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A Seasoned Traveler Remembers His First Visit to the World's Greatest Beer Festival

By Robert Bestor, III

Bring on the Beer

"This is Bob, everybody. He's a fabulous guy and a dear friend. Give him anything he wants."

With words to that effect, I was introduced by Graeme, who had known me for all of 15 minutes, and was now a VIP at the world's greatest beer festival, Munich's Oktoberfest. It all seemed like a great idea at the time.

It's been a long, long while since those fateful words were spoken and the memory is very, very hazy but, yes, I did attend the Oktoberfest in Munich once. And believe me, if you do it right, once is enough. It began with enthusiasm, optimism and all the expectations you'd envision of a typical 23-year-old red-blooded American male attending the world's greatest beer festival.

To the uninitiated the Oktoberfest looks like a big summer carnival. There's a midway, with games of chance, plenty of stuffed animals and souvenirs, and a Ferris wheel to complete the scene. But the Oktoberfest is different. Big-top style tents ranging in size from huge to enormous surround the midway and from these come the aroma of hundreds, maybe even thousands of chickens roasting, the sounds of Oomp-pah-pah bands and the accompanying audience participation, and of course the smell of beer. Not just any beer. But some of the finest and freshest beer there is.

In our culture of canned Coors trucked across the 48 states, and laws that until relatively recently forbade beer consumption at the brewery, it has been forgotten that beer is best when served immediately after brewing. It's really more like quality produce or dairy in that it should be consumed at it's freshest. To me, there is nothing like a fine, fresh Pilsner. And it's even better when delivered in liter size by a buxom German barmaid who can stoutly carry upwards of a dozen full liter steins at once!

So, one week into my first-ever, low-budget backpacking trip through Europe, the Oktoberfest called and I came a-runnin'.

I was staying with a German family outside of Munich who decided that it would best if I was accompanied by their 16 year-old-daughter, Daniela. To this day I can only guess as to why they thought this would be good idea. I think they felt obligated to see that their guest made it home alive. In the end, it was a fortuitous decision on their part.

Although I can't remember just how we met, I soon became instant best of friends with the aforementioned Graeme, who along with his brothers, Tim and Dave, had driven from London with Graeme's employer.

I had already consumed two liters of the German nectar with Daniela, who of course, abstained, and I was feeling rather full, plenty tipsy and ready to call it a night when my new best friends insisted that we accompany them to their private box. Soon Daniela and I were led to a roped-off space, tucked into a corner of a tent that sat thousands of revelers. Poor Daniela. Just when she thought she was on the train home, safe and sound, fate intervened and all the beer, schnapps and food I could consume was on the house. Not just that, but in a tradition as old as drink itself, my new companions, whom I had known for all of a half-hour, had become the finest bunch I had ever had the pleasure to know. We all agreed we would remain friends for life. Nothing would stand in our way.

As you might expect, the hours that followed my introduction to Graeme's co-workers are nothing but a blur. The schnapps kept coming and so did the food. And, of course, barmaid after barmaid delivered fistfuls of foaming liter steins full of that fine beer. Many, many toasts were made. Toasts to England. Toasts to the USA. Toasts to Germany. Toasts to beer. And I believe more than a few of the barmaids were toasted to as well.

On the one hand it was over all too soon. On the other hand, I probably should have left when I had the chance. At the end of the night addresses and phone numbers were exchanged and promises were made that sealed the bonds of our friendships forever.

Although I have no memory of it, Daniela shepherded me to the train and led me the rest of the way home. If not for her, who knows?

Yes, for this budget traveler the evening was free of charge. But nothing's really free it is? My payment came due the next morning. It's a story most have experienced and all have heard.

Daniela and her family thought it all pretty hilarious and I don't blame them. My cranium felt as though it was split down the middle. Amazingly my stomach felt fine. But never before or since has my head hurt like that. I awoke at about 8am and tried, with all my addled ability, not to move a single muscle until well after noon.

When finally in London six weeks later, it took me more than a few minutes on the phone to remind Graeme who I was and why I was calling him. We met for a cordial beer and had a stilted chat. Turns out my dear friend Graeme and I had little in common other than one big night at the Oktoberfest.

Heading to Munich for Oktoberfest? Check out these recommended hotels: