It has been a strange week. Tuesday, I went with Gilles to get a haircut in Erligheim. The plan was for him to leave me there, and then I would walk home, through the forest. He took great care describing the route, and showed me exactly where I would enter the forest, and emerge. I would start at Erligheim, exit at Walheim, then carry on to Besigheim.
I did so, but when I got home, illness overtook me and I didn’t really emerge from that until Thursday morning.
All week, I had been plotting various destinations as an overnight trip. It started with Munich, to see an old friend and co-worker – but then his son got sick at the last minute, and we had to postpone. And so I started looking at the Czech Republic (four and a half hour drive to Prague, or seven hours by train), but didn’t feel like taking so much time in transit. I looked at Berlin, but it was too expensive by train. And so I decided to go to Munich anyway and experience Oktoberfest.
I booked a hotel for 125 euros that had shared bathrooms, but promised “cheap and cosy” as its slogan. It was easy to find from the hauptbahnhof, but the street felt a bit grimy. Inside the lobby, another English-speaking guy came in right behind me, and listened as the girl at the front desk circled different tourist attractions on my map. We both listened politely, but then confessed we were really only there for the beer fest. The guy asked if I wanted to join him, and we agreed to meet back in the lobby at 2 p.m.
The room was like my half of the dorm room in college, with just a hand-sink, a table, a wardrobe, bed, and window. It was great: who needs plasma TVs, phones, and fancy stationary?
I learned the guy was Canadian, a teacher in Qatar on holiday. I didn’t understand him when he said Qatar, since I’ve been spending so much time thinking about the Cathars, and they’re pronounced about the same.
We got some lunch, then went to the Hofbräuhaus for a beer. By the time we made it over to the Oktoberfest area, it was after 5 p.m., and we couldn’t get into any tents. We waited for almost half an hour at the first one, but there seemed to be an arbitrary system for admitting party-goers. For one, you needed to have a wristband. If you didn’t have a wristband, you needed a story – or a very compelling costume. We didn’t have any of the above.
Shane and I made our way through the festival, but were unable to get into any of the big tents. We did hit a couple smaller ones, and this is where I learned that he came from a part of Eastern Canada that shares the same dialect as the thick, County Cork gypsy dialect popularized by Brad Pitt in the film, “Snatch.”
He said it was this same dialect that got him his job in Qatar, following an evening in Thailand when he overheard someone at a party saying “Freak show!” in this same dialect. It turned out that guy was from his same island in Canada, was teaching English as a foreign language in Qatar, and offered to get Shane work there. By the time Shane contacted him, the guy was Dean, and he was able to get Shane a three-year contract – all this, because they shared the same dialect in a crowded party in Thailand.
I later learned that Shane had been romantic with four different women this week, each from a different nationality: Czech, Taiwanese, Korean, and Serb. The Serb had kept him up the night before biting, and every time he tried to sleep, he woke up with her staring. For picking up Asian women, he said it was helpful to speak Korean and Japanese, and when he lived in Korea he would often pretend to need help learning the language when really, he didn’t.
At our last tent, we met a group of Czech teenagers whose teacher had brought them to the festival on a kind of school trip, then left them with the plan to meet up again at 1 a.m. and head back home. One of the teens – a boy with long hair – was so wasted he broke a glass while toasting, and then the guy on the receiving end continued to drink from the broken glass. Shane gestured, “no, bad!” and made choking gestures to the girls, but they either didn’t understand, or didn’t care.
Shane got the primary Czech girl’s Facebook name or email, or whatever, and we left. He had tried to loop me into their conversation, but I was keeping myself on the periphery, observing how the teen boys hovered around the girls, smoking. The girls sat while the boys stood, glaring at Shane. Shane made peace with the boys by talking hockey with them, and dropping names of Czech players. Everyone shook hands when we left.
Shane and I were sober, and this was a problem. We had agreed to involve liquor in our next stop, and to find a bar near the hotel. We asked the night-guy at the front desk where to go, and he said, “if anything is going to really happen tonight in Munich, it’s here” – circling a small neighborhood just south of us.
We should have known he was sending us to the gay district, but we realized it too late, after we were deep into it.
We returned to the hotel around midnight, sober, and I fell asleep with the window open and the sound of sirens and shouting down below.