The force of the hangover I woke up with slapped me in the face. It was the fifth morning in Munich, which by my calculations is exactly two nights too many to be spent at Oktoberfest.
I’d had to muster all my strength to rally that last night, vowing I’d never spend four nights at Oktoberfest again. I’d been patting myself on the back just the day before, perhaps even gloating. I was shaping up to be one of the more responsible group members on this trip, my belongings intact and still in my possession. One friend had broken a phone, another had lost hers. And it’s easy to do. Oktoberfest is a lot.
There are people everywhere. Men and women from all over the world dressed in traditional dirndls and lederhosen, some cheap Halloween-store quality and some expensive and finely tailored. The vast beer halls are so chock full of people that they feel tiny.
I remember feeling suffocated upon entering. It is impossible to walk from one point to another without experiencing human contact. Skin on skin, body parts scandalously close to those of strangers. Like in a nightclub, but the lights are blindingly bright.
You move through the hot, dense air in the room as slowly as if it were made of corn syrup or molasses, like walking through the sea with its currents. The lines for the toilets stretch far out into the room and for the women it takes a solid 30 minutes to complete the task. People stand on tables, dancing gaily to the music, the same five songs they’ve heard since they began their Oktoberfest experience. Strangers clink their steins, shouting “Prost!”, and it happens more than once a night that the massive vessels break, sending chards of thick glass to the floor and a scurrying of workers to clean it up. Surly beer maids carrying ten or more of the giant mugs shove and holler their way through the crowds. Lads and ladies in their Oktoberfest best make out with each other, and that one friend who’s had one too many falls fast asleep at the table while his friends toast above his head, unperturbed by his resting place.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay
My friends and I were part of the late shift. There are two at Oktoberfest. And while we walked toward the fairgrounds around 4pm to begin our evenings of beer and debauchery, the remnants of the morning shift could be seen lying on lawns, stumbling back to their hotels, chanting songs in the streets, and noshing on schnitzel, eyes half closed.
In one section of the twenty-minute walk from our hotel, there was a monument of sorts that provided more entertainment than a simple sculpture should. It was a short stone wall, only about thigh height, and next to this a water installation. The ground tapered at the base of this short wall, and cool water filled the gap, presumably for the reflection and enjoyment of the many passersby. Through the wonders of engineering an optical illusion of sorts was created and it was difficult to tell where the ground ended and the water began. At least for drunk people.
We watched in this spot, on our daily walk to the fairgrounds, one partygoer after another inadvertently step into this small pool of water or fall into it. None of them saw it coming, and if you’ve never seen drunk people fall into shallow water, I’d highly recommend it.
I didn’t know it, standing there laughing at strangers, but this little pool of water would lead to much trouble for me on my last night in Munich. And would set off the course of events that would turn my ordinary, terrible hangover into a complete fucking disaster, the consequences of which would last for months.
Image by ddzphoto from Pixabay
The nights in the beer halls that first year at Oktoberfest were some of the funnest nights I’ve had to date. We had a great group of friends and somehow, though there were many of us, we managed each night to score an entire table at which to post up, to drink, and to dance. I know I said before how many people were stuffed into those beer halls, how crowded and messy it can be. And it was truly overwhelming upon entry.
But once you find a space of your own to occupy, once the first round of beers is ordered, you’re well on your way to having the time of your life. After the first sip from your heavy stein, your perspective shifts. Looking around you don’t see a room full of drunk people, you see strangers from all walks of life sharing in a toast, a song. You sing along gaily, despite not knowing all the words, your voice blending with a thousand others. You see love matches forming in the halls. There’s an air of euphoria, a sense that you’re all friends here, that everyone is connected.
Despite feeling like I couldn’t pull it together to party one more night, on that last evening in Munich I drank some caffeine and I showered and I got myself there with all my friends. And once we arrived it was just as fun as all the other nights. We sang, we danced, we toasted and prosted. We befriended some Australians and invited them back to our favorite local bar once the beer tents had cleared and the music stopped. Leaving the fairgrounds that night all seemed right in the world.
And everything would have been fine, all my belongings still with me, this pit in my stomach nonexistent. The future phone calls with bank representatives and re-remembering new account numbers unnecessary. Had I not taken that one wrong step.
But in the midst of chatting up our new friends, singing with my old ones and general inebriation-related walking deficiencies, one misstep and I fell victim to the water fountain in the ground.
I was that person now.
And I didn’t only step my foot into the large puddle, which would have been bad enough. No, no, my balance was thrown completely and I ended up sitting squarely in the body of water. My dirndl, my tights, my underwear, my skin; I was soaked through and through. The twenty-minute walk to our hotel was a cold and squishy one that night.
I would later look back at this moment as the turning point in my Oktoberfest story of how I lost everything.
There’s an air of euphoria, a sense that you’re all friends here, that everyone is connected.
Unwilling to let a little “rain on my parade” stop me, I changed my wet clothes in the hotel and hit the streets once more to meet my friends at the bar. I’d been carrying my essentials—money, wallet, phone—in the pocket of my dirndl each night at Oktoberfest. I’m not sure to this day why I decided I needed a purse to go back out that night. But some form of drunk logic told me that since I was now wearing jeans, street clothes, that I should put my belongings in a proper place, a small brown and black satchel I’d brought.
