Oktoberfest 2014

I wasn’t originally planning to blog about our third trip to Die Wiesn – for the most part, our trip was a simple copy/paste of previous years. We stayed at the same hotel (the extremely well-located and nicely appointed Anna Hotel), we arrived and departed via the same trains as past years, and our buddy Garrett once again flew in from the U.S.A. to join us. However, there was one very key difference this year: stitches and the German police were involved! And after being asked to tell the story several times over the Christmas holidays, I decided that perhaps I should write it down… as everyone keeps saying, it’s one of those great stories to tell the grandkids one day.

Spoiler alert: Everyone in our group emerged without an arrest record.

As I mentioned before, the trip started out very similar to past years. This year, our friend Aaron took the train from Budapest to Munich with us, and we met up with Garrett and his friends Kelly and Stu at our traditional restaurant to start the festivities: Haxnbauer.

Blissfully ignorant train passengers
Blissfully ignorant train passengers

I won’t bore you with a play by play of the whole trip (you can read about past Oktoberfests here and here). Let’s just jump to the fun pictures in lederhosen and dirndls and the story of how Richie ended up in the Red Cross hospital tent.

Me and Richie, all decked out in our traditional Bavarian outfits
Me and Richie, all decked out in our traditional Bavarian outfits
Kelly and Stu came from the USA for the festival and happily joined us in the lederhosen- and dirndl-wearing
Kelly and Stu came from the USA for the festival and happily joined us in the lederhosen- and dirndl-wearing
Me and Aaron! Who looks very Bavarian but is in fact wearing jeans.
Me and Aaron! Who looks very Bavarian but is in fact wearing jeans.
First beer: almost completed.
First beer: almost completed.
Feeling grand as the music starts playing and the dancing on tables begins
Feeling grand as the music starts playing and the dancing on tables begins
Me and Kelly, moments before the trouble starts...
Me and Kelly, moments before the trouble starts…

For those who haven’t been to the festival, it’s hard to explain the layout and the atmosphere, but basically each tent has rows and rows of tables and benches jammed close together. There’s perhaps one inch between your bench and that of the table behind you, and a fairly narrow aisle between the rows (perhaps 1 meter at most – basically enough for a waitress with an armful of beer steins to pass). Most tables are reserved beginning at 3 pm, and it’s very difficult to get a table reservation (nearly impossible for foreigners, as you must either write a letter or send a fax, in German, to request the table and many tables are set aside for “regulars” before the reservations even open to the public). So, if you’re without reservations, you show up before the tents open, around 9 am, and grab a table immediately. That gives you about 6 hours to enjoy the festival before the reservations kick in.

Beginning around noon, they begin to play music – usually a strange combination of traditional drinking songs and American classics like Sweet Caroline and Take Me Home, Country Roads. When the band is playing, people stand on the benches and dance and sing along. It’s a bit precarious, as you might imagine – people who have been drinking for several hours, standing on rickety benches with very little room between themselves and their neighboring tables – but until this particular day, we’d never experienced any problems.

Enter Pink Shirt Guy (abbreviated hereafter as PSG). From the moment we arrived in the tent at 9 am, PSG seemed a little… off. He was seated at the table directly behind Aaron, me, and Kelly (Richie, Garrett and Stu were seated across from us) and PSG was rowdy from the beginning. As new people joined his table, he would fling his arms open to give them a hug – and, since we were only an inch away, he’d usually smack us in the head while doing so. His friend, Leather Jacket Girl (LJG) elbowed me in the kidneys approximately every five minutes whenever she turned to switch conversations between her friends on her left and her right. While annoying, it was fairly innocuous while we were seated.

Once we were standing on the benches and the music began, though, PSG became far more obnoxious (and obviously far more intoxicated), swaying into us, dropping beer steins (from a height sufficient to shatter them), turning around and begging Kelly to take a picture with him, etc. He was so unsteady on his feet that poor Kelly actually had to leap across the table, with the assistance of Stu and Garrett, to avoid being knocked over. At this point, Richie had had enough. He said, “Hold this for a second, would you?”, handed me his beer, and stepped over the table to take Kelly’s place.

(Afterwards, Richie asked me if I knew what he was about to do when he handed me the beer. I said that I had my suspicions, to which he expressed his surprise that I hadn’t tried to stop him. I replied, “When has that ever worked?!” He conceded.)

A few seconds after Richie handed me his beer, the bench fell out from under me, I landed on the ground, and mass chaos erupted. I wasn’t able to get up for a minute or two, as there were a number of people on the ground and fists were flying above me. I crawled past the upended bench (still holding Richie’s beer!) and managed to stand up, only to have LJG begin pulling my hair (apparently I had taken her down with me as I fell and she was displeased. Sorry, but not my fault!) and she dragged me down to the ground again. I managed to wriggle away and stand up, face-to-face with Richie, who was bleeding from the eyebrow.

