Communion at Oktoberfest

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou





Trumpets squeal and blare through the flat blue autumn sky above Marienplatz. Tubas honk and burp in between the raucous amusement park rides on Maria Theresien Wiese. Accordions wail and wheeze on every corner of Viktualienmarkt where men dressed in lederhosen, hunting hats and woolen knee stockings are hugging two-liter steins in their portly arms.

Credit: Fugu_24 flickr

Credit: Fugu_24 flickr

Beside them are the bearded cross-dressers wearing wigs of yellow yarn braids, lip-sticked circles on their cheeks, their chest hair prickling out of the plunging necklines of their embroidered dirndls. Women dodge around them, their cleavages climbing to clavicles, doughy breasts heaving out of white lacy blouses, frilly anklets spilling out of hiking boots. Aprons tied around corseted waistlines, petticoats pouffing under gathered skirts, and everyone parading with pretzels the size of life rafts, beers the size of birdbaths, and taut pink or gray sausages the size of airline neck pillows. Yodeling, hollering, swaying and puking, broad oom-pah-pahing.

Credit: herby crus flickr

Credit: herby crus flickr

And over there by that bush, a man in a felt green hat with an enormous feather, his knickers bunched awkwardly, is relieving himself in the shrubbery.

Welcome to Brueghel meets Hieronymus Bosch, only earthier than the first and more surreal than the second.

Willkommen zum Oktoberfest.

Linda, my husband’s German work colleague, and a mother of young children, has asked to sit right next to Randall at his table. This evening is a company dinner in one of the big, tented Oktoberfest halls. Randall has done this sort of dinner more times in his career than he can count. But this time, our family’s tragedy is only weeks into our history. Already he’s having to learn to survive these settings – the loudness that feels violent, the crudeness that makes his back hunch in discomfort, shoulders bent over his thoughts so throbbing, his soul feels as if it has third degree burns.

Because of the din swirling all around, Randall’s sure this will be just another one of those evenings he’ll have to survive and then, offering some excuse –  he needs to put more money in the parking meter; a client from Asia is texting with an emergency; he might be having an allergic reaction to the latex seat covers; anything – might have to leave. This time, he sits there as he so often has, shoulder to shoulder with the joking and the jocular, trying to take part although his thoughts are rocketing beyond a galaxy away.

Linda clears her throat. She smiles at Randall. He smiles weakly, gesturing as if to ask, do you need me to scoot over? You need more space? Pretty loud here, huh! You enjoying your drink?

The miming ends as he looks down into the stein filled with mineral water with its slice of lemon bobbing like a planet off-orbit, and Linda, leaning on one elbow, takes a breath audible enough that gets Randall to look up and meet her glance:

“So,” she begins in German, “your children, how are they liking Munich. . .?”

“Thanks for asking,” he says, straining not to yell, although how else will she hear him? “Looks like they’re slowly making friends. . .”

Randall smiles. Linda rearranges her cutlery. She turns her shoulders more directly to him so as to be heard.

“And your children are. . .they are. . . adjusting to. . .their new life?” she asks, her eyebrows raised.

“Oh, I think so, although there are a lot of. . .of challenges,” he answers.

“And you and your wife. . .are you. . .is it. . .can you tell me. . .” she freezes and looks at the napkin she now notices she’s been holding crumpled in her lap. “And you two are. . .I mean. . .after what has. . .you and your family. . .”

Linda stretches and presses her napkin flat across her knees, then lifts it up, laying it like a wrinkled tarp  over her plate. Wiping one hand over her eyes, exhaling, she then props the weight of her whole upper body on one arm by planting the heel of her hand on her forehead between her brows. A pause, and her next sentence comes awkwardly, in half-whispers, as she leans closer; “Randall. I’m just trying to ask you about your son.” Her tone thickens, “I am so sorry, Randall. Can you. . . please – I hope this is not hurtful – but can you please tell me about your son?”