A little bar down the street had become our late-night hangout spot. Just doors away from our hotel, proximity was the main reason for stumbling in on our first night in Munich. But we ended up loving the place for the relaxed, family-like vibe. When I asked the bartender to play Beyoncé the first night, he not only obliged but took it a step further, inviting me to come behind the bar to “DJ”. (I use the term loosely, because actually I was just picking songs on a laptop.) Give me the reigns of the music, and then a crate to stand on for dancing, and I am sold. With the size of our group, we took over this small establishment. We partied there each night after the beer halls closed and on this last night, it would have been sacrilegious to break tradition.
Now is a good and I promise relevant time to bring up the extent of my love for the Queen. I’m talking about Beyoncé here, and anyone who knows me knows my fandom runs deep. I’ve seen her twice in concert, and there are photos of me in clubs and bars all over the world, standing at the DJ booth, pestering him or her to “Please play Beyoncé—anything but Single Ladies”. (Sorry to any DJs reading this: I am TOTALLY that girl.) And I don’t leave it at one ask, either. If I think I’ve been forgotten I’m happy to remind them of my request.
The bartender, our close friend by night four, must have seen me enter. Because immediately upon arrival I was greeted with the best kind of sensation. That voice, those lungs, that swag, those beats, the unmistakable sound of the Queen herself, blaring over the mediocre speakers. I didn’t care about my dip in the puddle, my soggy clothes lying in the hotel, my liver that was shriveling and crying out for relief. I was ready to live up my last night in Munich with the best people in the best place. I spent the rest of the night, from that moment on, behind the bar. I danced on milk crates, I mixed shots for my friends, I hip-checked the bartender and interfered with his duties at every opportunity, and I played “DJ Toni” All. Night. Long.
Beyoncé made me do it.
Truth be told, we drank a lot. My hangover, waking up this fifth day was no real surprise. But the second wave of sick that washed over me had less to do with alcohol and more to do with guilt, shame, and panic. What was I going to do?
When I woke up that morning I realized quickly that everything was gone. My phone was missing. My money was gone. The night before, when all had seemed right in the world, I’d made a critical mistake. I’d gotten so excited upon entering our little bar on the corner and hearing my favorite song. I needed to dance. I’d put my purse down on the table next to me so I could move more freely. We were all friends here, right? I thought it would be fine sitting there. Or did I forget about it entirely?
That last night while I was gallivanting behind the bar, my belongings were being stolen right from under my nose. Likely by the Australian friends we’d brought with us.
In the light of morning, head pounding, I searched our hotel room for my necessities. Thankfully I hadn’t been stupid enough to bring my passport out with me. A good thing because my flight was departing in just a few hours. But all the cash I’d taken out earlier that night from the ATM, my debit card, my driver’s license, my cell phone, all gone for good.
If only I’d watched my bag more closely.
If only I hadn’t brought it out with me.
If only I hadn’t fallen into that puddle, necessitating a wardrobe change.
All the way back to that moment in the puddle.
We were all friends here, right? I thought it would be fine sitting there. Or did I forget about it entirely?
I was flying home with a flight attendant friend who was staying at a different hotel down the road. Not wanting to be left to find my own way to the airport broke and alone, I decided to walk over to catch her before she checked out. I pulled myself together as best I could, gathered the belongings I still owned, and headed out to meet my friends and tell my tale of woe.
The morning air would have been refreshing if the light that came with it weren’t such a cruel reminder of all that had happened the night before. I wore my sunglasses despite the overcast, convinced the passersby would all understand my piteous state of being should they see my eyes. About a block before I reached my destination, I happened to look over at the office building to my right. Something strange had caught my eye. I took my glasses off, stared in disbelief.
Could it really be?
I hurried over to the glass doors of this building where, tied to one of the metal handles, was my little brown and black satchel. I tore it open, hoping with all my might that some kind stranger had “done the right thing”, found a woman’s bag and left it there in hopes she’d come to retrieve it.
It was empty of course.
Defeated, I made my way to my friend’s hotel carrying the leather remembrance of my mistake.
We made our way to the airport, I borrowed some money for a breakfast pastry and a train ticket along the way. I vowed to never put a handbag down on a table again, not to withdraw large sums of cash on the last night of a trip, and to cut any future Oktoberfest visits to a two-night maximum.
Sitting on the plane later that day, my friend and I heard something alarming. A triple high-low chime sounded over the P.A. system, the same sound our airline uses to indicate an emergency. The two of us looked at each other and then anxiously around, seeking signs from the crew, who were hurrying off to the lower level of the plane. I swallowed hard, chuckled at the irony of today being the day, then begged the universe spare me from having to use those special skills acquired in flight attendant training.
It must have been a false alarm or a manageable occurrence, because nothing ever came of this audio indication. And not having an emergency situation 30,000 feet over the Atlantic was one of the things I would count myself grateful for, along with not losing my passport and making the flight home, on that long exhausting journey on that fifth day in Munich.
Scroll down to see some happier times at Oktoberfest, before things went awry.