I gasped. “Richie, you’re bleeding!” He told me it was nothing, to which I think I said “Oh my gosh you’re BLEEDING oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh….” He finally agreed to go wash it off in the bathroom. Still holding his beer, I stumbled over to one of the waitresses and said, “Has someone called tent security? This is getting pretty bad…” She said they were on the way, so I went to round up our friends and our belongings. I handed off the beer to Aaron, dived in to snatch up my purse and our coats, snagged Garrett, Stu and Kelly and we headed for the restrooms to wait for Richie’s return, glancing back at the fray every few seconds. The men went into the restroom to check on my guy – but there was no sign of him. Luckily my phone was working (it had been finicky about making calls during the week) and Richie picked up – he was at the Red Cross hospital tent, getting stitches. He assured me that he was fine, that I didn’t need to meet him, and that we should go to the hotel and he’d meet up with us as soon as he was done. We exited the tent, and as we stood there while I chatted with Richie, we saw PSG and several of his friends, shoved against the wall of the tent, zip-tied, being handcuffed and surrounded by about 20 Bavarian police officers in beige uniforms.

So… what the heck happened? We pieced it together on the walk back to the hotel, and filled in the remaining blanks once Richie returned bearing his stitches and bloodied shirt.

Richie's stitches - at this point he had minimal swelling and bruising, but that quickly changed.
Richie’s stitches – at this point he had minimal swelling and bruising, but that quickly changed.

Richie had leaned over to PSG and said, “You’re knocking over the women at our table, man, you need to calm down or leave the tent.” In response, PSG head-butted Richie. This was what caused Richie’s bleeding – he’d been hit at exactly the wrong spot, where the skin is thinner, and it split. This is also what caused the bench I was standing on to fall. THEN, PSG grabbed Richie by the throat and began to choke him! Luckily for us, another person that had been sitting at PSG’s table was frustrated with PSG’s antics and punched him – so PSG released Richie’s throat, and Richie was able to get up and walk away. This punch, and the falling benches, started the mass chaos, with punches being thrown right and left. Our group of friends was lucky to escape the fighting!

The marks on Richie's throat from being choked, a few hours after the incident
The marks on Richie’s throat from being choked, a few hours after the incident

After Richie had gone to wash his face, Garrett and the others saw the tent security arrive and begin zip-tying the fighters (they don’t have handcuffs, so they use zipties as restraints). PSG apparently tried to punch the tent security guards before being restrained, which is why the Bavarian police ultimately arrived to arrest him. [Note from Richie: For Americans, this would be like punching a mall cop in Dallas (although Oktoberfest tent security guards are much tougher) and then getting arrested by the Texas national guard. The police in Germany DO NOT mess around.]

Meanwhile, Richie was in the washroom, inspecting the damage, when a kind tent security guard told him that it looked like he needed stitches and escorted him to a Red Cross tent. There, they did a brief inspection and confirmed that he did indeed need stitches, so they sent him via ambulance to a larger tent with more doctors. He asked the doctor there how often he personally sews people up at Oktoberfest. His response? Around 50 people over the course of the festival (two weeks).

While he was there, the Bavarian state police arrived to take his story and to ask if Richie wanted to press charges. Given that we were in a foreign country, while residents of a foreign country; that we’re not German speakers; and that Richie’s injuries were minimal, Richie elected not to press charges and to simply move on.

I was so thankful that was the end of the story. From the moment I escaped the brawl, I was worried about one thing only – that some or all of our group would be arrested. I’ve heard so many stories of fights breaking out at festivals, concerts, or other events where everyone involved was arrested, whether or not they were simply caught in the crossfire or actively participating. I knew that our group *shouldn’t* be in trouble, as none of us had laid a finger on anyone else, but sometimes when you’re in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, that doesn’t matter! We were very, very lucky. [Note from Richie: He attributes most of this luck to the fact that we were in Germany.]

Richie and Ross - can you see the swelling beginning?!
Richie and Ross – can you see the swelling beginning?!
Richie's black eye on the following day
Richie’s black eye on the day we left Munich

For me, that was the end of my Oktoberfest adventure. Any joy or entertainment I had previously experienced was just completely sucked out, and replaced with fear and dread – and I only had bruises on my legs and back! Richie with his black eye and stitches, on the other hand, approached it with his usual nonchalance and returned to the festival the next morning with Garrett and our friends Ross and Whitney, who had luckily arrived in Munich just after our harrowing experience.

So, will there be an Oktoberfest 2015 for us? Definitely *not* for me. We’ll keep you posted if Richie and Garrett decide to go 4 for 4….

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