Category Archives: Europe

My Secret Obession: World War II Bunkers

There was an article last Summer about how some kid discovered some bunkers in Denmark that are in pristine condition. So awesome.

I don’t know what it is with me and those concrete bunkers built during World War II. When I’m driving along the French or Dutch coast, or through the Eiffel in Belgium, and I see those telltale right angles breaking through the tranquil countryside, I pull my car over and start climbing over the damn things like a little kid.

A fading memory

A fading memory - one of the German emplacements on Omaha beach

What is it about these decaying, stained and otherwise hideous concrete structures that make me so crazy? They violate an otherwise peaceful landscape. Local kids use these things to tag up, shoot up, or drink up and I reckon most locals want to forget them. Yet all I can imagine is what it must have been liked over half a century previous when these things were built. I guess it’s the knowledge that as I stand there, I’m at Ground Zero of the showdown that determined the direction of World history.

It’s like walking in the footsteps of giants.

Last Summer I found an amazing set of bunkers and gun emplacements on an island of the Dutch coast. Although a foot note in a side theater of the main conflict, the island of Texel (pronounced “Tessel”) was the scene of a vicious battle which earned it a few dubious – and grim –

distinctions …

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Denmark, Europe, Germans, History, Military, military history, Netherlands, Travel, World War II, Writing

Rosenmontag and Super Tuesday

The post serves a couple of purposes:

1) To inform you that I partied like a Rockstar at Carnival in Cologne and Dusseldorf, which is why I haven’t been writing.

2) To provide a little evidence that much of the world really does seem to be following the US elections. Very closely.

The following photos were taken during the Rosenmontag (“Rose Monday”) parade through Koenigsallee in Duesseldorf (I apologize if they’re fuzzy of not framed properly but we were in a crowd and we were really really drunk):

Rosenmontagzug

 

Rosenmontagszug2

Not only is the primary process being followed closely around the world, but the above photos demonstrate that some Euro-pundits are far more astute than I thought. Keep in mind that these photos were taken 24 hours before Super Tuesday. Quite the augur when you think about how much money Obama raised shortly thereafter. (I believe it was $3 million in 48 hours.)

Funny thing is, a couple of German party animals from the Ruhrpot slapping together a grotesque parade float have a stronger grip on reality than most of the major European media outlets.

The German and British press seem to be unconditionally kissing Obama’s posterior. His encomium as the “black JFK” was a bit too much for me. As far as Hillary goes, the Dutch have been loving HRC for years. (Strong women with short hair go over well here.) My Dutch in-laws are trying to register a proxy vote for her via Yours Truly.

So you read and hear a lot about Obama and Hillary, but not too much about the Republicans. If you’re lucky, you read something on McCain. There is so little coverage of the Republicans it’s not even funny. (In all fairness, there was little coverage of any other Dem candidates besides HRC and BO anyway – even at the beginning of the campaign.)

A German friend of mine (who’s former GSG-9, actually) summed it up best; he “doesn’t care who wins, so long as it’s not a Republican”. There’s an excellent blog called David’s Medienkritik that comprehensively catalogs the German media’s choleric coverage of Bush, Republicans, and America the “Wild West” (full of gun-loving, conservative, fat people, etc.). It sheds a lot of light on where these opinions come from. I only wish someone did the same with the BBC World Service; every third item is about how Bush sucks because of Iraq. The other two items are that break up these items are usually i) the latest warnings about global warming, and ii) Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

I must say, watching Dutch, German, and English television, I’ve been surprised by the extent of the coverage and – dare I say it – the general fascination with the presidential primary process, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. Listening to the anchors (and my wife), no one seems to believe that such powerful people have to kiss the ass of the “lowliest” farmer or pipe-fitter in such unrefined surroundings (churches, schools, people’s living rooms, etc).

I suppose that says something about European history/culture as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Amsterdam, Carnival, Europe, Germans, Germany, Media, Netherlands, Obama, politics, Travel, Writing

Flying Bricks of Fury: My Encounter with Intolerant Amsterdam

To quote ‘The 40 Year-old Virgin‘, “I had a WEEKEND.”

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading, as bricks and other bits of masonry only flew on Friday night, but damn, what a weekend.Friday night started off as a good night out. Some family and friends from various points abroad all converged on Amsterdam (where I currently reside) to get together. It was a great re-union/party, and it coincided nicely with the Amsterdam Dance Event, which meant there were tons of decent DJs to choose from.

Friday night a group of us went to dinner at Nomads. Nomads is the Middle Eastern cousin of the renowned Supper Club. Now, I hate the Supper Club: it’s pretentious, and people are unjustifiably way to into themselves. I say “ unjustifiably” because these forced attempts at exclusivity are a bit laughable, and I don’t think they pull it off well anymore. (Did they ever?) Nomads has the couches, the hookahs, the DJ, and an excellent list of very original cocktails. (My favorite was the “Dark and Stormy”, which involved Bacardi black, limes, and ginger beer.) The food was a bit of a divergence from traditional Arabic meze, but it was still very good. If you’re more than six people, you don’t get to choose the menu, but the three course presentation was excellent, and they had vegetarian options.

