It was my first weekend here and time to check out a real German festival. Supposedly this one is as big as Oktoberfest in Munich; I cannot confirm nor deny until I go to Oktoberfest in person (or look it up on the internet, but whatever). My hotel offered reservations at a tent, so I managed to get wristbands for my friend Jim and I (He happened to be in town for an exercise, but he had to work that day so could only join me later). My first point of confusion: I thought the hotel offered a bus service there, but no, we were to get ourselves there and meet about 5 pm. So basically I was headed there by myself, but what the heck, I didn’t have anything else to do.
This section is all about my travel, which you can skip if you only want to hear about the festival. First I had to navigate the train. I walked to the train station, found the ticket machine, and a couple in front of me couldn’t figure it out so they turned around and asked me something. I looked at them with a face that said, “Oh crap, these people are speaking to me in German!” So i mumbled something like, “Nicht sprechen Deutsch” which Stone later told me was horrible German, but would have made it clear I did not speak German. They were taking a while, so stepped aside and let me purchase my ticket… and big surprise, they ended up helping me. I thought it would be easy, pressing the “one ticket” button, but no, I was supposed to enter my destination – which it was probably telling me, in Germany. I got a ticket and hopped on the train. First thing I noticed…the Germans really do dress like this! At least for festivals.
I got off at the Hauptbahnhof, or main train station, which was circled on my map by the hotel clerk. As it turns out, she circled it to change trains – not to get off the train and walk around for a half an hour looking for a festival like an idiot. I saw people in festival attire and tried following some of them like a crazy American stalker, but as it turns out they were heading home from the festival and going in all directions – as was I apparently. But here is a lovely picture from the train station. Realizing I was lost (which was, in fact, one of my fears of heading to a festival alone), I decided to turn on “data roaming” and use up some of my precious data plan to see where this thing was – uh oh, it’s 15 minutes by car, I’m not walking there. Skip ahead, as it turned out she DID mark where I was supposed to get off (just not as boldly as the connection!) so I finally made it to the festival.
Upon arrival, I smiled – this place was pretty spectacular. The festival is in town for 3 weeks, and they set up a temporary town complete with a carnival.
The first ride I saw looked crazy – and at the end of this 10-second video, I got another glimpse of the traditional German attire people were sporting. You’ll see lots of pictures of it – I could’t get enough of it. I always thought it was an *old* traditional dress, but no, even the young kids are wearing it.
It wasn’t hard to find the “tent”, it was huge (I can hear some of you saying “that’s what she said” here). It was not a tent as much as a temporary building. There was a crowd waiting in line outside, like people at an exclusive nightclub who are being denied entrance by the bouncer. So how cool did I feel flashing my green wristband and waltzing right in? It doesn’t matter, it lasted about 3 seconds until I walked in the door and was greeted by a teeming mass of humanity. There was no way I was going to find the hotel group in this throng of people, but… I began squeezing my way forward and hoped for the best. I made an entire U of the place, down one side, across, then back up the other side (not easy – a lot of pushing and shoving). On the far side I took this video because I was so exited to hear the one German song I actually know! Only, I didn’t actually know the words.. they sing, “99 Luftballons, blah blah blah blah German German…” or something like that.
Finally I had reached the end of my sojourn through the tent. I did not want to go home without at least having one beer, so I found a bar at the end where reservations were not needed. While squeezing my way in, one man spoke to me in German. Even after I repeated how Stone taught me (via frantic text) to say, “Sorry, I don’t speak German,” he continued to talk to me as I smiled and moved on. Then I saw what appeared to be a friendly crowd of Americans! One man was wearing a Redskins jersey and one of his friends had on a NY Yankees cap. I went up behind Redskins and said, “Do you speak English?” He turned around and enthusiastically said, “Yes!” but he was clearly not American. No matter, his name was Fuat, and he and his friends were very friendly. Fuat was originally from Turkey but moved to Germany at age 2; his friends were from Croatia, Italy, Germany, and somewhere else that I already forgot. They asked about me, and more importantly, bought me beer! I also looked at the menu and bravely asked, “What is a Quicky?” It’s a shot, tastes like cherry cough syrup – how do I know? Because they bought me two of them.
