Beware that what follows is a raw account of a dad granted an unexpected hall pass to embark on a solo journey to Oktoberfest in the heart of Germany. You may be wondering: How did this man return to tell the tale? Allow me to regale you with the story.
On a seemingly ordinary Wednesday, an Instagram ad infiltrated my feed, undoubtedly fueled by the algorithm’s knowledge of my penchant for all things ‘dad’ and ‘beer.’ It announced the commencement of Oktoberfest in Germany, and with haste, I presented the brilliant notion to Jenn. I argued that seizing this unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in German culture – the polka, lederhosen, sausages, and the like – warranted a family adventure.
However, our attempts to organize a family trip proved futile, leaving me with the only option of making this pilgrimage alone. The catch? I had three days to plan and execute this solo trip. And so, I got planning.
A Google search revealed that beyond Munich, the OG Oktoberfest, various alternatives were out there – Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, and among them, Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volksfest. While it technically isn’t Oktoberfest, it boasts a rich history, closer proximity to Amsterdam, and notably, far fewer trashed Brits, replaced instead by likely equally spirited trashed Germans.
Now, fast-forward to game day. In my infinite wisdom and curiosity, I opted to experience the journey by train. An early one. I dont regret it, but the train journey spanned six times the duration of a plane ride and was four times more expensive. As I hurtled at 200 miles per hour across the Dutch and German landscapes, my mind wandered to my ancestors who once lived on those very Hessian plains, making a four-day voyage in horse-drawn carriages from there to the coastal plains of the Netherlands en route to the USA. I, on the other hand, would accomplish this feat in under six hours.
During the final leg of my journey from Mannheim to Stuttgart, a group of lederhosen-clad Germans and I congregated in the dining car. It was noon by then, and it became glaringly evident that the phrase “It’s five o’clock somewhere” held no sway in the German psyche. Their social norms permitted no delay in the beginning of merriment. I quickly learned that I would get along well with Germans.
As the train pulled into Stuttgart, the true adventure began. I had selected the Weisbadenerhof as my hotel, primarily for its reasonable pricing and convenient location. Yet, for the price and location, I encountered what was basically a budget college dorm. The blinds detached from the wall with one touch, the door required practically breaking it down to swing open, and the bathroom lay down the hall. Prost! Knowing that I’d spend my night here just sleeping for a few hours, none of this particularly bothered me
And so, I ventured into Oktoberfest, sensing that I was already late to the party. As I wandered around, I became acutely aware of my Americanness. My initial interaction with a local was a jovial German shouting “high five!” in my direction, an English phrase undoubtedly chosen to convey, “Hey, you’re not from around here, and it’s abundantly clear – how amusing!” So I hi fived him and was on my way. I passed Ferris wheels, carnival rides, and even a Las Vegas-themed ‘funhouse,’ the contents of which remain a mystery. Ever the cultural explorer, I sought out a quintessential German eatery. The verdict: one must indulge in wurst, be it a hot dog, knakwurst, bratwurst, currywurst, or any other wurst. The rule is simple: if it’s wurst, it’s worthy.
Armed with wurst, I set out to find a drink and make some one day friends. This proved uncomplicated. Inside one of the many beer gardens, I discovered that I lagged behind the Germans by at least three beers. They stood upon their benches, hoisting their steins skyward, swaying to the music. It was the quintessential Oktoberfest experience in my mind, save for the repeated rendition of John Denver’s “Country Roads” – which turns out is an incredibly popular German drinking song (the equivalent of “Sweet Caroline” at a college bar.) I proudly pointed out that the country roads of West Virginia lay mere miles from my upbringing, hoping this would cast me as the most interesting man in the world. My new German “friends” smiled and simply asked where my lederhosen were. So I finally did it, I strolled into a lederhosen shop, put on the outfit, and departed without taking it off.
Over the ensuing hours, I regaled my tablemates with tales of my German heritage, suggesting that we might be distant cousins. I demonstrated my hereditary capacity to drink like a German peasant and swayed to the John Denver. It was also adorable to hear Germans sing ‘Yan Denva’ and chant about ‘country rooods.’ To my surprise, a popular German song called ‘Amsterdam’ frequently was played as well, and by night’s end, the Germans were addressing me as ‘Amsterdam,’ and had totally forgotten my American roots – certainly on account of the beers. So much for touting my proud heritage….
Past midnight, my dormitory-style hotel lived up to its name. Emerging kids (I am now sadly old enough to label 20-somethings as ‘kids’) invited me for a nightcap, which at that time would have been more accurately termed a morningcap. Respectfully, I declined and retired to my room.
Upon awakening the next morning, I was swiftly reminded why the Jägermeister rule should never be broken. The bright sun streamed through my window, unimpeded by blinds that had fallen to the floor upon my touch the previous afternoon. In a serendipitous twist, I was roused in the most Oktoberfest-esque manner conceivable: a parade was assembling directly beneath my hotel window. I awoke to the clanks of horse bells, marching bands tuning their instruments, and families lining the streets. What were the odds? This parade, steeped in German tradition for nearly 150 years, featured horse-drawn carts laden with century-old breweries and distilleries from Stuttgart, distributing beer and schnapps like candy to the onlookers. After the previous night’s indulgence, a beer or schnapps at 10:00 AM seemed a touch audacious, so I settled for coffee and enjoyed the bands.