The tunes and general atmosphere were great, and the belly dancer didn’t hurt. The service was sometimes way too slow bringing the drinks to the table, and the masseuse was crap. There’s also a tarot card reader hanging about, although we ignored her. (I heard later she was also crap.) We all seemed to struggle drinking on the beds as well. (It can be forgiven, I suppose, since drinking in bed is something I didn’t plan to pick up until I was well into my 60s.) I think for every three drinks ordered, two were successfully consumed. We all knocked over at least one drink with an errant foot or ill-placed elbow, but the record was held by the masseuse – who knocked over a whole tray of cocktails, and the waiter – who took out the bottle of wine he’d just opened, plus the bottle we were still finishing. (The Dutch word for spaz is “Knoeier!“)

The masonry started flying when my sister and a friend went outside for some fresh air. Apparently, Nomads has a disco as well. The scene at the disco is way different from the lounge. This became clear very quickly, as the line to get into the disco was almost exclusively the under 21 crowd. A group of guys started harassing the two girls. Typical testosterone-fuelled bravado designed for a cheap laugh at some girl’s expense, right? What they didn’t count on was a face full of New York ‘ tude from a four foot eleven Korean-American, who isn’t one to back down from a confrontation, even when outnumbered five-to-one. That’s when the racial epithets started to fly (“kut chinees”, “chinees kutwijf”, etc.). My Dutch friend who was with her was too shocked to say anything. My sister backed off, and one of the punks actually kicked her in the ass with his boot.

They came back inside. My sister was pissed, and my Dutch friend was stunned, as she’d always bought into Amsterdam’s self-image as a City of Tolerance.

She’d just had a very rude awakening.

Sis told us what happened through gritted teeth. Once she told me she’d been hit, I began putting my shoes on. (You take off your shoes in a bed, right?) Her boyfriend and the other guys in our group did the same. We went outside and saw the huge line of people waiting to get into the disco.

“There he is!” My sister pointed with a black goth fingernail. “That’s the little sh*t who kicked me!”

And boy, was he a little sh*t alright. He was backed up by about five friends, which I figure is exactly why he’d felt the need to prove his “manliness” in the first place. All five of them had their best white sneakers, gold chains, and hooded puffy down jackets against the cold weather. Such stupid behavior from five aspiring gangstas was not surprising, but what did surprise me was that t the racial epithets came from five guys who were clearly Moroccan. Waitaminnit, I thought, aren’t these guys always the victims of discrimination around here?

The confrontation started, tempers flared, and then one of the punk’s friends rabbit punched me in the face. Before we knew it, the gang of five became a gang of 20, and I had three “Men of Middle Eastern Origin” climbing all over me. I decked two and quickly had a third in a headlock; I looked behind me, hoping to see my buddies backing me up. All I saw was my little sister – God bless her – delivering greetings from the Land of Beatings to the scrawny punk that kicked her.

My other friends were behind a wall of 16 other punks. We were cut off.

Ultimately, my friends waded in, and we actually beat them all back. I couldn’t believe it. They were all talk, and their mouths had clearly written checks their bodies couldn’t cash. Sounds like a win, right? WRONG.

The entire sidewalk was being rebuilt and there were stacks of bricks just laying about. In a desperate attempt to get the upper hand, three of the bastards grabbed bricks and waved them over at us, threatening to throw. One of them stood atop the pile a good five feet above us, waving the brick threateningly. At that point, a brick hit me in the back, and my situational awareness came back to me. I heard my buddy shouting “Get in! Get back in the door!” and saw the two bouncers (who’d done nothing to help my sister in the first place, and who’d not intervened at all when things escalated) were pulling down a metal shutter to seal themselves safely inside and me outside!

I grabbed my sister under my arm (still yelling and struggling to get at the scrawny punk who’d kicked her) and we little slid under the shutter Indiana Jones-style. More bricks smashed into the shutter with a terrific clang. The bouncer got in my face, and I got right back in his, shouting “ik ben een gast!” I wasn’t sure what was worse about this moment, the fact that this had even happened, or that it happened frequently enough that they obviously had some sort of drill worked out for what to do.

Our only injuries were back pain (not from the brick, but from trying not to fall down with three of the bastards crawling all over me), some bloody knuckles, and a black-and-blue toe on another friend from another brick that had been fired at us. We sat there laughing about it, but it was a real Assault on Precinct 13 moment – and I mean the original (“Cholo? Nobody said nothing about the Cholo!”), not the remake. Like the children of immigrants burning the banlieues of Paris, the teenage boys here run wild. It’s not as bad as Paris of course, but it now seems to be getting there.

As I write this, cars are probably being burned again for the third or fourth night in a row in Amsterdam West. They started burning cars after some nut named Bilal B. went into a police station and began stabbing a female police officer. Her colleague naturally shot the guy – dead. This was the spark for the latest “outrage”.We’d jumped into the confrontation rather casually – especially the guys that don’t live in Amsterdam. This is Holland: there’s no guns, very few knives, and street brawls seem limited only to football matches. But then I recalled the cars burning only a few blocks from us in Amsterdam West.

