I have never really thought about what, exactly, Oktoberfest is. I've just known one thing: BIER. But now that I'm a journalist of the most serious order, I decided to do a bit of research. First, using my powers of deduction, I figured that it must be a celebration of the fall harvest: What once began as a pagan ritual with oxen and mead had surely morphed into today's bacchanalian fest. Or perhaps it was an offering to the god of hops, greasing der palm of die lord of the hefeweizen mit the souls of thousands of grateful alcoholics.
But no, it was neither of these things. Basically, the Bavarians had a wedding in 1810, the party went well, and they decided to repeat it every year thereafter. There's no back story here, folks, just an excuse to get drunk in large tents with long tables, like my old Girl Scout days.
And so, in honor of this German minimalism, and in the spirit of lazy winos the world over, I shall attempt to write a column with zero depth. Ahem.
Last week a group of guys and I went to Schroeder's on Front Street for an Oktoberfest warm-up and had a fucking great time. So great, in fact, that I had nary a chance to think deep thoughts or glean any universal messages from the evening -- unless there's something to be learned from eating liverwurst after downing four gigantic beers. Thus, with a nod to what the Germans call Die-dinky-Denken, consider this a gift from me to my less intelligent readers.
Schroeder's is a vast German restaurant and bar where the waitresses dress like St. Pauli Girls and the men sport lederhosen and handlebar mustaches. It's been in the city since the late 19th century, blah blah blah (I'm trying to keep this simple), and it hosts polka nights and oompah bands.
I got there and sat at the bar for two hours, waiting for the friends I invited to show up, slowly drinking my Franziskaner, and trying to make heads or tails of the German newspapers. The couple to my left were obviously on a date. She seemed nice, but the guy, mein Gott, what an insufferable bore. To wit:
"So there I was, with a plate of crab cakes. Now, mind you, everyone else was eating the scallops. I think at least 10 people came up to me and said, 'Wow, I didn't see crab cakes on the menu!' But no, I had the crab cakes, and they were really good. Ha! Everyone was jealous."
Then they finally arrived, my friends Erick, Garrett, and Jack. At this point the band had taken the stage, Big Lou's Polka Casserole.
Inexplicably, we were given the very best table in the house, right in front of stage left. We all sat on one side of the round table, in what can be termed "sitcom" style, and were immediately greeted by smiling German chicks in Heidi frocks boisterously encouraging us to get up and dance. In fact, rousing people from their sauerkraut seemed to be their only job, causing Erick to wonder if they were, in fact, employees of Schroeder's, or just, perhaps, Schroeder's enthusiasts.
We all ordered giant, heavy mugs of beer, and if you have never had the satisfaction of clanking those things together in a toast among four people, you haven't lived. We did it once, paused, gave each other knowing glances that said, Man, that was really invigorating, then did it again, slopping beer all over ourselves. I mean, you can really get a good clank with those things.
Soon enough we were approached by one of the Frocked Fraus o' Fun again. This time she was encouraging me to join in on some sort of contest. I and three other Fräuleins were to hold out the heavy beer mugs with one hand of a fully extended arm for as long as we could; whoever lasted the longest won. Now, these were heavy things, as I said. I steeled myself for the competition by cosmically gathering the strength of all the women from the Real World/Road Rules challenges I had seen. Anytime there is a test of pain endurance, women will always win. It's a childbirth thing. But I was up against three other females, two of whom I was sure had actually given birth. This was no time for hubris.
We began. Almost immediately I felt a warm numbing begin in my wrist, but I persevered. The tiny blond chick was the first to go, spilling her beer as her arm gave way. This only made me stronger. "Wow, the women are doing amazing," said the announcer. "Better than I would have thought by this point!" Oh yeah? Your doubt only fuels me, Horst. My whole arm began to ache pretty badly. I started to do yoga breathing and leaned back a bit. All the while Erick was coaching me, yelling in my ear, "You fucking bitch! You goddamn bitch! You can do this! You got this! You fucking bitch!" which was invaluable to my resolve.
Finally we were down to two. "I can do this," I told myself. My arm was shooting with pain. Just a little while longer .... Then it happened, the mother of two and my final opponent dropped her arm with a yelp, spilling her beer, and, like every Miss America before me, I gave a look of disbelief, followed by extreme joy, followed by tears. I was surrounded by photographers (no, really) and the guy in lederhosen came up to give me warm congratulations and a T-shirt.
I went back to my table for more clanging. Please do not take anything profound from my victory.