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The GW Hatchet

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GW Expat: Voyage to Oktoberfest


The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that this year was a record breaker for the 174-year-old Oktoberfest with 6.2 million visitors consuming nearly 1.8 million gallons of beer in only 16 days. I am proud to say that I was part of the team of visitors that made this year’s success possible.

Ever dedicated to learning about German haut culture, my friends and I planned a pilgrimage down to Munich. (I use planning loosely. We decided Thursday night at midnight to drive down on Saturday morning.)

We had a budget barely north of nothing, so we tried to cut every corner. Instead of taking the expensive train, we decided to rent a car and drive ourselves, even though we didn’t have the slightest idea in which direction to point our yet-to-be-acquired car.

Our cost-cutting extravaganza continued with the suggestion from my Swiss friend Xavier that instead of wasting money on a hotel that comes with unnecessary frilly stuff such as beds and showers, we could just sleep in the car. Then another person presented the brilliant idea that we could sneak into someone’s backyard and pitch a tent or climb up on a roof and sleep there.

I was on board with renting a car, but years of Boy Scouts left me with a serious case of tent-o-phobia, and I don’t sleep in cars. I got lucky, and the travel gods at offered us a cheap room at the Marriott.

On the issue of car rental, I was strongly encouraged by some of my compadres to go with a discount car company located on the opposite side of Berlin. Having won the hotel battle, I relented and hauled across town to fetch our car.

But the attempt at renting an el cheapo auto failed. The company tried to give me an old Chrysler Voyager minivan, the type our moms use to drive in the early 1990s. At first I was actually excited about a little blast from the past, until it became clear that the car had a slim chance of surviving the six-hour trek to Munich. The thing shuddered and sputtered so badly it barely made it out of the parking lot.

So I gave up on frugality, returned the minivan and tracked down a car from an established rental car company. The only (functioning) automobile left in all of Berlin was a big ol’ eight-passenger stick shift Volkswagen mini bus.

As a Texan used to Texas-sized cars and having driven a stick in high school, I insisted on driving and took the wheel with confidence. I stalled twice before we left the parking lot and at nearly every stoplight in central Berlin – my passengers could tell they were in good hands.

Six hours and a few more stalls later we finally reached Munich and joined the throng of beer-drinking Germans. We managed to fight our way into the Augustiner Brewery’s beer tent, and the scene inside fulfilled nearly every stereotype imaginable: lederhosen-clad Bavarians standing on tables, an oompah band playing drinking songs, and hefty German waitresses brandishing mammoth-sized beers and pretzels. It was like we had died and gone to beer heaven.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a seat inside, and the rules are strict: no seat, no beer. So, we decided to leave paradise and find another place to celebrate.

Through the passed out, puking, belching and peeing masses we went until we found the beer carousel. This little marvel was just like the normal carousels we used to ride as kids, except the horses had been replaced with benches and the center was a bar. We managed to entertain ourselves for quite some time on the beer-a-go-round until the call of Mother Nature forced us to give up our coveted spots.

We spent the rest of the evening in a beer garden in front of the Spaten Brewery’s beer tent. At closing time, everyone poured onto the surrounding streets. There is no open container law in Germany, meaning people can drink on the streets and public transit, thus turning Munich into one big bar.

The next morning we loaded back in our bus and drove back to Berlin, content with our road trip. And we had managed to travel on the cheap, or so I thought.

Remember that el-cheapo minivan I mentioned? After I had returned the car, the company promised me a refund in light of the mechanical difficulties. However, when I spoke to the manager last week, he informed me that he had no intention of giving me my money back. He explained to me that the convulsions the car made were quite simply a matter of physics, and he insisted that big cars like the minivan need time to warm up. He also pointed out that it was raining the day I rented the car. If I had just waited, it would have functioned fine.

Now, I have avoided taking physics class like the plague, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see that argument as a load of bull. I think my dad’s Suburban qualifies as a “big” car, and it doesn’t need fifteen minutes of warming up time and sunny weather to function.

In spite of my best efforts to get my money back in full, the guy wouldn’t budge. This whole ordeal with the discount car has been a big pain, an extended hangover from Oktoberfest that just won’t seem to go away.

As students we tend to seek the cheapest hostels, book the cheapest flights and, yes, look for the cheapest rent cars. But learn from my mistake, and remember you usually get what you pay for. Cheap flights often land you at remote airports. Cheap hostels often come with no bed linens or towels and can be in scary neighborhoods. And in my case, a cheap rental car left a dent in my wallet that has nearly overshadowed the fun I had at Oktoberfest.

Sometimes it is better to cough up a few extra bucks and go with a well-known company. It was well-worth paying $25 a head to stay at the Marriott instead of sleeping in the Volkswagen. By trying to penny-pinch and rent a cheap car, I lost about $125.

Just think how many more beers that would have bought me at Oktoberfest.

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