As I sat there in Nomads, I realized that a bunch of bored guys in their teens/early 20s aren’t just going to go away and call it a night. For them, this could mean SHOWTIME. It suddenly seemed very feasible to me that there might be 50 bored guys out there now, building up their outrage and their courage, and gather bricks.

I turned to the other guys. “We could have a problem here.”

No one believed me, of course. And in the end – it wasn’t a problem. The kids had actually scattered or backed off. Most of them – I suspect – put more value on getting into the club than getting into a fight again. We got into our taxis without seeing them again. I suppose there must have been a better way to handle the situation. It’s just that Amsterdam cops seem pretty useless, get no respect, have no mandate to enforce laws vigorously (as in New York), and are literally never ever around when you need them. I only feel bad because I just know that the jerk-offs have no realization of just how rotten and dangerous their behavior was, and are probably wearing any bruises we gave them as badges of honor. I’m also sure their version of the fight is being told and re-told in a completely different way, with the number of adversaries they faced doubling and tripling with each re-telling of their “victory”.

Nomads was good, and the fight is already (thankfully) a hilarious story. Saturday night was legendary. We’d rented a canal boat for a couple of hours for an evening tour of the canals of Amsterdam. The boat was tastefully appointed in dark, polished teak, with brass fittings, and the hull design was a classic Dutch canal boat. The friendly captain doubled as a tour guide. To top it off, we had buffet rijsttafel from an excellent local restaurant called Kantijl & de Tijger, and an open bar to keep the 30 of us happy. From there, we walked about 200 yards to the Odeon. I’d never been there before. It used to be just a club (and apparently a very exclusive one at that), but now it’s a multi-level restaurant/bar/club. It was fantastic. The crowd was a mix of trendy 20-somethings and 30-somethings, and ranged from “Happy Drunk” to “E’d Out of Their Mind”. We were all the way in top in balcony seating. Where we danced, jabbered, and laughed until 5 am. Hangovers and the Amsterdam City Marathon put the kibosh on a big brunch in the city center, so everyone who’d reserved evening flights home crashed in my living room, ate take out, and listlessly watched ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’. I don’t think we had anything left to prove at that point.

Like I said, we had a WEEEKEND.

Leave a comment

Filed under Amsterdam, Bilal B., Europe, immigration, islam, Moroccans, Netherlands, Police, Travel, violence

Oktoberfest – the Happiest Place on Earth, Part III

Hippodrom!

The police van pulled in front of us at a pretty decent clip as I was leaving Oktoberfest. I thought they were on their way after proper criminals, but they screeched to a halt not a foot from my chest. Both side doors slid open, and within seconds we were surrounded. My beer-addled mind frantically fingered through the Gesetzbuch – the book of rules (written and unwritten) that all Germans (Müncheners in particular) seem to know by heart and enforce with both verve and ruthless efficiency (it’s in the mission statement) – what had I done wrong?

“Guten Abend,” I greeted him with my soberest smile.

“Gruss Gott,” der Bulle in the van replied. He was wearing the typical heavy leather Munich-cop jacket. He leaned forward so I got a good look at the leather saps he was wearing. “Do you know it is a 150 Euro fine to leave the festival grounds with a Masskrug?”

* * *

It was just after 1 am as we left the Wies’n. We’d spent a victorious evening at Schottenhammel: six guys at a table reserved for 16. When you reserve a table, you get coupons (Gutscheine) valid for 2 beers and 1 chicken per person (usually). Through sheer force of will, our force of six managed to pound down 40 liters and eight chickens inside of 4 1/2 hours. (We converted some of the Hend’l (chicken) Gutscheine into more beer; it was quite a sight, I’m sure.) From there, we’d headed to Käfer for even more beer and some late-night Schnitzel. (As mentioned in Part II, Käfer’s has the best food at the Wies’n – their Schnitzel is 2x what you pay anywhere else, but it’s massive, fresh, and comes with potato salad.) We were still carrying our nearly full Masskrüge from Käfer’s when we slipped out at 1 am. (It’s not too hard to do. Just position yourself behind some real inebriated revelers also trying to leave with their mugs. The guards will stop them whilst you walk on by.)

Darwin 1 Darwin 2

 

above: Incontrovertible Photographic Evidence of Rule #1

We’d thought ourselves pretty slick. The beer would last us until our next destination: Schrannenhalle (open until 5 am). We only wanted the beer. (Lord knows we didn’t want the mugs. I already have eight at home, and they serve almost no purpose. I mean, what liquid do you really drink at home in liter quantities?)

Threats/advice/requests from German cops are not to be taken lightly. If you speak to any US/UK/French/Canadian serviceman that’s done a tour in Germany, they’ll tell you they usually got a lecture on dealing with German police when they arrived for their tour. The key learning from the lecture was this: the Polizei only have to ask once; after that, they can use whatever force they feel necessary. By buddy M. is from Karlsruhe. He’d had plenty of run-ins with the Polizei during his Wehrdienst (his obligatory service in the Bundeswehr), and believed that total subservience was the only way to salvation. Or so he thought…

* * *

So back to the story. So now the police are about to beat me about the head figuratively with the Gesetzbuch, or literally with their sticks and leather saps. My buddy M. was standing next to me, also about 6-8 liters in and looking quite cowed. The threat of a 150 Euro fine was hanging in the air, and the cop was waiting expectantly for my reaction.

