As we walked through the crowds and carnival stands with games and food on either side, I was both overwhelmed and happily excited to be part of such a nationally esteemed and celebrated German tradition. Being part of this overindulgent and carefree adult fantasy of the festival, I felt the curiosity of a child surge through my body, as I was eager to see what we would find in the huge beer tents around us. With the “warm-up” beer I had just devoured working its way pleasantly through my bloodstream, I was already fueled with enough alcohol to make the pain of my injury disappear, and my thoughts focused on other distractions, such as decadent food, and the wild singing and dancing I had been promised to find inside these giant white structures.
We stepped inside cautiously, at even at this point in the early evening the tent was filled with a wild array of singing, dancing and an overall atmosphere of carefree merriment, as the crowded halls were packed with the happiest bunch of people I had ever seen, in the most ridiculous and wonderful clothes anyone could ever imagine them wearing. The tent was filled with rows and rows of tables, yet no-one sat at the tables, because everyone stood on the benches, dancing, instead.
A band perched up on a large stage in the center of the tent, played Bavarian festival music interspersed with cheesy American songs that had obviously gained huge amount of German popularity, as everyone sang happily together at once such songs as, “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. Eagerly, I hopped up onto a bench, bringing Charlotte and Michaela with me, and soon we found ourselves each holding a giant stein of beer, joining in with the joyous festivities of the festival. The stein was so heavy that a few times I put it down momentarily with aching arms, but only to find myself being immediately scolded by whomever had caught me in this clearly blasphemous, anti-Bavarian act. If I was going to be at Oktoberfest, I was going to be commanded to continually be dancing on benches, full stein in-hand. This was clearly a rule of the festival. After lifting the stein repeatedly to clink cups and yell “PROST!” every couple of minutes, while dancing wildly, perched precariously on benches, I decided that this could definitely qualify as cross-training.
A few beers later, and several “new friends” later, I found myself deep in the midst of Oktoberfest excitement. As the tent became more crowded, I could see that the hoards of people around me had also fallen into a amber-hued daze, due to a continual cycle of the giant beer steins being quickly devoured- and quickly replenished. Intoxicated with alcohol and wonderment, I was soon found to be leaping from table to table, smiling with a grin so big it could only mean that I was well past a point of tipsy. I waved my arms happily, dancing in synchronization with the hundreds of people around me, to the YMCA- with full and honest enthusiasm.
The next day, after sleeping in until noon, and devouring a breakfast of various meats, cheeses and bread, Michaela and I said goodbye to Charlotte, and after revisiting Oktoberfest in broad daylight (which appeared to be a completely different place) we made our way toward her home in Mannheim. I took pictures out the window as Michaela drove, and she laughed at my excitement in seeing the German countryside, as we made our way towards Neuschwanstein Castle.
Though I was able to quickly tackle the pronunciation of “Donnersbergerbrücke”, I found that every time I was about to say the name “Neuschwanstein”, I would just give up before trying and inevitably humiliating myself in the process. Luckily I had lots of practice with avoiding names, as I have suffered through countless occasions where I have been expected to know the name of someone I don’t, and have to make it through the night without them ever being the wiser. And so, we made our way up the mountain, after stopping at Hohenschwangau Castle as well, yet another name I didn’t dare try to pronounce. As we made our way through the tour group into the “English speaking” area, I began to hear mid-western American accents, and realized that touring German castles must be a popular American tourist destination.
It seemed that every which way I turned, I heard an American accent coming from somewhere-but not the kind of speech I was used to from home-this was a mix of comically exaggerated Southern drawls, and twangy vowels that I had always pegged as fictional stereotypes. I figured this kind of accent was only present in the speech a few hillbilly-types that were raised and bred through generations of unpleasant-sounding thick rough American accents, which I heard about on so and so’s trip to Oklahoma or someone else’s meandering through Alabama. But, here it was, everything I was sure was mostly just redneck myths and cowboy tales, ringing in my ears around every corner! I was instantly reminded of a show I used to watch when I was in middle school, called The Torkelsons. I figured that this was a clear sign that I needed to explore more of my own country.
Two castles later and much patriotic embarrassment later, we hopped back in the car, and finished the journey out of Bavaria, and into Mannheim.
After the walking up hills and touring around of visiting the castles with no beer to ease the pain, I was beginning to feel my injury cripple me once again, and I became worried once more that I would not recover in time for the marathon. I had remembered however, the advice given to me by the sports massage therapist in Dublin to cross train and take yoga, and so I set this as my new mission- I would take exercise classes in Germany. Michaela was determined help bring my back to full running health, so she had signed us up to participate in both yoga and spinning at her local gym. I was slightly hesitant, knowing that they would be taught in German, but decided to give it a try because I wanted to heal as soon as possible, and because I was curious about attending a gym in a foreign country, especially Germany.
I had always thought of overall fitness and stamina to be something that was regarded highly and taken seriously in all of Deutschland, and once I popped myself onto a stationary bike for the spinning class we took together, I was once again to find that another stereotype I had projected onto Germans was indeed correct. I figured that I could just keep myself unnoticed in the class, while watching other people and following what they are doing, so I wouldn’t be found out as a foreigner smuggling myself into a German class, with no idea of what anyone is saying. But sooner after I had decided that this would be my plan of action, Michaela looked over at me from her neighboring bike, and looking over my gym-wear of hot-pink nylon shorts and a loose black t-shirt with a matching pink sports bra peeking through and giggled, “Camille, you look so American!“. So much for blending in.