A simple question, and you’d think an invisible glass dome has descended – swoosh – on this moment in the far corner of this tent teeming with partiers. At the same overcrowded banquet table where bedlam is the first thing on the menu – only feet from the yodeling accordion player, right next to where the jaded waitress grunts under the pewter tray holding eight beer steins she hoists overhead, inches from where two men (already plastered) swat at her ruffled skirt – amid that whirl of chaos that is so much this world, madness recedes. Suspended at least for an hour, the world and its deafening excesses fade for two work colleagues, who sit side by side, elbow to elbow, talking and wiping tears at Oktoberfest.

Credit: Cpt@ flickr

Credit: Cpt@ flickr

13 thoughts on “Communion at Oktoberfest

  1. Having lived in Germany for five years long ago, I could immediately relate to the Oktoberfest word picture and remember the chaos. But when I finished the last paragraph it was like being in that special room in a special building and the tears came, again.

  2. Jack, I’m thinking Oktoberfest has probably evolved since “long ago”. . .upwards of 8 million liters of beer, who know how many oxen and pigs and chickens consumed by the tens of thousands of patrons who come literally from the world over.

    For my husband, It was no more than background for a purposeful and human moment.


    • I guess I didn’t do a very good job of transferring the thoughts I was having to my fingertips, and so failed to provide the transition from the first sentence to the last. What I meant to say was that the reaching out from and the human interaction with his colleague help transport both of them from that noisy Munchen fest to a cocoon of solitude, almost like when you put your noise-cancellation headphones on and flick the power switch on. It is really possible to shut out the world sometimes, but it takes a special moment. Not sure that was any better, aber vielleicht

      • Jack, no, you worded it perfectly! Yes, and what I meant to say is that I imagine today’s Oktoberfest has devolved from what it was some years ago. And you caught the essence: that in that setting was a safe cocoon. In fact, Randall described it like noise cancellation headphones..:-) Thanks for your adding wisdom—M.

  3. Wow, what a surprise for your husband to have a wonderful opportunity to talk about your lovely son with someone who wanted to know about him. Sorry about all the adjectives. How very caring that she would ask to share in his memories.


  4. This post (and the Maya Angelou quote) touched me deeply tonight. I’m learning much about how to show love to others by listening and just by being truly present through your writing.

      • Kerri and Jack–And I am learning about being present, too, and pushing through that unseen wall that keeps me from connecting face-to-face. It has to do with trusting and following a prompting, which is almost always subtle. This is harder and harder to do in a world that rewards salesy, brash, flashing neon self-advertisement. Thank you for coming here!–M.

  5. I am reeling right now after just learning that a sweet 15-year-old boy from our congregation took his own life last night. He was a friend of my own 15-year-old son. The only two places I could think to turn to ground myself to something solid were 1) the scriptures and 2) this blog. Thank you, Melissa, for creating this hallowed place. And after reading this post, I know that the next place I must go is directly to this young man’s family.

    • Sharlee:

      I wish you wisdom and inspiration as you offer your warm, listening presence to this family. I know that you are aware that timing is essential; what is effective in 6 weeks might not be accepted now, and what might be vital in 6 months might be hurtful at 6 weeks. It is a delicate thing, to stand close to anyone in tremendous pain. It is a demanding thing to stand by them for long.

      Because I know you, I have no doubt you’ll be guided spiritually. That, more than anything, seems the necessary ingredient: inspiration.


  6. Nice article, it is written in a vivid way.
    I like the atmosphere in the tents. The music, the noise of the crowd. The oktoberfest beer and the solid bavarian food. Drunken people who try to explain you something very important while they have problems to stand :o) Meeting people from all over the world, wearing traditional tracht… I found another page which tries to catch the atmosphere of the oktoberfest. Not written as vivid as your article but I think useful if you like to go there.

    • Peter–Sind Sie zufälligerweise Deutscher? Ich hab’ nur so leicht das Gefühl :-). . .Thanks for the suggestion about the other post; I’ll visit that post to see another view of Oktoberfest. I appreciate that you’ve stopped by here. Sie sind ja immer ganz herzlich eingeladen!–M.

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