Oktoberfest & Berlin 2022

           After two years of waiting for Covid to end I was finally able to take an adventure to Germany. My cousin and I had planned to take our trip in May of 2020. I was convinced Covid would last a couple of weeks, boy was I wrong, she- having just completed her Master’s in public health- finally convinced me I should cancel all our bookings. Our originally planned trip included Berlin, Munich, brief stops in both Prague and Dresden, and then a few days in Krakow. Since our trip was pushed back so much and vacation time changes we ended up only hitting Munich, Berlin and Krakow, the benefit to taking the trip at this time of year was the start of Oktoberfest which is where we begin our story.

           Despite Europe and Germany being fully open to tourism again there are still some oddities here and there. While I didn’t need to show my vaccine card even once, all flights arriving in and departing from Germany had mask requirements- no big deal but odd when arriving in the airport to find no masks were required, additionally odd because masks were not required on any other form of transportation in Germany including cabs, trains, or light rail, but whatever weird vestiges of the pandemic remain I was just glad to be traveling internationally.

I arrived in Munich the day before Oktoberfest was set to begin. We stayed at the Marriott Moxy Munich Messe - the hotel was brand new and while Marriott sees the Moxy brand as a cheaper, more youthful alternative to some of their more expensive hotels they did not disappoint when it came to hospitality, cleanliness, or convenience. We were tucked away from the main center of downtown Munich but only about 2 city blocks from a commuter train with easy access points to everywhere we were looking to go.

           Our first evening was spent exploring the Marienplatz square, checking out the Rathaus Glockenspiel, and enjoying the beer house culture at the Hofbrauhaus. On the eve of Oktoberfest, the brass band was blasting at the world’s most famous tavern, the pretzels were warm, and there were beer lovers from all over the world. When we first found seating in the behemoth beer hall we sat next to two folks in Munich on business from London, he was originally from Hong Kong, she was from the UK. After they left, a group of Italian men sat down only one of whom spoke much English, and on our other side a group of German locals so between my very poor Italian, my very poor German, and Google translate we all shared stories and laughs, and of course a few beers. After departing from our new international friends, we headed over to the Unterfahrt jazz club, an underground club hosting both local and international musicians for over 40years. The club is everything you want a jazz club in Munich to be; dark, authentic, great for both listening and people watching. We were able to see a fantastic group from the Munich Music Academy, the Amelie Scheffels Quartet. After the jazz we were on the hunt for some late-night food, having missed the kitchen at Unterfahrt and not wanting to overindulge too early on at Hofbrauhaus. The closest place we could find with a kitchen still open happened to be a Greek restaurant. I’m not sure if we happened to walk into several bachelorette parties or if this place is consistently raucous but upon entering and asking for a table the host lifted up my cousin and carried her to a table before dancing away to go dance on another guest’s chair. The food was solid, the atmosphere was insane, all in all our first night in Munich was jam packed and eclectic.

           Because of the shortened timeline of our trip we only had one full day in Munich, so we started early on Saturday because I have a strange desire to see as many Olympic stadiums as possible, and we wanted to get out to the Olympic park before the tapping of the kegs at Oktoberfest. Honestly, we should have planned to spend more time at Olympiapark, I simply wasn’t paying enough attention to realize it was the 50 anniversary of the Munich Massacre .From the Olympic Tower we could see the villages where the hostages were taken and a memorial for those lost. The park itself, well maintained and still in use, was very nice to see since so many former Olympic stadiums become nothing more than expensive eyesores that fall into disrepair and don’t get used for anything, in this case Olympiapark is used for recreation like rowing on the Olympic lake or tennis, concerts, and even musical fireworks shows in the summer.

           Poor weather followed us most of our trip and our full day in Munich was no exception, while Oktoberfest was an absolute blast and something I’m thrilled I was able to experience in person, the rain put a bit of a damper on the day. The first Saturday of Oktoberfest, and every weekend of the festival are reputably crowded, but with rain, outdoor seating was limited so trying to get a beer at the world’s largest beer festival became a challenge. While you can reserve space at many of the 17 large beer tents (I use the word tent very lightly as these are huge full buildings), and 21 smaller tents, we thought just being two people we wouldn’t need to reserve a space. We wandered through about 6 tents before the rain broke enough that workers began squeegee-ing off the tables and benches in the beer gardens. Despite our inability to get a beer quickly (you need to be sitting at a table, there is no bar to saunter up to and just order for yourself) the wandering through the tents was fun, all of them featured live brass bands and people just genuinely enjoying themselves. Oktoberfest is certainly NOT for the claustrophobic though, at least not inside where people were shoulder to shoulder both at tables and in the narrow walkways between them. The midway was filled with carnival rides, games, fair foods, more beer, a brass parade (during a briefly sunny interlude), horses, and tons of people in traditional lederhosen and dirndls. For now, I’ll call it a once in a lifetime experience- until I go back that is.