“150 euros. Really?” I replied calmly.

“Yes, really.” The cop wasn’t smiling, but I decided he didn’t look unfriendly.

The cop at the passenger side had walked over to the driver’s side. Two more cops stood behind the van – both female. M. was mumbling to himself worriedly.

“Alternatively,” he leaned back again, “you can surrender the mug now and leave. With no fine.”

At once, the cops relaxed. The guy on my left leaned casually on the of the van.

M. stopped mumbling and looked up. “What?” He mumbled.

“Sounds fair,” I replied over him. I offered my Mass in surrender. I’ll gladly sacrifice my beer in order to avoid a 150 euro fine.

“Hey,” he looks at me sternly. “I don’t want your beer.”

“Oh.” I made a move to dump it out.

“Hey hey hey!” He waved his hands frantically. “You aren’t supposed to pour it out either! You can drink it.” (Nudge nudge)

I paused for a second, pondering the unspoken implications of what he’d said. He watched as the penny dropped, and grinned.

I nodded, took a deep breath, lifted my Mass, and begin to pour it down my throat…

Now, I was already quite full, and that 3/4 liter probably should have killed me. I think what saved my life was i) the critical Grundlage of chicken, goulash, and schnitzel that I’d built up during the course of the day, and ii) the fear of losing face in front of six bored Munich police officers.

I came up for air once, with about 1.5 fingers left in the Mass.

“He’d doing it! He’s doing it!” The two female officers squealed in delight.

Deep breath. The last drop was gone. I handed it back.

“Bitte schön.” I smiled.

He gives me a lopsided smirk. I know what he’s thinking. Nicht schlecht … für ein scheiss Amerikaner. Finally, he nodded. “Gentleman, have a pleasant evening.”

The doors slam shut, and they were off.

***

I’ve seen Munich police do a lot of crazy Scheisse in the past – berating jay walkers, giving DWI summons to people on bicycles, storming picnic grounds to harass and fine unauthorized barbecues (physically intimidating them too) – but being invited to pound a Mass or pay a fine was a first. It was also a pretty nice summary of O-fest 2007 for me. I think the following photos do it some justice was well.

Brez’n und Weisswurst

The Breakfast of Champions: Weisswurst, Brez’n & Weissbier (not shown)

Free Beer!

Free Beer! During the Parade of Brewers and Landlords (9 am the first Saturday), the waitress hand out free Mass to parade goers. The only way to start the day.

Parade of Brewers and Landlords
Readying for the parade of Brewers and Landlords

 

 

Now THAT’S Service! nr4.JPG Now THAT’S Service, Pt. 2 Rack 1

Gratuitous Shots of O-fest Cuties in Dirnd’l

I leave you with a shot of the poor sap pictured below. He probably won’t be coming back next year … or maybe he will. Ain’t nothing wrong with moderation, alternating beer with water, or leaving early. But, on the off-chance you do get carted to the Red Cross building at the Wies’n, as of 2006, a Mass of beer there cost only € 5.50!

Dead drunk

 


6 Comments

Filed under Bavaria, Bavarians, beer, Europe, Germans, Germany, Munich, Oktoberfest, Police, Travel, Uncategorized, women

Oktoberfest – the Happiest Place on Earth, Part II

Just came back from a marathon three day session for the opening of Oktoberfest (aka, the “Wies’n”).

Zug

above: Oktoberfest Opening Day Parade of Landlords and Brewers

It was between 20-25C degrees and sunny every damn day. Opening parade was great. Opening lunch at Hippodrom was even better.  The evening was the best. We had an “in” to get back into Hippodrom, but the weather was far too nice. Also hit Augustiner and sat outside of Armbrustschuetzenzelt and Kaefer: it was all good. Read the explanation of the tents below to find out why. If the weather’s nice, I’ll sit almost anywhere so long as it’s outside. But, you can never depend on the weather, so nowadays there’s only a few tents I’d go to. 

Wiesn Plan

Here’s the down low on the above tents (based on the excellent map at http://www.oktoberfest.de/de/03/): 

1.)  Hippodrom – Atmosphere: Great (if you have a seat); Beer: Good (Spaten) Food: Excellent; the Ladies: top notch

A few years ago, I really really loved this tent.  Everyone was friendly, the band was great, and it was generally a relaxed, hilarious time.  Now, it has the feeling of a moneymaking operation rather than a festival tent.  This is because they rotate you in and out of the tent based on the color bracelet you’re wearing. If the time slot on your bracelet has expired, they kick you off your table, and security reserves the right to boot you out.  What’s worse, they’ve shortened the afternoon lunch slot to make way for a “Happy Hour” slot before dinner is served (in order to make more money, you see). This means you either leave your table early and ingratiate yourself into another table (see rule #5 from my previous post), or suck in that gut and stay out of security’s way. Despite this development, I still like it Hippo. The band is great (one of the best at the Fest), the food is good quality, and the eye candy is enough to keep the attention of even the most severe ADD sufferer. The Munich celebs (aka, Promis) always show up here with their trophies, Playboy Germany books here, so do the major German media outlets like ProSieben (with their talent, of course), etc. 

