Settle in, peeps. This one is very long.
I am not, and have never been, one of those guys who desire great adventure in travel. It is not in my nature to go snorkeling in the coral reef, or backpacking and hiking for two weeks in some distant jungle or mountainous area. Sure, I am well-traveled – my Rewards Points/Travel Miles would make you spit out your soup – but most of the time it’s work travel within the U.S., where you don’t have much time to explore or discover. Over the last week, though, I went on a different kind of business trip, an international hop over to Munich, Germany, as a company whom we work with at Ask were holding a combined partner conference and “Oktoberfest Event.”
Oh, many of you smiled and chirped about a boondoggle. Partially true. Any corporate event involving Oktoberfest in Munich would hopelessly be declared as such. That said, one can’t just live it up 24 hours a day while traveling on a corporate jaunt. My job requires almost constant attention to my email and messages, as my wife will tell you, much to her chagrin.
However, a ride over to Munich offered a new opportunity, for I had never traveled internationally for the purpose of work. Given that Munich is six hours ahead of New York and nine hours ahead of most of the people I work with on a daily basis in the Bay Area, the daytime in Munich was the nighttime back home, which afforded me the option of doing some sightseeing in Germany while my co-workers slept in the States.
I’ve become much more of a sniveling emotional dude since the kids were born. Leaving them on Saturday didn’t produce a flowing river of tears, but I’m man enough to admit there was more water in the eyes than normal. I just hate leaving everybody, especially when Nathan says, “Bye Da Da, love you, thank you!” and waves his arm. A sweet moment, really. I’m not sure why he was thanking me and neither was he, but I got the point. As any parent knows, leaving your spouse alone with the kids also produces guilt. It’s hard work doing it together, forget about days at a time parenting solo. I also have to admit some anxiety – a super long set of flights and stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling started to creep in a few days before the trip. Luckily, it wasn’t that bad.
I left on Saturday night and landed in Munich (through London) at noon the next day. My first amusing moment as a foreigner came when I was at the Avis desk. I had, online, reserved the cheapest economy car, which was described as a “Volkswagen Golf or similar.” Ah, “or similar.” I always get the “or similar” car, don’t you? So I thought I was in for a streak of wonderous luck when the six-foot-five German girl (no lie) told me I was getting a Mercedes. Are you kidding me?! She wasn’t. I pictured myself on one of the German Autobahns, riding in style. Fast and smooth, baby! Alas, when I got to the car, I realized that the entire Avis fleet in the garage looked like Mercedes and this wasn’t the luxury version. It was a short, fat little thing that felt like a one-cylinder. I contemplated kicking my feet really fast like Fred Flintstone to give it more power. After wrestling with the GPS to speak English to me, I was on my way. More on the autobahns later, BTW.
My second laugh (and your first) came after I arrived at the hotel and discovered that I forgot to pack underwear. Of course, these things are only funny in hindsight, but this story is made funnier because while in the department store around the corner from the hotel, I soon realized I had no idea whatsoever how underwear was sized in Europe/Germany. What resulted was an amusing conversation between me and a very nice lady who couldn’t speak one work of English. I was trying to ask her what size I should buy. She had no idea what the hell I was talking about. I used gestures, wrapping my hands around my waist and pointing to the underwear. She just looked at me and nodded. I took a shot in the dark and thankfully, got it right. Boxer briefs.
I then went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for a self-imposed limit of two hours. Upon waking up, I set off on my first adventure, to the Marienplatz, or the old city center. Old Munich. Old town. Whatever. It was stunning. Old, ornate buildings from the 1500’s and previous. This part of Munich was fairly untouched by the war, so this was Munich as people lived it before 1940 and it was beautiful. I walked around a bit, peeking at old churches and wandering down charming, narrow streets, until I got to…..Hofbrauhaus. For any of you not aware, Hofbrauhaus is quite possibly the world’s most famous pub. How could I not partake? So enter I did, into a loud, happy party of people singing, chanting and clanging liter sized mugs of beer. A five-piece group of older German men played loud oom-pah music. It was infectious! All I can say is that I wanted to run around and laugh, hug and high-five EVERYBODY! The happiness in that room was spectacular, the drunkenness stupefying! After taking some pictures I settled in and ingested the local fare – bratwurst, sauerkraut and a liter. Satisfying.
The following day, Monday, was a work day. I worked at the hotel in the morning and headed over to our corporate partner’s presentation in the afternoon, did meet-and-greets, listened to presentations, talked some more……and then it was time for Oktoberfest. If you’ve been there, you understand. If you haven’t, you couldn’t possibly comprehend this thing. An orgy of carnival, drinking and people from all around the world dressed in the traditional fare – leiderhosen, Bavarian dresses….the works. Totally INSANE. They say that during the Oktoberfest, over three million liters of beer are sold (usually at $8 dollars a pop…..you do the math).
At night, the beer tents really go into overdrive. I hesitate to call them tents. All the major beer companies in Germany and elsewhere have their own “tents,” which are really huge wooden structures built months in advance for the event. The average capacity of these “tents” is 15,000 – an average sports arena here in the U.S. When you walk into one of these tents, this is what you see:
Everybody is drunk. I mean it. I saw 80 year olds bombed out of their mind. I saw people passed out on the floors. I saw paramedics dragging people around. A lot of people standing on tables. It was bohemian. Pure insanity. I suspect I will not see anything like it again and of course, I loved it.
Or how about this? Does this define fun and happy for you?
(both videos shot on my IPhone)
Dachau – I feel bad calling this a “highlight.” Dachau was the first German concentration camp, erected in March of 1933 and only about a 30 minute drive northwest of Munich. Walking around the grounds is eerie and sobering. Hard to describe, really. Obviously it’s a horrible, terrible thing – 25,000 people died there. It’s hard to even picture it while walking around on the grounds, because it’s simply so unfathomable. Inside the main building is a museum, very tastefully done. It does not hold back anything, either. Educational, moving, sad. Well worth the trip.
Landsberg – a beautiful and picturesque little town about 45 minutes west of Munich. Much of the downtown area is cobblestone and its charm is in its architecture, which makes you feel like you’re walking around a German town in the 1800s or something. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Landsberg was where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned. It is also the site of another concentration camp, which I did not feel like seeing after walking Dachau. This particular camp, however, was liberated by the 101st Airborne (506th PIR), which means nothing to most of you, but if you watched all the “Band of Brothers” episodes on HBO, you know very well who that group of soldiers were. Anyway, downtrown Landsberg today sits on a beautiful river and is adorned with all kinds of small little indie shops, cafes and eateries – an awesome find. Found two homemade wooden flutes for my boys at a toy shop there. Pictures here.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen – much like Landsberg, this is a small town with a vibrant and funky downtown, about an hour south of Munich, nestled up against the German-Austrian border and the Alps. It is stunning in its beauty and was the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics. Word is that they are pitching to host the 2016 Winter Olympics as well. A little further south was Lake Eibsee, which is about as close to the Austrian border as you can get – and was where I got some of the most breathtaking pictures of the lot. See all the pics I took here.
All in all, a busy, productive and fun trip. A big FAIL to American Airlines for putting people on a 7 hour Boston-to-London flight on a plane that must have been from the mid-1980s. It’s been a long time since I took a plane that still had cheap plastic dials to switch TV channels and volume. It’s been a longer time since I took a plane that had ashtrays – this one had ‘em. My overhead lights didn’t work. Has anyone from American corporate flown on other airlines? Goodness.
Thanks for that, man. The text you sent me from Dachau was chilling. It sent me to that BoB scene when they liberated the camp at Landsberg. Pics on flickr were cool too! Welcome home.