And then, suddenly, the class began. Our instructor was an height and slightly brawny middle-aged man with blondish brown hair, and head to toe black German spandex. I was at once amused and intimidated by this slightly comical, yet also fierce individual. Within moments, he instantly picked me out of the crowd as either new or different or ridiculous, and said some things in German to the class, and laughed, loudly. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was just saying I was new to the class, but suspicions told me he make have been making fun of my absurdly American hot-pink shorts and the blatant expression of confusion on my face. The man sitting next to me found the instructor’s hilarious as well, and chuckled heartily, perched on his bike with a similar outfit of sleek black spandex, which I figured must be a German standard for gym-wear. The instructor shouted something that appeared to be the German equivalent of “Go!”, and cranked up the techno-hip-hop megamix on the giant speakers positioned behind him. Then in synchronized unison, and in a varying array cool black spandex, everyone started pedaling madly and I followed, watching carefully to make sure I was doing this correctly.
Only two minutes into the class, the man next to me was dripping with sweat. Though I generally regard myself to be an overall pretty sweaty person, this man was clearly no match for me. As tiny streams formed on his forehead, running down his face and down his back, he turned to talk to me, and I felt strange moist droplets sprinkle onto my bare skin. I winced audibly in immediate reaction, but he didn’t seem to notice, and leaned in towards me, and yelled something in German into my ear, and laughed, though I was certain that at this point he could tell that I had no idea of what he was saying. Then the instructor would shout again in German, and though I couldn’t understand him, I still found his upbeat encouragement strangely motivating. But thirty minutes later, he was still pedaling swiftly to the racing beats, and I was lagging behind. We would stand and pedal, then sit, then stand then sit again, constantly changing the resistance of the bike setting from what I termed as “difficult” to “very difficult”, then “slightly manageable”, which really, I think was meant to be “easy”. This was my first spinning class in any country, and I was shocked to discover how difficult it was, and also surprised that no-one ever mentioned how terribly uncomfortable the seats were. Though exhausted by the grueling workout I was enduring, I was relieved to find that my leg was relatively pain-free, and only really hurt when I turned the resistance up too much on my bike. It felt good to be exercising again, and the energy pumping music vibrated through my body, forcing me to continue on through the class. An hour and a half later, the class ended, and I sighed in relief, ready to be done with German fitness forever, when Michaela reminded me that I would be attending a yoga class immediately after. I was exhausted, but a few minutes later, the high of endorphins and the delayed drug of super-techno took its hold on me, and I was ready to conquer another class.
We walked over to the yoga class, and Michaela explained to the instructor that I would be taking it, and that I have a running injury, and mainly, that I don’t speak a word of German. This petite, zen-friendly hippie-esque woman who slightly resembled Shakira (a stark contrast to the last instructor) immediately displayed a look that was easily translatable across an international sphere of understanding, to be total and utter horror. She asked Michaela if she would be taking the class and would translate to me, but Michaela explained that she would not, and that I could simply follow the movements without the instructor’s verbal commands. The woman looked frantic, but then quickly devised a plan, explaining to Michaela that she could not teach the class if there were not more than two participants, and without Mish, it would only be myself and a man who was listening to our conversation carefully, clearly eager to discover the outcome. But Michaela was set on my recovery, and is most definitely a determined German, she decided to take the class after all- to the instructor’s obvious dismay.
Michaela then went down to the locker to change, and German Shakira then explained in a mixture of German and choppy English what I should be doing. I could tell that she was working hard to locate specific words in her English vocabulary, but the limited amount she possessed ended up in confusion for both of us, and small interjections of attempted English by the man who also took the class, until Michaela returned and joined us. The next hour was spent with my attempts at participating in a variety of odd yogic poses, quickly realizing that running, along with my injury, made me possibly the least flexible individual on the planet. I tried bending my body and stretching in ways that had been quite easy to me in previous classes I had taken at home, yet now my muscles were strictly unyielding, and I fumbled in embarrassment with comically awkward stiffness. As the yoga instructor methodically chimed each instruction, she looked over expectantly at Michaela, who then repeated each phrase and command in English, while I tried to do my best to follow. It would have been quite a funny scene for an outside observer, and the man in the class seemed greatly amused, but was gracious enough on my behalf to keep himself from bursting out into laughter at the sight of this total absurdity. Again and again the instructor was startled by my obvious lack of flexibility, but her practiced meditation had proved useful now, and she was able to almost completely retain a calm exterior. However, every couple of minutes, I witnessed small intermittent glimpses of disappointment and frustration, suddenly revealing how she truly felt.
The class ended with German Shakira holding a small, lumpy object, that she explained to serve as a symbol, representative of her heart, that we should cherish and hold tightly to our chests, wishing for happiness for ourselves and the people around us. Michaela explained this to me in German as I looked quizzically at what this might mean, and we both restrained ourselves greatly from bursting into laughter at the ridiculous scene that this posed for us. And soon, the class was over, and I was glad to be done with the gym.
The rest of my time in Mannheim was spent happily frolicking around town exploring, while also taking a one day trip into Strasbourg, a small city in France, close to the German border.
Michaela and I toured around Strasbourg for a bit, taking in the beautiful scenery, eating delicious tarte flambée, as well as Nutella crepes. As we walked along the Barrage Vaubin, I suddenly realized that after walking all over the city, I barely felt any pain in my leg at all. Later that night, Michaela and I returned to Mannheim, and toured around Mannheim city center as well as the nearby Hiedelberg the next day before we said a heart-breakingly sad goodbye. And so, in the pouring rain, and while fighting back tears in not knowing when I would see my dear friend again, I left on a flight back to London, hopeful that a recovery was near in my future.