My initial exposure to German culture came during the first few weeks of my junior year abroad. One evening in September ’99, three brand-new friends and I raced off into the sunset across the unsecured French border on our trusty rent-a-bikes. (My ride was bright pink and accessorized with a Toto-sized basket out front.) Once on German soil, we boarded our first train (of many) chugging its way toward Munich. Destination: Oktoberfest. We carried with us one change of clothing, had no lodging booked, collectively spoke two words of Deutsch and had a vague plan to simply meet my friend from home “under the Glockenspiel” (ah, those haphazard, pre-cell phone days).
We were bursting with excitement and “green” naivete, but, thankfully, some lederhosen-clad travel gods smiled down upon us. We had a blast (and even found shelter thanks to some kind souls who shared their Marriott floor space). During that adventure, I learned several things about the German community: they are much friendlier than cultural stereotypes might suggest, they can belt out “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with the best of ’em, and they know how to brew some darn good (and, yes, potent) beer. Munich knows how to throw a party.
Luckily for us Americans, our country has also embraced this holiday that practically demands indulgence (from the free-flowing bier to the hearty dishes) and general merriment to be shared among large groups of friends and family. Today more than 43 million Americans identify German as their primary ancestry, and that culture’s widely celebrated here in DC (especially at this time of year!).