This Place

I am blessed to be in Europe and have the opportunity to see countries that I have only dreamt about every weekend. I cannot believe that me, of all people, was awarded such an obscene chance, to see places I have only read about in books. But let me tell you this– as beautiful as Europe is, as much as I literally love every city that I have visited so far, from Munich to Positano to Venice, I am so in love with Firenze that it’s a little embarrassing.

Other cities win you over with their individual masterpieces, like the Colosseum in Rome or the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London. Obviously, all of these cities, and every other city out there, has tons of cool stuff to see that I am itching to visit and take lame pictures with. But Florence is different. Florence, in and of itself, is a sight.

Florence does not try to convince you to love it with big words, big buildings, big promises and rainbows and sunshine. Florence says, “I’m pretty awesome. But that’s all I’m gonna tell you.” From the Secret Bakery to the century-old buildings that seriously litter this city and the uncanny amount of statues and timeless artwork and architecture, it certainly wasn’t built in a day, and you sure as hell can’t see it in one, or even 109, as I am.

Florence has a quiet confidence, an air of intelligence, that, like many of its women, knows that it is beautiful. And soon you will, too.

The Rich History of Modern Munich

The next morning, we give Oktoberfest a rest for a little while and we go on a bike tour, hosted by Frankie’s Bike Tours, of Munich. At first, it’s pretty difficult for me (once again, a damn little person) to get on one of the huge white bikes, especially drive it around a city that is full of people who can actually bike, buses, cars, and tourists. I ask God to please, please not let me die today.

The tour is pretty cool though, where we stop at a casual enough looking place, Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall. Apparently, though, it’s a place where Hitler gave speeches and the Nazis met up. We also stroll by The Residenz, which is where the Bavarian dukes lived and is a copy of Palazzo Pitti in beautiful Florence. By the Theatinier Church, me and two other girls I am with, Bianca and Colleen, touch the faces underneath the Four Lucky Lions to give us eternal good luck. We stop and eat at the Englischer Beer Garten, which is the second largest beer garden in Europe and has more awesome German food. Apparently, somewhere outside the Hofgarten (the main garden/park in Munich) there is also a man-made surfing wave where people bulk up on their wetsuits (it’s friggin freezing outside) to ride the waves.

With absolutely no help from our Florence for Fun tour guides, we find the main metro station in Munich after our bike tour and we go to the Dachau Concentration Camp, one of the largest concentration camps that existed in Germany. In the cold rain, it is even creepier to walk through the gates that read “Work Brings Freedom” in German. As we walk down the same path that the Jews walked down to enter the camp “for their own protection,” as the Nazis told them, I can’t imagine what it would be like to never return after just a few hours in the bleak place.

It reminds me a lot of a large, abandoned ranch, with its wide open spaces surrounded by big gray buildings that stuffed 36,000 people inside a space meant for 6,000. Outside of the barracks are big lots where people had to stand for hours each day for Roll Call, and outside the barracks are poles that people were tied up on as torture. At the very end of our walk through the camp, we go to the crematorium on the far left of the camp and we walk through the rooms that people were gassed in and the fake showers that exist there. Seeing things like that make you actually feel the souls that are trapped inside, the thousands and thousands of lives that were lost for nothing.

The Adult Disneyland

I’m sure that you have been to kid’s carnivals before. I’m sure that you have eaten sandwiches sold to you by sleazy vendors, you have bought dopey t-shirts, and you were probably a little buzzed since you were most likely drinking in the parking lot. And even though many of these things have a lot to do with Oktoberfest, held every year in Munich, Germany, trust me, they are not Oktoberfest. They are just not.

Sitting on an eight-hour bus ride to Munich at 11:30 pm was really not my cup of tea. I can barely sit in a car for an hour and when I first sat down I was wondering what exactly had possessed me to do this. A rando named Amanda from Michigan sat next to me, who seemed nice and chatty enough, but she became a little too chatty so I gave her some of the NiteQuil I had brought with me. The last words she said to me that day were “Can I have the extra two pills?” Yes, yes you may.

Coach buses are actually pretty comfy after a couple of these babies. But anyway, we got to Aoho Hostel a little bit early, where we dropped off our bags and began walking over to Oktoberfest. I stayed with my newfound friend and we chatted as we walked the fifteen minutes or so down the otherwise boring street to Oktoberfest. We didn’t have any maps, we literally just followed all of the people that had on dirndls (the traditional German dress) and lederhosen (the traditional German men’s pants and suspenders). Munich was not really what I had suspected as we walked down to the fairgrounds, with its big windowed buildings that looked more like New York City than a German city that had seen World War II firsthand.

At 8:00 am on a Friday, Oktoberfest wasn’t really in full swing yet when we first walked through the grounds, but it was clear people were ready to roll when we saw the huge mobs and lines outside each of the 14 tents, some much more popular than others. I figured anywhere that had beer was good enough for me, so we walked closer to the end of the line (which looked a lot like a Frat Row) until I saw Lowenbrau, a tent that I had vaguely remembered someone telling me was a good one.

It was chilly to stand in the mob and basically count the minutes until 10:00 am when the doors actually opened, but a few minutes before, the lion statue atop the tent, the symbol of Lowenbrau, begins to roar and drink its beer and everyone goes nuts. People begin to try and mob the three doors to the front of the tent, but a couple of huge German bodyguards rumble out and although I can’t understand a word of German, its obvious by their thundering voices that you better get the hell out of the way until they say so. When the doors finally open exactly at 10:00 am, I grab Amanda’s hand and we slide through the doors among at least a hundred other people to claim a spot at a table close to the center of the tent.

Domandigo sits next to us, a guy in his early 30’s who is from Rome and speaks little English. He is with his silent and scary friend who I assume is also Italian. Things are a little awkward at first, but when Domandigo buys us each one beer and then another, I am suddenly a natural at Italian. Domandigo tells us that tonight, we will dance and dance as he asks me if Amanda has a boyfriend and tells us that he is a professional cyclist and his friend is the owner of Lowenbrau. Soon after, another group of men sits next to us, big bustling loud men from God knows where who have some kind of beer group t-shirt on. I chat with the one next to me, Andre, who is Brazilian but lives in Belgium. When his friends begin chanting his name and banging on the tables, Andre stands on the bench and casually chugs his huge beer as the whole room erupts in screaming and applause. When Andre sits down, his eyes are glassy and red and there is a line of beer staining his shirt, but he is smiling.

Oktoberfest beer is not like a Keystone, people. You pay around nine euro for a big, bustling stein of the German beer, which is less carbonated than American beer so you can chug more and you feel less shitty the next day but you get more drunk. I am a little person, but one beer is definitely enough for me and Amanda was absolutely hammered by three.

Coming out of the bathroom or even leaving your table for a minute, if you are a girl, you are bound to be absolutely mauled by every boy who walks by, telling you, in his drunken stupor, that he loves you and you are beautiful and there is a place for you in his bed. Their glassy eyes tell it all, and I shuffle away from them and back to my table where I dance with Andre to the live music in the center and finally, hustle Amanda out since she can now barely stand.

Wandering the fairgrounds in this kind of stupor feels weird. I feel guilty when I see all the kids around and I wonder if their parents know I’m feeling it, but then I figure they probably are too. I can’t imagine what would possess anyone to get on one of the many rides in this kind of state, like the big colorful roller coasters or swings or bumper cars, which look awfully pretty in the rare German blue sky. I buy some bratwurst and miss nussen, which is literally the best drunk food I can ever imagine. This sure beats a frat party in the States.