2.)  Armsbrustschützenzelt – Atmosphere: so-so; Beer: Good (Spaten) Food: Good; the Ladies: Who? 

That mouthful translates as “Cross-bow archer’s tent” if I’m not mistaken. The motif inside is hunting, and giant boar’s heads decorate the coats of arms on the walls. That’s about it. The food was good, but not great. The crowd included a lot of kids, and way too many drunken Italians (more on la mafia bevuta later). We reviewed our video from two year’s ago, and saw one, maybe two good-looking girls, that’s it. The band was pretty funny, but pretty lazy. They played short sets and took a lot of breaks. I do have to say that the service outside this past Sunday was great. She was one of those dependable, built-like-a-Leopard tank older women – easily carrying eight Masskrüge at once, and taking crap from no one. 

3.) Hofbräu – Atmosphere: Medieval;  Beer: So-so (not a fan of Hofbraeu); Food: Barely Passable; the Ladies: absent or toothless

The first two years I hit the ‘Fest (when my German was a bit rusty), I lived at this tent. Why? Because it was the drunken outpost of the English-speaking world deep in foreign territory. The Aussies and the Kiwis, doing their backpacking tour of Europe, generally made up the backbone of the outpost. Most of them had already met at Pamplona during the San Fermin festival, so they were already best mates. Then you had the English and Scots flying in from the UK to get pissed, the Irish ex-pats already living in Munich (this is 1996-98, just before the Irish economy exploded and they all moved back home), American soldiers from bases in Augsburg, Stuttgart, etc., Americans and Canadians from overseas, and then a sprinkling of South Africans, and – no kidding – (white) Zimbabweans. It was like drinking with 1,000 of your best buddies, and bonds were strengthened by exchange of pop-culture references, sports (the classic “Who’s tougher? English rugger, Yank football player, or Aussie rules footballer” debate is still not resolved), and jokes and sealed with liters of beer. (It was at HB that I was introduced to the haka, and to this day still say “this is going straight to the pool room.”)  Security never dared stray into the center, preferring to stay on the edges and grabbing the weakest of the herd. When they did go into the center, it was in a LRRP-style patrol of six guys armed with leather saps.  Ah, memories!   

What changed? Well, the Italians showed up. They come in camping vans, park near the train station, and stay there until they’re finished making complete asses of themselves. The difference between the Italians and pretty much any other ethnic groups is i) they cannot hold their beer, and ii) they are mean drunks. They get louder and louder, and then finally fists or blades start flying (or they pass out). The last time I was in HB was 2003 (hey, it was Saturday afternoon and we were desperate), when one of them threatened to stab a buddy of mine because he was taking to a girl he fancied. Quite brave of him, since my buddy was twice his size (and sober), but these punks are never that brave, as they’re always backed up by a group of friends waiting in the wings. Fortunately, you’ll always know who his buddies are, since they always wear those stupid souvenir hats and customized t-shirts with pet names on them. 

4.)  Hacker Festzelt – Atmosphere: lame;  Beer: crap (Hacker is even worse than Löwenbräu) Food: no idea;  the Ladies: Who?

The beer alone is enough to keep you away, and there’s little inside to keep you hanging around. Only cool thing is the “blue sky” effect they achieve with the ceiling.

5.) Schottenhammel – Atmosphere: Consistently Great;  Beer: Who Cares? Food: Good;  the Ladies: Cute as hell, but jail bait

I love Schottenhammel. For a while, I couldn’t figure out is that every year the girls got younger. I only figured out a few years ago that the girls aren’t getting younger, I’m simply getting older. It’s mostly young pretty girls and their metro-sexual boyfriends. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun – especially on opening day, since this is where the mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Christian Ude ceremonially taps the first keg (“O’Zapft is!”). We did opening day there during German federal elections a few years ago. The CDU/CSU candidate, Edmund Stoiber (also President of the State of Bavaria) was there on opening day, apparently enjoying a Mass the day before everyone went to the polls. It turns out he was drinking non-alcoholic beer. No wonder he lost the election, the big sissy.  

6.) Winzerer Fähnd’l – Atmosphere: Good; Beer: Great (Paulaner); Food: Good;  the Ladies: Not bad

Also not my first choice, but we stormed in their for the “Running of the Tables” one year. It was a Saturday morning, we had seven guys, and no reservation. Two of us took it upon ourselves to get to the Wiesn early (8:30 am) to score a table. To our horror, all the tents were already full – except Winzerer Fähnd’l. Why? They hadn’t opened their doors yet. The two of us managed to storm in and score a table. The staff was great, I have to say. The guards opened the door for my friends that came later (noon), and politely refused me when they wouldn’t or couldn’t (4 pm). I tried a little bakshish, but the bugger wouldn’t budge. Our serving wench was great as well. A cute gal who busted our chops for not drinking fast enough, and when one of my light-weight friends yakked under the table, she didn’t bat an eye. She simply announced “Wer hat gespueckt?”, threw down some sawdust, and carried on serving. It got pretty rowdy there, and an acquaintance hooked up there, liplocked with a gal for six hours. That was four years ago, and they’re still together. 

