Beware the Law of Gravity
by Mark H. Bloom with Jason Scholder
In honor of Oktoberfest — that most German of all festivals — I bring you the following true story. It reflects my personal preference for German beer. Contrary to popular belief, as is sometimes illustrated in these tales of woe, I normally don’t drink that much. One or two barrels is my limit.
Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, brings out the alcoholic in everyone. I’m no different. I’m not saying I was a victim; I entered into this adventure with open eyes, a goofy smile, and a determined appetite. I’m just warning you in advance that this story involves imbibing more than a few Maßkrüge (pronounced “MASS-kruege”) of echt deutsches Bier. At Oktoberfest, beer comes in one size: large.
Let the Party Begin!
Picture a soft pretzel the size of a catcher’s mitt; a steaming pair of sausages smeared with spicy mustard; a simmering whole rotisserie chicken cooked to such perfection that its meat falls off the bone; a tart radish sliced into a never-ending curlicue; and a fresh-smoked mackerel so good it could induce a spiritual epiphany (hence the phrase “holy mackerel”).
What do all these foods have in common? They are all salty, true, but that’s only one of their advantages. They also go great with beer. Lots of beer. If you’re swigging beer like an ultra-conservative Republican forced to publicly support birth control because this is an election year … ah, scratch that. It’s too unrealistic. If you’re gulping down large quantities of German lager like a self-destructive rabbi, and your stomach growls at you from neglect, you probably won’t reach for a box of donuts. You crave potato chips, peanuts, or a couple of chickens. You want something that will fill your stomach while encouraging you to drink more. At least you will if you’re like me.
It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that the food items listed above are all staples at Oktoberfest in Munich. Vendors sell pretzels by the bushel. Super-sized radishes adorn every menu. Sausages are hocked on every corner, and chickens roast in every beer tent. And the mackerel? They smoke over open pits in rows twenty feet long. Even if that doesn’t sound appetizing now, I guarantee you’ll salivate for one after a few liters of the finest German brew you’ve ever tasted.
Every year for a fortnight starting the last week of September, Bavarians celebrate the 1810 wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen (teutonic names never lack syllables). To mark the occasion, they don’t fast or pray or hold austere civic ceremonies. They drink beer and lots of it: 6.7 million liters in two weeks.
Oktoberfest has since become a magnet for drunks from around the world. Rumor has it that one year, six inebriated Australians — after being kicked out of every beer tent on the festival grounds — retreated to the city and hijacked a streetcar. They allegedly kicked everyone off and rode it around town for an hour before they were apprehended. Allegedly. It’s a second-hand story, so I can’t corroborate its facts. But I like to think it’s true. Of all the Australians I’ve met, not one has ever refused a beer.
Back to My Story
While I didn’t hijack a streetcar or steal candy from a Kind (the German word for baby), I realize now that I am capable of just about anything after six liters of beer. For those of you already on your second liter, that’s over 1½ gallons. Of beer. Within an afternoon and evening.
When drunk, my personal defenses weaken and my morals run for cover. I’m left defenseless and offensive. After six liters of beer, I might just as easily talk my way out of a parking ticket (because I have no fear) as talk my way into jail (because I don’t know when to stop). More likely, I won’t be speaking much at all. After all that beer, ordinary tasks like walking or vomiting require all my attention and energy.
But Oktoberfest isn’t just beer tents with oompah bands: it’s like a country fair. It takes place on an empty field called the Theresienwiese, so everything — even the beer tents — must be erected in the weeks before the fest begins and dismantled in the weeks following. Surrounding those beer tents are carnival rides — including some of the wildest ever invented: rides that whip you around, spin you silly, and scare you senseless. My favorite was the pirate ship that swings back and forth, back and forth, until it turns completely upside down.
Which brings me back to the food. When something can go wrong, you know it will go wrong. That old adage is true whether you’re at home or abroad, and it’s especially true at Oktoberfest when you have drowned your wits. With luck, you won’t be seriously injured. But even if you survive, you may need therapy.
So believe me when I tell you that there is nothing — and I mean nothing — like stuffing six liters of beer, a pretzel, a chicken, and a couple sausages down your throat, and then hanging upside down fifty feet in the air above an unsuspecting crowd.
I tried not to make a scene, but the situation quickly devolved into a horror movie, something like Alien meets The Exorcist. Actually, even a movie camera couldn’t have captured the magic of the moment, although it might have recorded the color of the carnage. While it’s too late to apologize to all those “involved,” I do hope you will fare better than I did when it comes to carnival fare.
Lessons Learned: I can recommend a trip to the bustling city of Munich, especially in early autumn. Go shopping on Kaufingerstraße and visit the array of excellent museums. When you’re done wasting your time, go to Theresienwiese to get wasted at Oktoberfest. You can test your limits and your endurance. Just don’t test the law of gravity.
Mark H. Bloom is a published writer and editor originally from Salem, Massachusetts, aka The Witch City. He likes to drink beer (in moderation) and does so frequently in Beer City USA, aka Asheville, NC, where breweries outnumber bookstores. He entertains himself by writing creatively and professionally, editing books, and doing video work. Get in touch with Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.