Imagine thousands of people crammed under a hot, smoky tent the size of a large three-story building, standing (and dancing) on tables, drinking large amounts of beer out of the biggest steins you've ever seen, all the while singing at the top of their lungs along to a live band playing rock and roll at maximum volume (my particular favorite was the group chant to The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army") as dozens (hundreds?) more waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional German garb race through the narrow alleyways between the tables with trays full of food and drink. Now keep that image in your head for several hours.
That, as best I can describe, is what it's like inside a beer tent at Oktoberfest. It truly is unlike anything i've ever seen before, and if drinking and partying with friends is your idea of a good time, then I can definitely see why millions of people travel to Munich each fall to participate.
Contrary to its reputation, though, there's a lot more going on at Oktoberfest than just drinking beer. Actually, the majority of space at the event is dedicated to the biggest and best carnival I've ever seen (I'm saying that a lot, aren't I?). It was like an actual amusement park had been set up in Munich, a throwback to a bygone era in the industry with multiple little haunted houses, bumper car arenas, swings, Ferris wheels, and midway games as far as the eye could see. There were actually two roller coasters, and these weren't any small things. Both looked to top out at about 75 feet, if I had to guess, and one featured five loops. They looked like anything but portable attractions, that's for sure.
And there were certainly some unusual things on the midway, too: carousels where instead of riding horses you sat at tables and drank beer; a supersized electric train set that ran its course through a gnome village; a small tent where kids could take pony rides around in a circle.
I hit the midway with a couple colleagues to try out a few attractions and had a fabulous time. We went through a psychedelic fun house (complete with awesome 3-D effects), rode a wild mouse ride, and traveled through a not-so-scary haunted house. The best, though, was the flea circus: We all thought it was just gonna be a mechanical contraption made to look like "fleas" were doing all sorts of activities. Wow, we were so wrong. We went through a curtain to find ourselves in the smallest "theater" I've ever been in, about 10 of us huddled around a 2-foot-by-2-foot stage. The "ringmaster" comes out and passes around a chess piece with a wire on it and a magnifying glass; yep, on the chess piece, that's a real flea. So over the next few minutes he has a series of barely-visible fleas do the following tricks: kick teeny-tiny soccer balls into a goal; run a chariot race; and perform a ballet. Real. Live. Fleas. doing all this stuff. It was surreal.
Matter of fact, that's probably the best way to describe Oktoberfest. I don't know what it's like for people from other parts of the world, but for this American it was like stepping 20 years back in time. People are dressed in costumes. Your senses are bombarded with smells and sights at all times. And everyone seems to be in a good mood and having a grand time.
I have a bunch of pictures from last night, but unfortunately don't have access to them right now. There's so much material from EAS, though, I'll be posting more next week after I get home, and I promise you'll see plenty from Oktoberfest.