7.) Schützen-Festzelt – Atmosphere: Consistently Great; Beer: so-so (Löwenbräu); Food: Excellent; the Ladies: Great

Guns and alcohol. Finally, a mix I can understand. Background is that this tent is for German Shiessvereine (“shooting clubs”), so there’s a target range at the back of the tent!  (It’s mercifully walled off, and it’s only for plinking with air rifles.) This is technically a “small” tent, as it’s tucked in behind Bräurösl and in the shadow of the Bavaria monument. It’s also a great freaking party. The crowd is wild (albeit young), and the band is good, and hats off to them for pulling all the pretty girls on stage. This place always delivers. Always. 

8.) Käfer’s Wiesn Schänke – Atmosphere: Awesome; Beer: Great (Paulaner); Food: Top Notch; the Ladies: Great

For those not in the know, Käfer is a gourmet food store in Munich, similar to Zabar’s in New York City. For this reason the food is high quality (and not cheap).  They have one major store in Munich, they used to have a café they sponsored, and they have the Käfer “Zelt” at Oktoberfest. I put “Zelt” in quotation marks as it’s not really an open plan “tent” at all. Every year, they construct and break down a rustic, multi-story restaurant – complete with balconies, snugs, and a beer garden. It’s pretty impossible to get in the restaurant unless you have a reserved table (and you’re wearing your bracelet). Not to worry, as there’s two or three outdoor bars as well as the beer garden. BIG BONUS: although most of the Fest closes at 11pm, Käfer is open until 1am. This is so key if you’re not ready to leave yet. People flood the place once they get kicked out of the other tents. The guards eventually block off entry to the beer garden as well. You might try your luck at the secret entrance (a seemingly closed fence to the left of the main entrance after the swing set), but they even lock that up occasionally. (It’s still your best chance to get in though if it’s crowded. You already win points with security if you know where this entrance is.)  You gotta love the souvenir coffee mugs as well. 

9.) Weinzelt – Atmosphere: Great; Beer: not applicable; Food: Good;  the Ladies: Great

The “Wine Tent” is short for this Nymphenburger Sekt-sponsored party house. The focus is – naturally – wine. They do have Weissbier available, but that’s it. Don’t let it put you off. Alongside Käfer, this is a mega-trendy place to see and be seen. Additionally, it’s the only band on the Wiesn that will be play “Highway to Hell”.  Beer and AC/DC. Even a better combination than beer and firearms. BIG BONUS: They’re open ’till 1am! (But you gotta get there earlier than 10pm on the weekend if you want to get in.) 

10.) Löwenbräu- Atmosphere: Okay; Beer: so-so (hey, it’s Löwenbräu); Food: Good;  the Ladies: present

Not my favorite beer, but a pretty good tent. I’ve been in a couple of times when nothing else was open. It did the job, to say the least. 

11.) Bräurösl – Atmosphere: Okay; Beer: Great (Paulaner); Food: Good;  the Ladies: Present, not Accounted for

A fun tent, but not my first choice. Had a lot of fun nonetheless. I was too locked to remember much, so that can’t be bad. 

12.) Augustiner – Atmosphere: so-so; Beer: the Best (Augustiner wins among Bavarian brews, hands down); Food: Good;  the Ladies: Good

The only big tent where you can hear a pin drop during the day. Although I love Augustiner Edelstoff, the Augustiner Zelt is not my first choice at the Wiesn. Bavarians and Upper Bavarians/Müncheners in particular are conservative by nature, and words like “Patience” or “Tolerance” do not leap to mind when I think of their most prominent qualities. As long as you blend in, you’re fine. Just last weekend, we had a Korean girl and someone with tattoos in our group. The stares and dirty looks were downright uncomfortable.  

13.) Ochsenbraterei, 14.) Fischer-Vroni, Bodo’s Café, etc. Atmosphere: no idea; Beer: no clue; Food: probably fine;  the Ladies: not applicable

There is a respectable number of smaller tents specializing in fish, ox, chicken, etc. They are more like family-style restaurants than proper tents. I accidentally walked into Bodo’s once. Otherwise, I never bother.  

P1 at 2am

Next Post – O-fest Post Pain Report and Photo Gallery

1 Comment

Filed under Aussies, Bavaria, Bavarians, beer, Canada, Drunks, English, Europe, Germans, Germany, Haka, Italy, Kiwis, Munich, Oktoberfest, Scots, South Africa, Tips, Travel, Turkey, women

Oktoberfest – The Happiest Place on Earth, Part I

On September 23, 2007, it’s on once again.

Beerman - Hippodrom 12:01pm

Oktoberfest. Der Wiesn. Damn, I love that place. Hands down, this is the best (and best-organized) festival in Europe. Nowhere else do so many come together from so far for one singular purpose.

