visits into one. No need being a Debbie Downer on two different posts.

Now before we move onto the festivities, I have some rather disappointing news that I must share with the group.  I know there has been some discussion on the blog regarding me yodeling in a pair of tradition Bavarian garb, but despite my best efforts, I was unable to acquire said articles of clothing.  I looked for 2 hours while I was waiting for Scott for anyone to be selling anything that resembled a Riccola commercial, but for some inexplicable reason, the entire middle of town was closed on Saturday.  I found 7 (7!!!) stores that sold Lederhosen and not one was open.  I simply do not understand.

If there is any day in the year you need to be open, I would think the last weekend of Oktoberfest would be that day.  I was crushed (Scott, not so much).  So word to the wise:.  If you ever decide to do this, bring your own attire.  Sad, sad day people.  This could have been the stuff dreams are made of, but we can't dwell on what might have been.  Have to move forward.  This was as good as we could do:

Here's a bad shot of me and a good one of Scott.

But unlike us, there were tons of people who pulled out their favorite table cloth pattern and wore it around town in style.  I have some shots of the Beer Halls in a bit, but Oktoberfest is about the people so here are some of my favorite shots of the crowd.

I hope this finally puts the whole, "You can't go out past Labor Day with shorts and suspenders" debate to rest for good.

As you can tell by the fact that everyone is standing upright (and the guy in the middle is able to squat without falling down), this was before they made it into the Beer Hall

The only place outside of working for FTD that guys looking like this can get away with walking around with flowers all night long.

Apparently the Bavarians, like fighter pilots, find it most effective to move in a "Flying V" pattern when on patrol for the ladies.

This is called a Dirndl.  It is the traditional dress of the Bavarian working class.  I'm making it my personal mission in life to see that the females in the States take a good hard look at making this their official hangin' out attire.

Just another example.  Keep in mind this has nothing to do with anything other than I think they would be very comfortable for yall to wear. I'm totally looking out for you on this one. . . No no. . .no need to thank me.  It's what I do (For those of you preparing your "Kenny, you are a sexist pig" comment, just wait for the grand finale before pushing send.  I promise it will get much better.).

Scott got an infinitely better shot of this guy with his kid, but thanks to Sony's proprietary equipment, this is the best I can do for now.  I'll just say that Dad here is wearing shorts, knee high socks, and a shirt about two sizes too small. If you saw him full profile, this would be the picture of the post.  Kills me not to show you the full on shot of these two.  Classic.

So the the whole festival has a bunch of parts to it.  There are the typical cool fair rides, and there is cruising up and down the street looking at all the booths and eating, etc. But the thing that separates Oktoberfest from anything I've ever been to, are the Beer Tents.  They are these huge 5,000 seat beer halls with a big polka band and thousands upon thousands of happy people eating and drinking and singing and toasting each other every 30 seconds or so.  This is what it is all about.  So of course, since this is the spot to be, it is impossible to get seats unless you know a guy who knows the 2nd cousin of the wife of the owner of the tent.

Well, since Scott and I didn't get to the party until around 5 Saturday night due to the flights, etc., we got shut out of the tents.  People reserve seats almost as soon as the previous year is through and the few remaining general admission seats are probably sought after by 100 folks for every one seat.  After a failed attempt to get past the bouncers by having Scott "show a little leg", we decided it would be best to try again the next day when we could get to the tent at an appropriate hour to start drinking beer:  10:00 AM.  So that's what we did, and by golly if we didn't beat all the other folks with hangovers and have ourselves a blast.  Most of these shots are at the Hofbrauhaus Tent, which from what I'm told, is the Big Wig in this group of 10-20 different beer halls:

Nothing like a little party with a few thousand of your closest friends singing "Heeeeeyyyy Babyyyyy!  I want to knowowow, If you'll be my girlll.  Dun dun nuh nuh" at the top of their lungs.

Here's a shot of the band.  As an added bonus, they also spontaneously break out classic Old Fat White Guy dance routines that thankfully don't include: 1) The Electric Slide 2) The Macarena 3) Somebody choking on a bratwurst

Here's Scott with his pint and our humongous Pretzel.

And then me.  Not my favorite beer of the trip, but you have to have one or they throw you out of the Hall (only half kidding here).

You see this exact picture every thirty seconds.  8.5 Euros a pop (~$13).

Ever find yourself thinking if you only had a pretzel, you could get out of whatever situation you were facing at the moment?  Well friend, have I got good news for you. . .

This is a second beer hall that we popped into.  As you can see, it is quite similar to the first, just different colors, different songs, and a different beer distributor.  Again, we went early, before a lot of people were well past being able to walk home let alone drive, but the atmosphere here can only be conveyed if you've experienced it first hand.  Just a great event all around...

Yes indeed.  A truly great event.  Show of hands:  Who thinks Germany is awesome?  (ok ladies, NOW you can start writing.)

Next post, Scott and I head to the German/Austrian border for a tour of the Eagle's Nest, which is Hitler's Alpine headquarters during WWII.

Day 13 - Berlin: It "Takes My Breath Away" (Thank you, thank you. I'm here all week. Try the flan)

Hey Team,

Today's my only full day in Berlin (I have a night train to Munich tonight), so to make the most of it, I'm going on my first paid walking tour.  The tour started around 10:30.  I got there with some time to spare, so I did what I always do when there's nothing else going on:  Eat.

Look at this beautiful creature.  Is it a roll?  Is it a pretzel?  I don't know and, honestly, does it matter?  It has a ton of oven baked cheese on it and was the perfect 2nd breakfast for me this morning.

After I knocked out my appetizer above, I met up with about 30 or so folks and my tour guide, Derek, who was a history major in college around his hometown of Toronto.  He was exceptionally knowledgeable and a pretty cool guy.  Here's a rundown of the sights we saw:

Here's a shot of the Berliner Dom, Berlin's largest church, which is a Protestant Cathedral.  This is where the Royal Family (when there used to be one) would worship.

That's the Spree River running through the bottom of the picture.  This is near where Berlin got it's start back in the 13th century, when, as we were told, it was nothing but a "stinky fishing village".

This is Humboldt University which has produced somewhere around 20 Nobel Laureates.  Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Albert Einstein, and Max Plank as well as a lot of other famous folks all either studied or taught here.

And yes you should know who Max Plank is.  Go ahead, look him up.  I'll wait.

This is the Gendarmenmarkt, which is widely considered one of the prettiest squares in Berlin. What you see to the left is the German Cathedral. It has a very similar mirror cathedral on the opposite side of the square.

This one was built by the Germans as a response to the other one built by some French Huguenots who had been invited to settle in Berlin.  Y'know just to let them know who was still in charge so they didn't get any ideas about getting too comfortable.  Nothing like using God to intimidate your possible rivals I always say.

Here is one of the last remaining sections of the Berlin Wall to remain standing.  The irony here is, in order to protect it from vandalism, the German government had to build another wall around it.

Let's Go Communism! (clap, clap. . .clapclapclap)!  Let's Go Communism! (clap, clap. . .clapclapclap)!!!

This is a propoganda mural painted on one of the few remaining Nazi-built buildings by the Communist regime, which has now purposely been left up to mock the former governments.

Just when I thought democracy couldn't be any dumber, it goes and does something like this...and totally redeems itself! ..

This is a standard building built during the East German period.  You can tell because all of the building are prefabricated (if you look close, you can see all of the lines connecting to one another).  Each piece was basically brought down already made and hooked on to another piece making these building very cheap and efficient to make.  This creative thinking is what gave the citizens the idea to coin these structures with the loving nickname, "The Legos from Hell".

Here's the Brandenburg Gate, which is the only remaining gate from the original wall that surrounded Berlin.  It was actually quite a bit smaller than I had expected, especially for such an identifiable world famous artifact.  

Last stop on the tour was the Reichstag Building which is the seat of the German National Parliament. This was the site of the famous Reichstag Fire that Hitler used to consolidate his power in the 1930's and become dictator.

All in all it was a very educational tour and well worth the money.  Berlin was a wonderful city.  The surprise of the trip thus far.  I would definitely come back to hang out.

I didn't have a ton of time after the 5 hour excursion ended so I just wandered around for a bit and then headed to the train station to catch my overnight ride.  I rented what is called a "couchette" so I could sleep on the way to Munich.  Here's my berth:

I asked for the Serta Queen Size Super Sleeper but this was as close as they had.  Really it wasn't that bad at all.  Slept like a baby.  If you ever get a chance to sleep on a train, I highly recommend it.  Very cool experience.

Tomorrow is a great day, because my brother, Scott, is heading to Europe to meet up with me in Munich.  He's going to be hanging with me for the whole week.  Our first mission:  Oktoberfest.