We’re super jet lagged. We don’t speak German. We don’t know what’s going on and it is huge! Like Milwaukee’s Summeriest on acid—packed with people crammed into a dozen circus size beer tents with live bands.
In 1998, my husband Tom and I became empty nesters and we wanted to do something spectacular before one of them moved back. So we booked a trip to Europe. First stop: Octoberfest in Munich!
We make our way to the Spaten tent. There’s a band blaring/screaming, “Alice, Alice, who the f… is Alice:” Young women wearing dirndls are slinging giant glass mugs of beer around. We’re so overwhelmed we don’t know what to do. We finally realize that you can’t just walk up to a bar and get a beer. You actually have to be seated at a table because they don’t want patrons walking around with these giant glass liter mugs of beer. But all of the tables are reserved and the couple of tables that aren’t are packed with people.
I don’t know what to do but Tom says, “Don’t worry. I got this baby.” Oh, okay. He makes a bee line over to a table where there are a couple of seats open but it says reserved. No, no, no I object.. “I got this,” he says.
“Hi, we’re from Milwaukee,” Tom says to the guy at the table who appears to be a biker. Tom happens to be wearing a Harley anniversary t-shirt. We’ve never missed a Harley anniversary event. But this is probably the part where I should tell you that while I come from a long line of motorcycle enthusiasts—a couple of cousins work at Harley, my dad has one, my brother has one, my son has one, my brother-in-law has one, and my uncle has one—Tom and I do not.
Tom gestures toward the empty seats at the table and asks in English if we could sit down with them for just one beer and then we’ll leave. The biker pulls out two chairs as an invitation. We can’t really talk to them and but we do our best, We introduce ourselves, The guy who appears to be the boss tells us that his name is Mike. He tells us that they are from Stuttgart. His girlfriend tells me her name is Peggy. At least that’s what I thought she said, I say, “Peggy, like from Margaret?” Mike snorts and says “No, Piggy. Like schwine,” More snorting and everyone laughs.
After we down a mug of beer, Mike and the gang decide that maybe we could stay longer since their other friends haven’t shown up. We’re all singing loud and off key, “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!” Half way into my second mug, I really need to pee. But the whole restroom situation in Germany is new to me. I discover that you have to pay to get in. You have to put a coin in a slot. Since we just got here, we don’t have any German money. We’ve been paying for beer with a credit card. I go back to the table and ask the women to help me out with this restroom thing. I squeeze my legs together and gesture to get my point across. They grab me up and sweep me into this women’s room where they are delighted to drop their pants to show me their tattoos. Piggy has a bird of paradise all the way up her leg. They want to see mine. I don’t have any! I’m afraid that not having any tattoos to show off will be a sure sign that Tom and I are faking the whole biker thing but they just think I’m shy.
We have a fun long afternoon/evening with Mike and Piggy and the rest of the crew. As we’re getting ready to depart, my Tom says, “You should come to our house for Harley’s 100th anniversary.” I smile but cringe inside. We are so very grateful that they let us hang out with them but having them visit would most definitely expose us as posers. Tom writes our address on a piece of paper and hands it over to Mike.
We miraculously find our hotel room in spite of the horrible condition we’re in when we leave Octoberfest. The rest of our trip was great.
That was 1998. 2003 rolls around and we remember Mike and Piggy fondly but we’re also relieved that we haven’t heard from them. We had moved in 2001. A week before the Harley Anniversary, we receive a letter forwarded from our old house from Mike that was postmarked over a month before. The letter began with “Excuse me, my English isn’t so good.” He must have worked really hard to write this letter. He reminded us of our invitation. But we are so embarrassed by our charade. It was too late anyway. By the time Mike would have received our reply, the big Harley event would have been over. So the letter went in the fire place and we pretended we never got it. Yet, Tom and I both regret not being able to return the favor of hospitality.
We went to the Harley anniversary event wearing Harley t-shirts of course. A friendly gnarly looking guy standing next to Tom in the crowd asked what kind of bike we owned. Tom said, “Schwin!” He shook his head in disgust and trudged off.