Oktoberfest 2007 will be the 174st Oktoberfest, and for me, my 11th. No matter where I live in the world, I always go. I always carve out one or two weekends, I always finagle a business trip, and I always, always book my tables six months in advance.

Every year, I start that first Saturday at 9 am to enjoy an up-close and personal view of the Parade of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries. Munich’s six major breweries all sponsor one or two tents at the Festwiesn; each brewery has a number of carts in this parade to ceremonially bring a couple of giant wooden kegs of Festbier and some serving wenches to the festival grounds (der Wiesn). The carts are ornately decorated, and pulled by heavy draft horses. The wenches hand out free Mass of beer, and it’s generally a nice, festive scene before the chaos of the beer tents. From the parade, I rush with friends to our (reserved) table – usually in Schottenhammel or Hippodrom. I usually wake up two weeks later, broke, hung over, and very, very happy.

I won’t waste my time on this blog giving the fest’s history; a summary of that can easily be found on Wikipedia. I won’t type out some anecdotes either (all my time there has blurred together into one giant party anyway) – if you want prurience, check out this guy. What I will do is give a quick summary of the major beer tents, and share some rules of survival that have always maximized my fun. Let’s start with the rules:

Top 5 Misanthropic Rules of O-fest

#1 There are two types of people at the Wiesn – those inside a tent and those outside

#2 Connections are more valuable than money

#3 If it’s the weekend, get there early

#4 If you aren’t at a table, no one will take your order

#5 Do not be afraid, just ask nicely

 

#1 There are two types of people at the Wiesn – those inside a tent and those outside – This rule is as black and white, emotionless, and brutal as nature itself. Once the doors close, you’re either in or not. Beer tents hold upwards of 6,000 people. As massive as they are, they fill up rapidly – especially if the weather is bad, and especially if it’s the weekend. The private security guards will bolt the doors as soon as the tent is at capacity. Those who have a reservation have to fight their way to a side door marked “Reservierungen” in order to get in (even then, security might refuse you if there’s a perceived safety issue). Without a reservation, you have to fight your way to the front of a side door. Positioned in front of a side door, the security guys will shoulder it open occasionally to let people out (or eject them bodily). If they like the look of you, they’ll ask you “wieviele?” (“how many?”). He’ll give your crew a once over, and if he feels there’s space, he’ll open the door a bit wider, and you’ll be ushered in. If you look drunk, aggro, or you’re too many people, you won’t get in. A bribe might work, occasionally, but normally not. Why? Because profit-motive generally doesn’t work here. This brings us to rule #2.

#2 Connections are more valuable than money – This is true everywhere in Bavaria for just about everything: beer tents, clubs, restaurants, and even butcher’s and cheese shops. Loyal, time-tested customers count more than cash. There are cultural and historical reasons for this. But then again – Munich is Munich: It’s full of self-important, superficial people, and to the Promis and wannabes that make Munich “cool”, image is everything (even though it’s a big village and most of the place still carries the scent of cow shit).  Bottom line is that if they don’t know you, or don’t like the look of you, you won’t get in. It happens. Just save your pride. Acknowledge. Walk away.

#3 If it’s the weekend, get there early – if you want to abide by rule #1. On the weekends, tents can fill up even before noon, sometimes even before 9am! If you’ve got a large group, no reservation, and it’s Saturday, you owe it to yourself to get there around 7 or 8am, position yourself by a door, and wait. When security opens the doors, freaking run! Get in there and sit at the first table you can find. I did it once – it was like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, only more dangerous, with much higher stakes than your life. If someone comes up to you and mumbles something in German (or some other language) asking if there’s room at the table, just look them straight in the eye and say: Nein! Even if there’s only two of you at a table for eight, rules are rules.

#4 If you aren’t at a table, no one will take your order Like I said: Rules are rules, especially in Germany. If you don’t have a table, it won’t happen. The beer wenches and security folks will get testy if you’re simply hanging about without a table. The only solution, is rule #5.

#5 Do not be afraid, just ask nicely – If you don’t have a table or a reservation – take heart. Most fest- goers, especially Bavarians, will have been in your shoes at least once (of course, it was when they were 16 years-old and stupid), so they’ll remember. If you see an amicable face or two at a table, ask nicely if you can order. An even sounder strategy is if there’s at least one space at the table, follow rule #5 and see if one of your crew can sit at the table and order for you. People come and go at O-fest, so the rest of the table will empty out eventually.

Next entry: Oktoberfest Beer Tents – What to See, What to Avoid

6 Comments

Filed under Bavaria, Bavarians, beer, Europe, Germans, Germany, guide, Munich, Oktoberfest, survival, Tips, Travel, women

Got Hash? Copenhagen’s Overrated Hippie Enclaves & Mermaids

Rosenborg Slot

Above: Rosenborg Slot in Copenhagen. For 10 bucks you can see where the royal family slums it!

