After spending five weeks exploring the Balkan countries (including two weeks sailing in Croatia), I flew to Munich on Monday, October 1, where I reunited with German friends to hike the Alps and revel in the festivities at Oktoberfest (locally known as “Wiesn”).
This particular group of German friends has scheduled a “boys’ weekend” hiking trip every year for decades. Only for the last 10 years or so have my friend Adam and I joined the group regularly. It’s one of the highlights of my year.
This year, the Bavarian adventure began at the “usual meeting place” – the back corner of the Weinzelt (wine tent) within the Oktoberfest fairgrounds. It took me about two hours to get there from the airport, including customs, baggage retrieval, two trains, and a short walk… plus some covert operations to store my bag outside the fairgrounds.
After passing through the fairground gates, where security seems to increase every year, I weaved my way through the crowd and found my way to the Weinzelt. As expected, my Bavarian friend Uli and American friend Adam (who had arrived a day earlier) were waiting for me as I walked in around 8:30pm. Unexpectedly, another friend Isi also showed up. Our three friends from Northern Germany would arrive in Munich in a few days.
We enjoyed a beer together, but since I was designated driver (and they had been there all day), we called it an early night. On the way to the car, we played a few of the carnival games testing our arm with the softball throw and our aim with the pellet gun. I drove us home in Uli’s car, enjoying both the stretch of speed-limit-less autobahn between Munich and Berg, and our pitstop for doner kebabs at a local hole-in-the-wall.
After a good night’s rest, on Tuesday Uli and I headed back to the fairgrounds at 1:30pm per the “Rules of Wiesn”, while Adam stayed home to work.
Wait. What are the “Rules of Wiesn”?
Well, over the years, we have developed a set of guidelines, or “Rules,” for enjoying, and surviving, Oktoberfest.
Some are for fun, like “Don’t buy stuff,” “Don’t pour old beer into new beer,” and “Don’t act like an American.”
But some are serious, like “Save 60 Euro for the taxi ride home” and “Eat.”
Somewhere in between fun and serious is the rule, “We start at 1:30pm.”
Why 1:30pm? The timing usually coincides with the ferry or bus schedule from Uli’s suburban home, and gets us to Wiesn by 3:00pm. The morning table reservations in the tents are usually done by the time we arrive at 3:00pm; and the evening table reservations start at 5:00pm. Arriving at 3:00pm enables us to visit our favorite tent Hacker-Pschorr (where a friend works) and eat before we get booted for the upcoming reservations.
On this particular day, we followed the plan and enjoyed a hendl (1/2 chicken) and a beer at Hacker-Pschorr. As the reservation time came, we left, and headed to the bar at the Weinzelt. We met some interesting people, including a couple of tourists from Australia and UK wearing hilariously cheap lederhosen and dirndl – a clear violation of the Wiesn rules.
On Wednesday, we laid low and helped Uli with a few projects around the house. We also reorganized our bags into smaller overnight backpacks that we would bring with us on our Thursday-to-Sunday hiking trip in the Alps.
As he does every year, Uli planned everything perfectly for this 4-day adventure: transportation, hotel, and hiking route.
On Thursday, Uli, Adam, and I took a bus and then train to Ostbahnhof station. There, as we transferred to another train, we rendezvoused with our friends Ulf, Olaf, and Bernd, who had flown in from Hamburg that morning. Then all 6 of us boarded another train toward Salzburg, Austria. Just before the final stop, we disembarked and changed trains, heading to Berchtesgaden. And then, finally, in Berchtesgaden, we took a taxi to our hotel. The transfers and rendezvous worked smoothly, again thanks to Uli’s skilled orchestration.
In Berchtesgaden, after checking in to Hotel Boehm, we headed out to dinner in the village. We enjoyed tasty Schwienshaxe (a roasted pork dish) and then played cards as the heavy meal settled in our stomachs. Our game of choice is “Schwimmen.”
The next day, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we grabbed our packs and trekking poles, and walked into the village. At the far end of the village was the lake Konigssee. We took a boat across the lake to the trailhead at St. Bartholoma. Today’s hike was a steep climb up to the Karlingerhaus hut where we spent the night. It was about 10km distance and 1,200m climb.
The Karlingerhaus hut was a pretty amazing place, tucked away in a glacial valley with a small lake out front and huge mountains all around. After welcoming beers on the balcony, we endured very cold showers. But a hot meal of lentil stew warmed us back up. We played cards for a while before climbing into our bunks (four to a room) later that evening, well-fed and very tired.
The next day, we met for breakfast in the hut, then embarked on a different route back down to lake Konigssee, which turned out to be a bit longer (15km). Halfway down, we stopped at another hut, Wasseralm, for a hot vegetable and lentil soup and alcohol-free weissbier. The second half of the hike included a very steep descent (labeled “expert” on the trail map) where we had to use cables (similar to Half Dome, Yosemite, USA) for safety. But the view was incredible!
We made it down safely, with the last couple of kilometers consisting of a gentle stroll along the valley floor, along lake Obersee, and back to lake Konigssee. We took the boat across Konigssee, and wandered back down to our hotel in Berchtesgaden (after stopping at a beer garden for another celebratory beer). We were all very tired, but after showers, we made it back out to the village for another good meal.
On Sunday, we made the journey back to Munich. Once again, this was coordinated and executed perfectly by Uli. Another three trains and two buses this time, all with transfers timed to single-digit minutes. (Including one transfer where maybe we cut it a little close!)
Back at Uli’s house, we cleaned up quickly, donning our best Wiesn attire (for Americans that meant checkered shirts and jeans; for Germans, that meant the full shebang of lederhosen, checkered shirt, vest or sweater, traditional Bavarian shoes and socks). The taxi came at 2:00pm and we headed to Wiesen. This was the final day of Wiesn 2018, so we expected quite a crowd.
Fortunately, Uli had made a reservation for us at the Wildstubel tent. Starting at this smaller tent is somewhat of a tradition for us. We sit at a U-shaped table that is great for socializing, and welcoming additional guests. In this instance our friends Daniela, Fred, Chris, and Verena also joined us. We had an afternoon of laughs and stories, complemented of course by German folk music in the background, big plates of Schweinebraten in front of us, and cheerful “Prosts” every few minutes.
We were all feeling a bit sore from the hiking, but, as the Rules say, “After the first mass, everything is better.” As the evening came, we relocated to the Weinzelt for a final round. Or maybe two rounds. Then we piled into a taxi for the ride home.
On Monday morning, Ulf, Olaf, and Bernd headed back to northern Germany. Adam and I stayed at Uli’s until Wednesday, again helping him around the house. You can imagine we had to do a little cleaning after Uli’s gracious hosting of five guys!
For our last supper Tuesday night, we enjoyed traditional cuisine of Schauferl and Kaiserschmarrn at the Oskar Maria Graf Stuberl. On Wednesday morning, Adam and I bid thanks and farewell to Uli, and made the journey home to San Francisco.
It was going to be a quick turnaround for me.
Back in the Bay Area, I had six days before my next adventure began. So, I had to hustle and bustle around town, doing errands and changing gear. I didn’t get a chance to see many friends unfortunately.
On October 18, I headed back to SFO with my backpack and sail bag…. Headed to the South Pacific! Stay tuned!