So who’s ready for a vacation? Well me… always. As I write this the eve before the impending Groundhog’s Day blizzard of 2016, I can’t help but dream of warmer temperatures and leaving Wisconsin for a bit. Until that happens though, it’s time to relive a trip of the past!
It was about 5 years ago that my father made it known that a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich was on his life “bucket list”. After kicking the idea around for a bit, saving up some funds and reaffirming that we love beer, Kevin and I told them we were in and the trip was set for September 2015. It was also decided that while over there we would check out Prague and Berlin, two cities that I knew virtually nothing about but were close by and had lots of good reviews!
After a hectic 12ish hours of travel with an almost missed international flight, we made it to Prague! For this trip, we had decided to give Air B&B a try for the first time and definitely found success. We wound up with a cute little flat near the city center for half the price of hotels in the area. Our first order of business (as always) was to find a drink! At the local pub is where we made our first discovery of Czech’s liquid gold, Pilsner Urquell.
Side note: My maiden name is Brunnquell, so naturally my parents and I were quite excited by this discovery. Little did we know that upon return to the U.S., Pilsner Urquell is actually already EVERYWHERE. Apparently we were just ignorant.
The next day we opted for a full day walking tour to stretch our legs and take in the sights. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to, with castles, churches and bridges galore. The streets are all cobblestone and there are multiple open squares, the main one simply known as “Old Town Square” and containing a working astronomical clock over 600 years old. After the tour wrapped up, we also found a high-end cigar bar (Týnská Bar and Books) that had been recommended by a friend, and chose to wind down there with cocktails in hand.
After a quick three days it was time for the bus to Munich and starting the adventure we had really come here to experience. While researching Oktoberfest, it had been decided early on that we wanted to do it fully as part of a tour group. Never having been before and knowing the scale of the event, the thought of planning things entirely on our own was a bit intimidating. I’ll always be the first one to admit that it’s best to leave unknown details to the experts! There are a lot of ways to do Oktoberfest, from pretty elaborate to quite simple, and we finally settled on a two day plan with the Thirsty Swagman tour company.
How do you begin to describe a place as iconic as THE Oktoberfest? Well, it’s exactly what you would expect it to be. Picture typical festival grounds, like state fair or Summerfest. Gates are open freely and anyone can walk in and out. There’s a main drag down the center with food, souvenirs, etc. and then giant beer “tents” linings the sides. When I say tents I really mean giant semi-permanent structures, each dedicated to a German beer giant such as Hofbräuhaus München and Paulaner (which happened to be the two we went to).
These tents can get CRAZY. Our first day we were literally packed in, side by side, back to back with one another. Beer maids impressively bring over 10+ beers at a time and disperse them to the tables with no problem. There are people of all nationalities coming together, conversing and singing (Ein Prosit!), while great music is being played. Multiple times we listed to Beer Barrel Polka and Roll Out the Barrel. I enjoyed brats, pretzels and pickles with thousands. Wisconsin isn’t weird you guys! There really are other places just like us! Drunken Sarah never felt so connected to her heritage as she did in that two-day span. We even went all out and dressed up in lederhosen and dirndls, probably the most expensive purchase of the trip but well worth it.
After two long, but fun, days, it was time to continue moving along. We packed up and headed up north to Berlin, the capital of Germany and also another underrated city. After opting for another day-long walking tour, we discovered just how much history really is involved in this city and much recovery is still truly happening from the events of the 1900s. There are still bullet holes in buildings from WW2. There are still pieces of the Berlin Wall standing. There is the beautiful and haunting Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. All of this is still intertwined with a present day bustling city with one of the largest train stations in Europe and a great night life to boot. All of this is situated along the Spree River, which we took a river cruise along our final evening. Simply beautiful.
What a trip! This experience definitely made me want to explore Eastern Europe much further including Hungary, Poland and the like. There will always be more to do, so I guess I’ll just need to start planning my next adventure soon!