Copenhagen is supposably one of the new, cool, second cities of Europe. Why? Well, riding on the coattails of Sweden’s ill-deserved reputation for design (thanks for the BILLY, guys!), these ex-Vikings are now also acclaimed for their cleverly-designed salt and pepper shakers. Boutiques line the main boulevard of Bredgade, each featuring solitary black dresses on polished chrome mannequins. Each dress is cut slightly differently from the others, and each dress was also more expensive than my freaking plane ticket. These dress shops are interspersed with “design shops” flogging the aforementioned salt and pepper shakers, foot stools, end tables, and coat hangers. This parade of design carries on all the way to the pedestrian zone, where you are then overwhelmed by the usual embassies of Eurotrash: H&M, Mango, Esprit, etc.

Copenhagen is also home to Christiana, a former military base which became home to hippie squatters, and somehow was autonomous from the rest of the city. If you believe the hype, Christiana is amazing! It’s a peaceful, creative commune! Harmony! Organic food! Patchouli! Blah! Blah! Blah! And what’s worse (according to Christiana supporters), the big, bad city government is trying to re-claim the area. One thing Der Spiegel got right is that the economy in Copenhagen is indeed booming, and people who work (and perhaps shower occasionally) need places to work and live. This political struggle seems to only enhance the myth around Christiana. Well, let me tell you, I’ve been to Christiana, and so let me separate myth from reality.

My verdict? If Christiana is mythical, then think Elvis. Think Elvis in his last few days of life: bloated, physically repulsive, cut-off from reality, and eventually lying in a pool of its own effluence. Like Elvis in his last days, Christiana’s Glory Days are well in the past. Whatever you may have heard or think of it, I’m telling you now that Christiana was more like a Mad Max flick than anything else.

 Then  Now

Left: Christiana then … and Right: Christiana today

What I saw was a rainy, depressed, washed out public park. What I saw were sullen young men standing idle, hands in their hooded sweatshirts, with pit bulls by their side. Fires burned in waste barrels, emanating emaciated black smoke. More men stood by a few of Christiana’s cafés, sizing us up and finally muttering the mantra of every spoiled Euro-kid: “Hash? Hash? Hash? You want hash?”

We thought about actually eating in one of the cafés. The menus did feature things “vegan” and “whole food”, but when you walked in, you wonder if Christiana is governed by any health codes. As you feel the filthy, ruptured linoleum under the soles of your shoes, you wonder if they’re even governed by the generally accepted logic of basic sanitation. We lowered our expectations and figured on just having coffee, but the smell of skunk and patchouli was simply too overwhelming. Young euro-kids sat around us with long amateur roll jobs, puffing away intensely, self-satisfied grins on their faces.

We passed the obligatory hippie market with annoying vendors flogged the usual stuff: smoking accessories, spirit webs, etc. A bit further on we came upon a group of skinheads wearing their trademark Lonsdale sweats, earring, and vicious gaze. They were hanging out in front of a club house with a sign featuring a Wolfsangel rune and “Information Point” over the door. “Marvelous,” I muttered.

Lines from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome were going through my head by this point. (“Two men enter, one man leaves! Two men enter, one man leaves! Two men enter, one man leaves!”) We left and didn’t look back. The sooner the authorities bulldoze that place, the better.

The rest of Copenhagen wasn’t that bad – certainly not after visiting that dump. There are a number of palaces and churches, and neighborhoods full of colorful buildings

A friendly bartender at the Al Mercante bar on Bredgade gave us good advice where to go out and where to eat (he even told us Christiana would suck). Actually, Al Mercante was pretty cool in itself, but he recommended the area around Sankt Hans Torv, across the water from the University. He then performed a juggling act with the bottles whilst mixing drinks. It would have put Tom Cruise and that guy from “Thornbirds” to shame.

I also wanted traditional Danish food, hoping it would be something like reindeer or yak (“That shit’s Norewegian,” the bartender scoffed). But the Danes don’t do reindeer. The Danes do herring. About six different ways – even curried. The herring was great, especially when washed down with a shot of heart-stopping Aquavit. It’s delicious and highly recommended if you dig raw fish. Nothing else on the Danish menu stood out.

The only other disappointment was that stupid Little Mermaid. What is up with that? It’s a small statue for a minor fable few people outside of Denmark recall. They’ve even gone one step further and erected a “new and improved” Mermaid on the cruise ship pier just a bit further north of the original. The original Little Mermaid is a bronze statue of a demure, waif-like girl. It’s not much bigger than a full-grown man. The new Mermaid is a 13-foot giant; a stone Pamela Anderson-fish creature with a chest like two Martello towers. I don’t know what depressed me more: trudging all over the park looking for a Little Mermaid you just know is going to be a waste of time, or seeing Hollwood’s fake-ass standards for beauty now personified permanently in Denmark by this freakish stone gorgon.

The Original Little Mermaid The Freak

Left: The Little Mermaid … and Right: A Giant Stone Freak

Apparently, local kids are constantly taking the head off the original Little Mermaid, or vandalizing her – probably on their way back to Christiana. If the Danes want to make a statue of one of their literary heroes in the future, might I recommend Beowulf, or even better yet, Grendel?

3 Comments

Filed under Christiana, Copenhagen, Cuisine, Denmark, Europe, herring, hippies, mermaid, Scandinavia, skinheads, Travel, women