           We left Sunday morning from the Munich central train station for Berlin. After a few hours of reading and napping on the train we arrived , checked into our hotel and headed out to grab a bite. Our hotel was walking distance from Checkpoint Charlie and as it had begun raining again we found the nearest Irish pub to grab a quick burger and beer while making a plan for the rest of the day. We opted to grab hop-on hop-off bus tickets as it was preferable to walking in the rain and we could choose to get off and wander anytime the weather cleared up. Idid a poor job of packing for the rain, luckily my cousin not only managed to get an umbrella in her carry-on suitcase but 2 rain jackets. The bus brought us past all the tourist hot spots and we jumped out at the Brandenburg Gate (Tor), rode past the Musichall where an orchestra was playing a live show outside under a tent, and of course swung back to Checkpoint Charlie where we took typical tourist photos and I took about a hundred photos of graffiti reading “Fuck Putin.” At night we headed up to the Berlin TV tower and took in a 360 view of the city just after golden hour. Our original plan was to grab a drink at the observation deck bar while enjoying the views but there was very limited seating at the bar and after glancing at the menu, seeing the people waiting for drinks, and noting the (typically) expensive bar prices at a tourist spot, we opted to take photos, read about what was around us and then head down into the neighborhood in search of dinner and drinks. Being on and off of Wi-Fi in a strange city is always difficult, I should opt for a hotspot but I never think of it, and so finding directions to the restaurant we were hoping for…didn’t entirely work out. I navigated us past the street we were looking for and it had begun raining again, so we found ourselves in front of the river and a statue of St George and the dragon, luckily…a tavern, aptly named ‘Georgebraeu.’ We enjoyed typical Bavarian fare, large portions of Schnitzel, brats, braised pork knuckle and of course more beer. Unfortunately, we had prepared ourselves for strudel, after a long day of travel and walking in the rain but the kitchen closed before we had the opportunity to order dessert! Alas, we made up for it with crepes the following day. While it wasn’t the tavern we were looking for, it was a very happy accident and one of the best meals of the trip especially since it was a little further outside the main tourist areas and seemed to have more local flair.

           We packed a LOT into a short time. 3 cities in 6 days including travel time. Once again, we rose early and headed out, this time to the Berlin Olympic Stadium- where we thought we’d take a short tour, until we realized the tours were closed because Lollapalooza was set to begin and the crew was in the process of setting up for the concert festival. These are the times I wish I planned slightly more of my trips, while I love wandering, taking pictures, and finding the unexpected, it would have saved us a solid 2 hour between a cab out to the stadium and the subway back had I realized we couldn’t take a tour, nonetheless it was cool to at least be able to see the Olympiastadion and the Olympic rings above it, and realize that, overall the Germans are pretty good at actually using these spaces instead of just letting them become a blight. We took the subway back into the main part of the city and caught about an hour of sun, so, we went to the zoo. The Berlin zoo has several pandas so we thought it worth our while to visit while it wasn’t raining. Pandas, penguins, gorillas, giraffes, and elephants, we visited all the fan favorites and then utilized our hop-on ticket one more time so we could hit the East Side Gallery. It started raining again, but the weird art vibe of Berlin seemed fitting in the rain. We walked the entire length of the gallery, stopping to people watch, and take photos of some of the truly incredible art of the Berlin Wall. The East Side Gallery is the largest remaining intact portion of the wall, at 1.3 kilometers (just under a mile) it is the largest open-air gallery in the world. The gallery runs on the wall adjacent to the River Spree and features work from artists all over the world, they began their work as soon as the wall came down and the gallery officially “opened” in September of 1990. The wall features over a hundred paintings including the Fraternal Kiss. Seeing, and touching the wall and taking in all the others doing the same was well-worth our sore legs and rain-soaked jeans.

           We had pool reservations at the Oderberger hotel for 8pm, so we headed toward- what was very clearly the hip district that the hotel resides in and enjoyed amazing ramen at Hako Ramen. The neighborhood was filled with young people on bikes, bars and clubs, and similar restaurants featuring global cuisine and happy hours. The pool in the Oderberger was absolutely stunning but the water was MUCH colder than we anticipated so we swam a few laps and then relaxed in the sauna before venturing back out to get drinks at a local lounge where the bartender was so gracious when we offered another guest a seat that he gave us free shots of Berlin made schnapps and free waters to take home with us. Our walk back to the train then featured a jackal, yes, a jackal ran right across our paths, at first neither of us were sure of the animal we encountered and then I said "jackal?" before quickly taking it back because I momentarily thought a jackal was a bird…. Once we got on Wi-Fi back at the hotel we confirmed- a jackal was NOT a bird and it was exactly what had crossed our paths, and a weird way to end the night in a delightfully weird city.


Enjoy photos and stay tuned for part 2 of the trip: Krakow,the salt mines, and Auschwitz.

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