Monday, October 27, 2003

From Russia with Love

I just arrived in Moscow, Russia, last evening. It is so magical to be living out one of my life's dreams to see this place which has been so mysterious yet fascinating from afar. I will be here until Thursday and will hopefully capture some great images and stories which I can share with you all.

Make sure to check back in soon to see what kind of adventures and memories have been created in Moscow.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Oktoberfest: The Great Social Equalizer

The first question I often received when I told people that I was going to be living and working in Munich, Germany, for several months was the following: Are you going to be there for the Oktoberfest?

It boggles my mind how some Americans, many of which reinforce the notorious stereotype that we are all inept at global geography and couldn't find Germany on a map, all seem to know about two weeks in late September when the city of Munich swells by over six million visitors. Obviously the word has got out about this once very local and traditional celebration which commemorates the end of the harvest season.

Today, Oktoberfest is internationally known as one of the top three parties in all of the world. People come from every corner of the earth to drink beer, eat traditional Bavarian food, sing songs, and have fun together. They key word here is together.

No matter who you are or what country your are from, Oktoberfest has a way of bringing everyone up to the same playing field. I have never seen such a diverse group of humanity come together such as what I observed at Oktoberfest. Yeah the beer helps, but it is the spirit of the event that provides the social lubrication that keeps the party going. Songs are sung in numerous languages, cheers (or Prost in German) is exchanged willingly, and smiles are abound.

For those of you who have never attended Oktoberfest, you should. Imagine it like a huge State Fair, with its own fairgrounds. There are arrays of carnival rides, many of which rival the best theme parks in America. There are also food booths peddling local Bavarian delights, such as roasted nuts, sweet desserts, pretzels (Brazn), rotisserie roasted chicken (Hendle), and did I forget anything? Ah yes, the local beers.

There are 12 massive tents as the Germans call them, but think of them more as massive exhibition halls which are put up and torn down each year. These gigantic "tents" are each sponsored by one of the local breweries and hold up to 10,000 people each. In the center of each tent sits the band. A good band is essential in the tent, as it is their duty to keep the crowd rocking all day and night. These guys can jam as well, playing anything from traditional German Volksmusic (think Um-Pah-Pah), to the Beetles, to Britney Spears. They make sure to break-up the hit parade with traditional toasting songs that allows everyone to Prost and take a big swig...not that it wasn't happening anyway.

Leaderhosen, which is the traditional leather trousers for men, and Dirndls, which are the Heidi-looking dresses for women, are taken very seriously at Oktoberfest. Germans love to wear it and take great pride in their traditional appearance. At first you snicker, but after a while, and maybe a few beers, you begin to appreciate the garments as well. I actually wish the ladies would wear Dirndls more often as they are quite feminine and attractive. You don't have to be German to wear them either, as many shops cater to folks looking to enter the vast and stylish world of Leaderhosen.

The imagery, the sounds, the scene is something to behold. It is crazy yet it feels natural once you are in the midst of it. Oktoberfest is not the only reason to come to visit Munich, but it is definitely a good reason to let your hair down, forget your problems, and to make new friends from around the world.