October 5, 2011

Oktoberfest: Bad Luck in Bavaria | Germany

As promised, here's a summary of my weekend roadtrip to Oktoberfest. This was written by my friend Luke for his blog Taxaholic and I just thought it perfectly summarised our road trip from hell!


Malou and I debated going to Oktoberfest in Germany when I first came to Leiden. Distance, cost, intuition (too much effort for booze?), whatever… at first all signs pointed to:

“No, do not go to Oktoberfest.”

(For those of you unaware, Oktoberfest is an 18 day beer festival. It is the largest festival on the planet, attracting around 7 million visitors from around the world. It's like Cony Island on Steroids, and very, very drunk.)

In typical Barbadian fashion we decided about two days in advance that it was, after all, a good idea to drive the 8 hours there on Friday night, and the 8 hours back on Sunday afternoon. Besides, I have a perfectly good MINI Cooper for the trip. It would really be a waste not to go. Plus, we had a place to crash thanks to a fellow Bajan also spending the weekend in Germany. This journey will just cost the Petrol, and the booze. Altogether now: Let’s Roll!

The journey began with Paige getting lost while looking for Malou in Amsterdam, followed by them jumping a direct train heading for Rotterdam when, in fact, we were to meet here in Leiden for our early departure!

I already had a renewed faith in Murphy’s Law ever since my Macbook died two weeks ago. But, I was about to meet Murphy’s prissy big sister who really does not like me.  

We finally leave Leiden, three hours behind schedule and right in the heart of rush hour traffic. 520 miles to go, and an estimated arrival time in Munich of about 1:00AM was on the GPS. That didn’t sound too bad; our proposed wake-up time of 5:00AM to line up for the beer tents gave us plenty time to rest.

Luke, Paige & Malou - so naive and optimistic.

Nothing like good company. From mutual chastisement to sexual innuendo, I think we laughed for the first two hundred miles consistently. Mostly me laughing at my own jokes, and the others laughing at me being my own best audience; but still – laughter. This was quickly subdued as we proceeded down the Autobahn when at around 160km/hr (regular highway speeds), the Cooper S stutters and growls, engine lights flash on, traction control lights go haywire, and a rumbling sound invades the cabin.

Apart from crapping myself at the prospect of being stuck literally in the middle of Germany’s equivalent of the Center of St. Joseph (i.e. absolutely nowhere near nothing), all I could think of is the I told you so I would get from my mother.

“I told you to sell that car!”

Panic not, I thought. Pull over and do like men do: pop the hood and poke at things. “Hrm, I think it’s misfiring, lets poke around the spark plugs.” Wait — where are the spark plugs!? We finally figure it out, Paige pushes something, the engine light goes off and we toss the theoretical coin between going the halfway back home, or the halfway to Germany… It lands Germany-side-up and so we opt for for the Beer. The car runs fine for about 10 miles before we have to double back to the address of the Mechanic given to us by the police at the rest stop. It was an ADAC location, the largest roadside assistance company in Europe.

He took one look at us and goes “Oktoberfest!?” Hey funny man, it’s midnight. Fix the damn car. After some prodding around and a language barrier, he agrees it’s a spark plug. He changes one of the plugs with as close a replacement as he can find (on what basis he selected that one, I don’t know.) We ask, “will it be okay?” The response comes in broken English and a thick German accent:
"Eh… Maybe its okay… Maybe it’s engine damage."
Alright, honestly, not the response I hoped for… but by now its midnight and we still have like 300 miles to go. We pull out, and another ten miles onward the problem returns. It was not the spark plug, or certainly not that one. Worst €60.00 I’ve ever spent. But what does one expect for that price at midnight? With our combined mechanical knowledge we decide to make our way slowly to Munich with many stops and kiss our early morning start goodbye (the estimated arrival time is now 4:00 AM)

A second ADAC mechanic comes out in the morning, takes one look at us and goes “Oktoberfest!?“; then curses his colleague for fitting that new spark plug the night before. Apparently the old one was fine, so he swaps back in the old one, connects his computer and determines that something else entirely different is wrong. Its a minor problem, but its a holiday in Germany so no luck getting the very small cheap part till Tuesday. Driving home should be okay, just do it slowly…. So we leave the car and go beerhunting around mid-day.