I explained that I was looking for people from the hotel but didn’t know which table, then at some point I decided to use more precious data and email the hotel to ask them (duh). After another half hour, I discovered they were at Tables 142 and 144. My new friend Fuat offered to take me to go find them (but first, gave me his phone number – my first German number! I even told him I couldn’t call him since I don’t have a German phone, but he was undaunted.) He very nicely led me through the crowds, asking people where the table was, and I found the SI Suites tables. Thank you and farewell Fuat!
I met more fun people at the tables, and most of them even spoke English! I finally got some “big” beers and chicken, and everyone stood on the benches and sang. I was surprised at some of the songs they seemed to love….besides a few traditional German songs, there was an eclectic mix of John Denver, Bon Jovi, Neil Diamond (I heard Sweet Caroline twice) and others. For this portion of the night, the pictures and video speak for themselves – I told you I couldn’t get enough of those outfits! (The guy making the funny face in the photo with me was our waiter; the video was from when I was at the bar.)
Then my friend Jim came, I met him outside (since I was the important one with the wristbands) and he joined us for a bit. But since he hadn’t eaten after working all day, we soon left the tent and walked around the rest of the festival. Although I was having a blast, it was a huge relief to go outside because there were so many people smoking! INDOORS!!! Jim got a beer and some real food; I got Gluwein and apple strudel (yum) – but not until after we went down the carnival slide first.
Since Jim had to work the next day, we headed back before midnight. While waiting a while for a person at the ticket machine to finish so I could get my return ticket, Jim commented, “This is why I buy both tickets at the beginning – so I don’t get stuck behind drunk people.” At this point, the guy in front of us turned around and said (in American English), “Can you help me figure this out?” And…. I actually recognized the guy! I said, Didn’t I meet you the other day? He replied, Yes, we chatted in the electronics department! (This was when both of us were trying to figure out adapters – the blind leading the blind). Turns out Andrew was staying near Jim, so he joined our little merry band. Halfway back we changed trains and separated, and Jim pointed me toward my connecting train.
At this point I bet you think the night is over… or perhaps you’re hoping it is over since you’re getting tired of reading! Mais non, mes amis. I went up the stairs to my platform and noticed that there were about 20 men and I think I saw one other woman. I went and stood to the side, but a group of men on the bench seemed to glance toward me. No, there must be something near or behind me, everything is really not all about me, right? After I get on the train, this group sits across from me, and I realize they’re not speaking German, but French! Not only are they talking about me, but then one talks to me: Bonjour, ca va? And I answer: Ca va bien, merci. OHHH their eyes get big and he says: Parlez-vois francais? Me: Oui, je parle francais en petit peu. (At this point I’m thinking, Uh oh, I’ve just exhausted my French…unless they ask me where the train station is, which I doubt since we’re on the train.) But he starts speaking to me in English; they were here for the weekend just for the festival, and staying in the hotel across from mine. They invited me to go to the disco with them (that’s what they call night clubs here, there was actually no Donna Summer playing); I said, what about the Irish pub? So…. we all got off the train at our stop and went to the Irish pub!
One one of them, Jeremy, spoke English fluently, two others spoke a little, but of course the older man who spoke no English was the one who wanted to talk to me the most. He had a brilliant idea to type what he wanted to say into Google Translate, and then show me his phone. Turns out they were French firefighters! This night just keeps getting better. Here are the pictures of my new friends and I:
It was very entertaining but I started to get tired, and the night ended not long after Frederic (?) asked me this, via Google Translate:
P.S. Did you know that they don’t use the QWERTY keyboard on their phones??? Do you know how hard it is to type when you don’t know the keyboard?