A tour of Bavaria concludes at Munich’s famous Oktoberfest. Barry Freeman reflects on a great European night that any beer lover MUST experience
You join me in a Bavarian sauna early one Sunday not so long ago, naked as a jay-bird, 40-some hours of conviviality oozing from every pore. Not a happy man.
Well, not so happy as you would expect of one Munich-bound, where Earth’s greatest annual concentration of beer infused revelry – Oktoberfest – awaits, at any rate.
A whistle-stop tour of this unique region – ending here, the stunning golf and spa complex Hotel Fürstenhof **** at Bad Griesbach, towards Bavaria’s easterly cusp – had left its mark on yours truly, no fibs.
Such incredible scenery, thickly tree-clad mountain to endless undulating pasture.
Such food, meals that back home might have gouged three figures from my bank balance but here would at worst have run me fifty sheets.
Free range venison, thumping great veal chops, succulent sausage, foraged forest fungi, field fresh fruit and veg – simply prepared, local ingredients, served with pride, in portions that’d burst a polar bear.
Such drink. Oh, the drink...
Woozy from the previous night my mind sailed back over a small ocean of beer, all brewed to rigorous historic standards of excellence, most within walking distance of point of consumption; of fine schnapps, of good wine from the wider vicinity (forget all you think you know aboutGerman and Austrian wine. Should you visit expect to find out – at a fair price – that, put simply, the good stuff stays home).
And the people? Laid back, affable, welcoming, treating one more like a guest than a tourist – these qualities and more, in spades.
Maybe, I mused, maybe, my best bet is to hide. Just until the bus laid on to convey our party – myself and nine fellow gents of the press – to Munich has departed. Not one would spy my absence.
Sufficient fluids had been stowed until not six hours earlier to ensure nobody would notice if they were missing a limb, let alone a cohort.
Then up I’d pop, drop a pair of dots over the ‘a’ in Barry and begin a new life as a Bavarian in the Black Forest.
Meanwhile, as this train of thought rattled through the points, I quit the hot room, showered, ate, packed, bid sad farewells and boarded aforementioned charabanc.
We rolled into the city shortly after noon and pausing only to unload at the excellent Maritim Munich Hotel – perfectly placed, slap bang in the heart of things – hit the streets without delay.
A fine city opened before us. Busy, bustling, built for the random stroller, all wide uncluttered pavements, traffic-free boulevards and squares, intriguing alleys and cut throughs, nooks.
Incredible architecture too, both new and old, this latter in large part meticulously reconstructed after its destruction during the war.
We repaired in due course to the The Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall) a magnificent turn of the century neo-gothic edifice which is home to the city council and, down below, the Ratskeller, a restaurant serving traditional Bavarian food since the mid-19th century.
It is very simple. If you visit Munich, eat here. Richly painted and atmospheric, beneath its ornate vaulted ceilings we ate and drank as well as we did anywhere on the visit, in my case a Wiener (Viennese) Schnitzel which I’d happily eat twice a day from now until kingdom come.
Belts thus strained we wound a vigorous circuitous route back to the hotel, through streets more crowded now, through a city fair thrumming with excitement.
And why not? The last night of Oktoberfest comes but once a year, after all.
Our merry band embarked – on foot, the Maritim being no more than a quarter hour’s amble from the party – as the sun began to set.
Excited, expectant, ready for anything. Or so I thought.
Not a bit, it turned out. I for one was at once hit blindside by the sheer scale of the event.
Towering fairground rides in every direction, booths and sideshows, live music in every direction, a million scents of hot fresh grub merging amid more merry, tipsy, smiling people than I have ever seen in one place at one time.
The Schottenhamel was our destination, the oldest and largest of the tents. But how to describe what we encountered within?
What sights, sounds, sensations, does somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 people carousing in utter abandon within one gigantic room afford?
A whirl of movement and merriment, thumping oompah music from the stage, lads and lasses of all ages dancing, cuddling, kissing, laughing, cutting wild capers.
Through this barrage of unfettered celebration slid waiters and waitresses in traditional Bavarian garb, lederhosen and dirndl respectively, arms laden with great steiners of foaming delicious ale, platters of steaming salted chicken, huge hot chewy pretzel.
I took several laps of the vast hall and on each occasion returned to our group enthused, amazed and slightly worse for wear.
Upstairs at the front of the hall, a smokers’ balcony offered an elevated view of the site which will live long in my memory.
Under darkening but clear blue skies and the psychedlic lights of those immense rides, a veritable human sea, raging below, most half cut, some full gone. The music rang into the night from multiple sources, merging into a mad mess of aural energy...
Hours flew by. An utterly life-affirming night. Over too soon.
Up and away early doors the next morning. Needless to say the Maritim’s incredible breakfast buffet played a pivotal role in rousing our party, and given half a chance I could have happily settled in that elegant restaurant until noon the following day.
A quick hop over the road and we were on a train for the airport, where a beaming chap from our hosts Lufthansa took us under his wing.
A tour of their gigantic operation there ensued, which was enjoyable enough, and led us finally to the airport’s traditional Bavarian restaurant for a last grand feed and glass or two of good cheer.
Beer brewed at the airport itself, if you can believe such a thing. The only such operation anywhere in the world.
It made perfect practical sense, said our host, for the airport to brew its own beer, a drop, I’d add – as superb as any I had encountered thus far.
But then, that is Bavaria all over. Totally down to Earth yet utterly unique.