Oktoberfest itself was awesome

There are these huge tents that you have to line up to get into. Thousand of people are drinking beer by the litre inside, others are on balcony’s taking in the sunshine, and you can hear the intermittent chants of the entire tent singing their beer songs and there’s just something tribal about the way they were taking in the festivities. I know because we were locked outside such a tent, trying desperately to get in.

We finally settled on a much quieter tent with our new friend, Jerome, the X-factor contestant, and our German host Steffi.  It was, apparently more “authentic” and I had a blast. Other tents were teeming with drunk teens puking and stumbling out the doors. Instead of vomiting teens, our tent served delightful braised pork and, according to reports, the best beer. I think we won overall, but really, that’s all there was to it. Pork and beer. Oh, and awesome warm roasted almonds.

See the Snapshots of Octoberfest here.

We set out for our return journey to Leiden at 10:00 AM on Sunday, and hoped to get back to Leiden around 6PM; driving very slowly. But the MINI only had about 40 of the 520 miles left in her… We eventually broke down for good in a deserted commercial yard with one cell phone between the three of us and no one around but a friendly Russian who I really thought was going to take Malou into his prostitution ring, or worse yet, try to take my wallet. He took one look at us and went “Oktoberfest!?”; and honestly, I started to think these guys were far less insightful than they were imagining themselves to be. (*I'd also like to add here that he tried to reach 'his good friend the mechanic' only to be told he was getting pissed at Oktoberfest...the irony!)

Eventually we just got BMW to come out and service the car, and the technician arrived just when the third ADAC call out mechanic (and the second complimentary one) was taking a look at the car. This kind old man either didn’t know or care about the computer that the other two mechanics had used to misdiagnose the problem. Using nothing but his ears and a pliers he quickly determined that it was a faulty spark plug, but not the ones reported by his colleagues. Within two minutes he removed a previously incorrectly fitted one from the last service that had been more or less shredded when forced into the cylinder. On arrival, the BMW technician did the now traditional “Oktoberfest!?” greeting, and then concurred with the ADAC mechanic that the car could not drive.

 The MINI is now waiting in Munich for a quote on the necessary engine work, that will in all likelihood result in my insurance company writing it off.

BMW arranged for us to be met at the repair garage by an AVIS agent who took us to the rental car place where we picked out a vehicle to race up the Autobahn before 9:36 Duisburg time so we could catch the last train back to the Netherlands.

Two traffic jams later, we arrived with about 12 minutes to spare, but no idea where the train station was; which was fine… because when we did find it Malou ran inside to check the train times. It turns out that we had missed the last train at 9:26 and quite mysteriously all the night trains were not running that night. Thank goodness we didn’t ditch the Car at AVIS and dropped the keys in the postbox and sprinted for the station like planned, or we would have slept there Sunday night. This was about the only lucky thing to happen to us in our 50 hours in Germany.

All I can say is, thankfully the 25 hours to Germany and back was done with great company, or I would be an extremely angry person right now. The summary of my journey is below:
Dear Germany,

It was fun driving you this weekend. Those three beers weren’t bad either.



Thanks for the post Luke!  I've added a few of my own photos throughout for a more clear understanding of the fun we had during this nightmare. Never in my life have I been this unlucky, even when times were tough whilst traveling with Christina, things always worked out for us. This time, Luck + Karma decided to have some fun with us.

I couldn't have asked for better people to be stuck in this particular situation with. Steffi was an amazing host and helped us so much, trying her best to keep it together after trying to reach 10,000 mechanics on the last Saturday of Oktoberfest. Paige and Luke were calm and collected and above all, funny. We laughed at the absurdity of the situation from the get go and no one lost their cool. The fact that we inhaled about 6 packs of cigarettes between us to calm the nerves may have had something to do with it...and I don't even smoke.

Thanks for the best/worst trip of a lifetime boys!



  1. big fan of the pic of you sat on the car bonnet. Sounds like a nightmare but also a lot of fun!

  2. Thanks Lukas. If you cant laugh at situations like these then you'll be wasting a lot of time in your life :)

  3. What a weekend! Sort of wish I had come along and sort of not!