I slept through until fruhstuck time, waking up in a tent which had started to suffer from condensation on the inside. Well, I guess it was going out in sympathy with my liver. I got my clothes on and stumbled out of the tent and straight to the bathroom block. It was surprisingly relatively clean. A sign told me that to have a hot shower I'd need a token, available at the main shop. That's where I went and bought half a dozen of the things. I looked at them and blanched. Unfuckingbelievable! They had GAS written on them. I just shook my head and headed back to have a shower, trying to make sense of this freaky little pancake. Once I was dressed for the day I went over to the mess area of the Autotours encampment and happily found one of the Wankabout staffers overseeing a barbecue plate full of eggs and bacon. You little ripper, just what I needed. I helped myself to a large plateful, washed the plate and cutlery and started looking around for anyone I knew. I saw Lex looking serious and talking to another Autotours rep, and then I spotted Rocky stumbling into scene from stage washroom block. From stage tent left Gary appeared, looking surprisingly chipper. He grabbed some bread and made a sandwich of bacon and eggs, pouring an instant coffee and mumbling 'hi' at the same time. When he'd downed his sandwich I pulled out the shower tokens, 'GAS' side up.
"Mate, look what you need to use to get a hot shower. Check 'em out. And guess where we're going day after tomorrow on a day trip."
Gary's startled frown was accompanied by,
"You gotta be kidding me! That's fucked up, right there. And we're going to Dachau. Welcome to fucking Kraut Land!"
Rocky saw us cursing and frowning and came over. We explained it to him as I showed him the tokens,
"Fuck me dead. I didn't even notice. " He pulled out a couple of his own. He went on,
"Haven't seen these here before. They must have got in a supply of extras for Oktoberfest. Silly fucken drongos should have checked 'em out. I'd better warn the team in case there's any folk of The Faith with us." Rocky wandered over to Lex and pointed out the tokens. Lex nodded, shook his head and walked over to grab some breakfast. While he was polishing off his bacon and eggs we sipped on coffee. In between mouthfuls he explained,
"We're taking this up with the camp site manager. We noticed it last night and have warned the Top Deck and Contiki crews. Not a lot we can do really. You get these tokens elsewhere in Europe. I'd say Fallkirken must have thought they didn't have enough tokens so instead of upping the frequency of emptying the token boxes they got in a new supply. Lazy dickheads. Listen, we take off for the festival site in half an hour so make sure you're here then."
Sounded to me like an order to piss off so I went for a wander around the campground. We were located about half way in, flanked by the Contiki encampment and a phalanx of campervans plastered with signs such as;
"Pisspots On Tour"
"Perth to Paris" etc
Further along there were some more normal looking installations; neatly erected tents, outdoor furniture, clean and sober folk with children, happily eating bread rolls and jam. Surely they must have been warned about us. What chance would they have, really, at 2.00 a.m. with a full battalion of pissed 'Festers coming back to the campground demanding more booze? I shook my head and made a silent prayer for these poor souls. I made my way back to the head of the campground where I saw the heavy cavalry. There must have been at least thirty Top Deck buses all lined up in a row. That meant at least 450 hardened drinkers, prepped and ready to rock, right there. This was going to be nice. I wandered into their zone and saw a lot of people looking as if they'd already gone through the alcohol mincer. I didn't recognise anyone so I walked away.
Back in the Autotours enclave I noticed Janie scarfing down some breakfast, preparing for battle.
I walked up,
"Sleep well? Betcha you didn't. Not without me."
"I had a great sleep, especially because you weren't there. It was peaceful."
Bang, shot me down at first opportunity. I put on my "little boy hurt" look replete with bottom lip quivering. Must have worked 'cos she came up and wrapped her arms around me.
The coach was idling away nearby and Lex was looking at some paperwork which he promptly pocketed, turned and called out,
"Right-i-o then folks. All aboard for the Oktoberfest Opening Ceremony. Don't be shy!"
We motored into the Oktoberfest site, pensive and watchful. Even though most of us had seen similar trouble before we were new to such a big battle. Its funny how the trip in to the Drop Zone affects people differently. A few guys were nervously lighting cigarettes, making forced jokes while others were fingering their lucky charms, symbols of hope, icons of their own survival. Others tapped to the rhythms piping through their earphones. There was one girl who feigned sleep, trying to don the appearance of a bored, seasoned and cynical veteran. In the background was the drone of the big diesel, pushing us on to our fate. Some people were repeating their mantras, locking into their psyches their paths to victory. One young fella in all of his naivety asked Rocky,
"So this is going to be pretty big eh? Lots of beers, lots of pissed people?" Rocky put on his best tour guide impersonation,
"Well it stems from a medieval harvest festival where they celebrated gathering in all the barley, from which they made the beer. You know that there's absolutely no chemicals in German beer? Its been that way for centuries. Its the law. Beer law."
