It seems I’m becoming irritable and dull in my old age. I recall once enjoying Oktoberfest, but this year the annual celebration of beer evolved from raucous fun to annoying frat-party.
Munich, the birthplace of Oktoberfest, is home to 1.4 million permanent residents. More than seven million visitors showed up for the annual two-week beer-swilling festival this year, of which I believe about 4 million should be shot.
None of these people whose demise would considerably improve society have personalities much improved by the addition of alcohol, nor is their regard for personal space.
The 14 beer-tents seat about 100,000 people, leaving the rest to mill around the 100-acre fairgrounds, drunk, searching for toilets and food, tempting me to homicide.
Perhaps in the future we can all agree on a few ground rules:
1. I don’t know you. I don’t want to know you. Holding onto me will not guide your drunken self through the mass of Oktoberfest bodies. Get your damned hands off my back.
2. Yes, this is awesome. Exclaiming such to strangers a dozen times won’t make it more so.
3. Refer to the point in #1 about not knowing you. Thus, I don’t love you, and probably don’t want a hug.
4. Wearing lederhosen, which takes about nine minutes to unstrap, is unwise when you’re consuming steins of beer and there are a fraction as many toilets as people.
5. No, I don’t know how far you traveled to be here. Nor will I care when you try to tell me again in five minutes.
6. Rapidly spinning fair rides are a bad idea after six beers.
These things didn’t seem to bother me as much when I was younger. And drunker.
(In fact, I’m reasonably sure I was the guy telling everyone how far he’d traveled to get here last year.)
But older, a bit more sober, and grumpier, I just wasn’t up to Oktoberfest this year.
So Soo and I grabbed some Bavarian nuts baked in rum and amaretto, met our friend Marcel and split, deciding instead to head out of town, to the mountains, to find out if Mad King Ludwig was really so nutty after all.
Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm, better known as King Ludwig II, ruled Bavaria for two decades in the second half of the 19th century, until his political enemies had him declared mentally ill and forcibly ended his reign.
On July 12, 1886, upon the expert testimony of six doctors, none of whom had ever actually examined the poor king, Ludwig was declared unfit to rule, and imprisoned in Berg Castle. The next day he was found dead, floating in shallow water in the Starnberg Lake, alongside the corpse of the doctor assigned to care for him. Though he was a strong swimmer, found in a couple of feet of water alongside his doctor and an autopsy found no water in his lungs, the cause of death was ruled suicide, by drowning.
Ludwig’s enemies were aggrieved with him for many slights, some real, some imagined, but the biggest beef his government and his family had with him was his out of control spending. During his time as monarch Ludwig ran up quite a debt, on things far sexier than Wall Street bail-outs and bridges to nowhere.
Most of the debt Ludwig incurred during his reign went toward financing construction of three lavish castles, Linderhoff, Herrenchiemsee and the famous Neuschwanstein, which was Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here. I can think of more than a few members of Congress clearly off their rockers. Let’s ship them off to Berg Castle and encourage them to go for a swim.
Our tour guide could have been the lifeguard at Ludwig’s lake. She can only be described as someone deeply chagrined she didn’t live during the Third Reich – the Gestapo would have suited her perfectly. Once all of us were aboard, instead of welcoming us and explaining what we’d see, she barked the bus rules at us, including the prohibition against vomiting. She explained, quite seriously, that if the many twists and turns along the mountain roads made us car sick, she would fine us 100 euros.
If she made us sick, she was prepared to charge us for it.
And that was perhaps the kindest thing she said to us that day.
Several times during what was, Hitler Youth excluded, a wonderful day, she directed us to tip her – well – before exiting the bus. By day’s end most of us were so terrified of her we simply handed her our wallets, and hoping they would be returned with enough for cab fare back to the hotel.
But Ludwig’s obscenely gorgeous castles were, well, obscenely gorgeous, and oh-so-worth the trip.
The tour took us two hours outside Munich, into the Bavarian mountains, which in and of themselves are stupendous.
Ludwig apparently had a bit of a man-crush on King Louis XIV of France, and used Versailles as a model for his palatial abodes.
Linderhoff is lovely, but as the home to the Bavarian monarch you’d probably expect to find a few tapestries or paintings depicting something from Bavarian history scattered about.
Everything – every single wall covered in any sort of depiction – contains an image from Versailles. Given how touchy the French were about the Germans invading from time to time this had to make them a tad nervous.
The grounds, much like the French palace on which they’re modeled, are covered in gardens and fountains. It’s unabashedly grand, and was surely a fine place to live. Shame it bankrupted his monarchy.
The second utterly spectacular castle on the tour was Neuschwanstein, which was never fully completed, and in which the sad king spent less than two years. It’s magnificent – Cinderella’s castle come to life – and the surrounding mountains beyond compare. It was Ludwig’s ultimate architectural triumph, and led to his ultimate demise.
Neuschwanstein is five stories of elegant, Richard Wagner-inspired grace and beauty. It cost what in today’s money would be just over $1 billion, which, regrettably, was about $1 billion more than Ludwig could afford. (Oddly, things like that mattered to his government back then. Silly bastards! Just write the check – future generations would no doubt happily foot the bill.)
From what I knew before the tour, I expected to feel little more than disdain for the free-spending royal out of touch with his people and his country. After learning all we did about Ludwig, I came to pity his life and loneliness, which was a totally unexpected response.
Ludwig’s was a tragic, engrossing tale, one you’d likely dismiss as fantasy if it weren’t absolutely true.
The tour is delightful, the countryside and castles every bit as beautiful as described. It’s a wonderful respite from the drunken revelry of Oktoberfest, equally as German and equally as exciting, though on a totally different level.
And the only person I wanted to strangle was our tour guide.