Kari in Florence: Learning to like beer at Oktoberfest
    Kari will be in Florence, Italy until Dec. 17.

    Let me preface this by stating that normally I do not like beer. Unless it is involved in a game, I will go out of my way to avoid drinking it. But could I pass up the opportunity to go to Oktoberfest, one of the most famous events in Europe, because of this? Absolutely not.

    Late on Thursday I boarded a bus that traveled overnight through the Alps into Germany. A hostel or hotel in Munich would have cost $100-$150 per night, so my friends and I decided to go camping instead; therefore, when we first arrived, we drove straight through the city to Obermenzing Campground.

    Our part of the campground was run by an Australian company called Stoke Travel. I had never met anyone from Australia before, but I have to admit that I found the Australians I met over the weekend a little unorthodox. The campsite had the feel of a hippie colony. Most of the men had long hair, and some walked around barefoot. The first day we were served porridge that, at first glance, seemed to contain apples. They were actually potatoes. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the campsite was one of hilarity and merriment, and just being there put me in high spirits.

    I’ve also gotten used to the heat of Florence, so the weather in Germany was a bit of a shock to the system. Each tent was shared by two people, and we had thin sleeping bags between us and the ground that did little to keep out the biting cold. I wore almost all the clothes I had packed in layers to keep warm, and even during the morning I had to keep leggings on underneath my jeans.

    Oktoberfest itself was not exactly what I had expected. It was better, a sort of amusement park for adults. The festivities sprawl out over an area called the Theresienwiese. There were at least ten enormous beer tents, each holding what must have  been thousands of people. At least half of the individuals at Oktoberfest were dressed in lederhosen and traditional dresses.  In addition, an incredible number of carnival rides, roller coasters, games and food stands were interspersed around the grounds. There was even a haunted house.

    Getting into the beer tents is always an issue, and waiting in the lines can take hours. The first day we arrived at the festivities too late, and we had to sit in the beer gardens outside of the Loewenbrau tent. The second day, however, the Australians woke us up at 4:45 a.m., ostensibly to get good tables in the beer tents, but really to take us into Munich in order to watch an Australian football game. Most of the Americans had no interest in watching it, and would rather have still been in bed, but we didn’t have a choice since they banged pots and pans together and cursed at us to wake us all up. (Side note: Australian football is possibly the most insane game I have ever seen. The ball can be kicked, bounced, thrown, or rolled by anyone on the field. Players don’t wear protective pads but still tackle each other as viciously as in American football.)

    The silver lining was that after the game we did arrive at the festival grounds early enough to find a table in the Hofbrau tent. Even that early in the morning, the tent was packed with people drinking, singing and dancing. I still don’t understand why, but the riff from “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes seemed to be especially popular. Women with bulging muscles carrying up to ten beer steins at a time scurried between tables, and vendors hawked pretzels as big as my head. Every five or ten minutes, there would be a spontaneous outburst throughout the tent, everybody clinking glasses and yelling “Prost,” the German word for “cheers.”

    I also hadn’t expected the enormous camaraderie between everyone at Oktoberfest. The event may have been held in Germany, but it was extremely international. Individuals from all over the world were present, and all were united by the festivities. My favorite part of the weekend was when a group of Swiss men joined our table. We all started speaking Italian to them, with a smattering of English and some French thrown in by some of my friends. There was also a table of Germans next to us, and as I’ve learned German since middle school, I struck up a conversation with them as well. In the end, there were four languages being spoken at our table, and we were all able to make ourselves understood. The Swiss bought us beers and roses, and we all drank and laughed together.

    Looking back on Oktoberfest, the two and a half days I spent there become a happy blur. The only lasting effects: a newfound taste for beer, and the desire to avoid eating sausage again for at least a month.

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