The kid was impressed,
"Geez I hope it tastes good. I heard the stuff at the Oktoberfest is watered down!"
Rocky shook his head,
"That's bullshit. Listen, you won't last a day. If you get into trouble, look for Lex. He'll know what to do."
I was sitting next to Janie and pointed out the nervous youngster. Janie commented,
"They're recruiting them young. He must be barely twenty, if that." She shook her head.
"Takes its toll. We need the numbers." I replied.
I noticed that Gary was checking his hip flask. You can always tell a seasoned pro. It took all types to make up an Oktoberfest contingent. We passed the first casualties of the day. A Bedford van was pulled up in the service lane with a group of worried Kiwis set in a defensive cordon along its side, smoke emanating from the engine bay. They were waiting to be picked off and there was nothing we could do for them. I saluted them and then closed my eyes for a brief remembrance before steeling myself forward.
The coach slowed and I saw how the rest of the convoy was arrayed. Very precise, all in order. We exited row by row, each person taking up position, waiting for the word to advance.
Lex demanded attention,
"Okay. There's buses going back from about two, just be back here on the hour and wait. The opening ceremony is in ten minutes. After he zumpfahs head for the Hofbrauhaus tent. Its that big bastard over there. Okay, yez can fuck off now."
Such leadership. My hero. The HH tent ws my destination anyway. In a few hours time I'd hopefully meet up with Doug and the Namur crew.
We mingled in groups waiting for the Oktobefest Chief to do his thing. An oompah band played, and a fat guy got up on the stage, then another fat guy who was dressed like a mayor. The oompah band kicked in again then the mayoral guy started in on a speech. Something about cabbage soup for lunch from now on and would Colonel Hogan please return the official limousine.
Then he said a few more words and "zoompfah!" There was a loud bang, cheering and the rush to the tents. Our lot didn't run, just pushed through at a steady pace. When we got into the HH tent it was this cavernous, canvas hall arrayed with countless tables and bench seats. A division of hefty bierfraus awaited our assault. I noticed that in amongst the first wave there was a platoon of Top Deckers, happy that they secured prime seats. They were the Shock Troops of the Oktoberfest. Rocky headed to the back of the hall and we followed. When I saw him angling towards a table near an exit sign I figured his ploy.
An easy escape route if there's trouble and it gave handy egress to the toilets. We settled in and were soon attended by one of the bierfrau's. There were eight of us at the table and we weren't really ready to settle in for the long haul just yet. We wanted to check the place out. So we took it in turns to go for walks around the festival site, leaving enough at the table to defend our beachhead. After the first stein was finished the oompah band cranked up. They did a couple of old beer drinking songs and then an Oktoberfest standard, the "Birdie Dance". At the end of it this chant rose from the shock troops in the centre,
and was repeated a few times before the combatants sat down. I felt sorry for Gary and promised to help him in a "Canada" rebuttal next time around. Then I went for a wander.
The site was set up like any carnival type of site. In Australia every town and city has its show. They started off as displays of local produce at their best with games and carnival attractions thrown in. To me it seemed like the Easter Show back in Sydney, with the produce being beer, no farm animals, no Holden Precision Driving Team, no woodchopping but thousands of people celebrating one thing. Beer. Genius concept. I went back to the HH tent, found our table and sat down. It wasn't long before another stein was placed in front of me, trilling its song of life. That was followed by another and by this stage the tent was turning into a party. Early divisions and borders crumbled, the Birdie Song was played and the Aussie-Kiwi chant restaged, interrupted by a plaintiff "Canada", which drew a few laughs and a bow from Gary. As I circled around I checked the time. It was after midday, time to go hunting for Doug and the Namur crowd. I was thinking that they may have decided it wasn't worth it as I made my way up and down the rows of tables. I was almost back to my start point when I spotted Dave, Karen and Betty from Namur. I couldn't believe that a drunken arrangement made in haste to meet up at another drunken rendez-vous had actually worked. We hugged, laughed and shook our heads in wonderment. Dave was curious,
"How did you get here? And how the fuck did you remember the time and place? This is great!"
Dave hoisted his stein and we all clashed glasses. Dave went on,
"But I haven't seen Doug. There were no messages at the hostels, including The Tent. I reckon he's not here."
Karen chipped in,
"Good to see you. We chucked in the hostel gig and are doing the train thang. Got any tips?"
"I came in with this Autotours crowd, a camping tour operation. I wasn't going to miss this one. In terms of advice, I'm fucked. Doug's got Let's Go Home so no dice there. All I can suggest is learn how to order beer in whatever country you're in and you'll be fine. Also. avoid the hostel in Namur. It's full of pisspots and wankers." I was always helpful.
We sat around talking about what we'd been doing. They laughed at the missing car keys episode in Wales, my teaming up with some Autotours drunks and were taken aback by the GAS tokens for the showers at the camping ground. They'd had enough of running the Namur hostel and were drifting around Europe and had the Oktoberfest stamped on their to do list. In between laughs the oompah band occasionally played the Birdie Song or whatever the fuck it is and then the Aussie! Kiwi! chant would start up. I did some spade work on Betty but drew a blank. She was heading off the next day chasing some Kiwi guy. I didn't even ask if his name was Shaun (sorry - gratuitous Kiwi sheep joke reference). The Namur crew left me to it as they wanted to check out the site. Their places at the table were quickly taken by some of the Autotours mob including Gary, Rocky and a Kiwi called Tim (I dunno if that's his name but it seemed to me that most Kiwi blokes I met were called Tim). At the table next to us there was an American guy who was a tour leader of a group of college types. After the next round of the Birdie Song (Chicken Dance?) and the Aussie-Kiwi chant he explained to his group that the Kiwis and Aussies hated each other and that they often came to blows. What? The? Fuck?! Sure, there was a certain amount of pisstake, one upmanship, sporting rivalry and jokes about each other but fist fights? We were too busy insulting each other for that nonsense. Tim leaned across the table, nodding his head towards the American guy,
"Ya here that? Apparently we're meant to punch on."
"I reckon the only one gonna get decked around here is that drop kick."
Tim got up with one of the other guys and staged a mock brawl for the benefit of the Americans but it only lasted a few seconds. They were too busy laughing to make it look real. Tim looked at the American and growled,
"You know what? Us Kiwis and Aussies do have a go at each other but what we really hate is wankers like you."
If Tim had been an Aussie I would have added,
but don't you ever say we're weak
or you'll learn all about our convict streak! (Dave Warner, "Convict Streak").
Tim sat back down to a smattering of golf course applause and attacked his stein. Good idea. We ignored the American table from then on. That stupid tour leader had fucked it for his crew. I felt like explaining it to them but couldn't really be arsed. Wasn't my job. I was in charge of, shit, I couldn't remember what I was in charge of, or the order of battle. Ah yes, it was sitting in front of me in a big stein.
The beer tent was still crowded when I got up to find the toilets. I did so, then noticed something. My pouch was missing. Fuckety-fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! How in the fuck had that happened. I raced back inside, checked the table and surrounds. Nothing. Fuck it! A quick interrogation of the others came up with no clues. It was gone. Now what was in it? My fucking passport, a copy of the YHA card and a letter from my sister. No money was missing, that was some relief. This sobered me up on the spot. I circulated amongst the crowd in that part of the tent, letting them know what to keep an eye out for. I then went looking for the polizei. Outside the tent was a Polizei sign but the post was manned by American M.P.'s. They looked like the blokes who used to drag Klinger back from one of his flights and dump him in front of a bemused Henry Blake. Except they looked all business. I went inside and found a school of pissed yobbos swimming against the current of evil and not having much luck. It was a zoo. I asked the corporal at the door about my best options. He said that if I didn't see the fucker who took it my best bet was to go to the cops in town the next day, get a report and get a new passport asap. Good advice. I could see the logic. Oh well, back to the beer. It was better than sitting in a prefab hut listening to a bunch of pissed people try and give descriptions of evildoers to MP's who couldn't understand drunkese that well. Particularly Aussie and Kiwi drunkese. A military radio set crackled in the background, broadcasting crap I couldn't understand. Nah, beer is a much better option. But then isn't that the case in most ciscumstances?
I settled back inside trying to figure out what had happened. Must have been when I got up to go to the dunnies. The crowd was bumping and it would have been easy to slice the pouch's band. Silly fucker I was. I had to laugh when I pulled my "muggers' wallet" from my back pocket. There it was, my brilliant piece of deception and it had all come to ten parts of sweet fuck all. Still, the fucker who took it was very, very slick. Then I had a genius idea. Put the word out that I was willing to buy an Australian passport for a large cash sum. Then punch the bejaysus out of whoever comes up to sell me one. I enthusiastically moved around the crowd between myself and the door, casually dropping a hint about paying cash. Then I stopped when a great big chunk of logic smacked me upside the head. You fucking idiot! All you've done now is put the word out that you have a big bundle of cash. That's gonna attract all sorts of people who are professional at divesting drunken sods like you of even small sums of cash. Most likely through the use of violence. Nice one Mr Sensible! I turned back to the table but one guy I'd talked to said,
"There's a guy over there offering Aussie passports for sale. That's him, just leaving."
I pushed my way through the crowd but was too late, even with a diving lunge at the end, the fucker was gone. I made it outside and went up and down the alleys but never spotted him. Probably bullshit anyway. Back to the beer and it was also about time I went and found Janie for some solace and comfort.