Sunday is always a good day to pause from political gunpowder smoke and switch to therapeutic activities like traveling and photography. I am sharing my week-long respite in Munich to indulge in those golden foamy beverage accompanied by my shutter-itch allergy.
(Some quick tips for amateur fotogs like me: when traveling I always use a light medium-sized bridge camera since I don’t have the luxury of time to change lenses. A 25-600 zoom lens is substantial enough for wide and speedy close-ups. Forget the flash and always use available light no matter what. Bring a good weather-proof bag to protect your baby from unexpected drizzles. For overall clarity, I use aperture priority fixed at F8, a good bokeh can be achieved at F2.8 without dark corners. Use ISO 100 or 200 whenever possible in full daylight for best image quality. Auto ISO for dimly lighted conditions. Shutter speed at 250 or more to stop moving objects or to freeze water movements and slower to capture action and animated movements. Always shoot like you have a story to tell without the script. street signs, facade, flowers, patina, reflections, silhouettes as frames, artsy angles, dynamic monochrome and panoramas can provide variation to otherwise boring shots. Shooting at ground level looking up can add new dimension. Macros on textures and wide on patterns are also fun to do. (Of course, the most important is the right composition.)
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Going to Munich during this part of the year is always an exhilarating experience for a camera bug like me.
For most tourists, Bavaria – with its own sense of Gemütlichkeit, beer gardens, quaint little villages, and culturally rich cities – appears to be the quintessence of Germany. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Of the 16 German Länder, as the German federal states are called, none is more fiercely independent than Bavaria: it was an autonomous dukedom and later kingdom until 1871, when it was incorporated into the German nation state.
For Bavarians, anything beyond the state’s borders remains foreign territory. The state has its own anthem and its own flag, part of which –the blue-and-white lozenge – has virtually become a regional trademark symbolizing quality and tradition. Bavarian politicians discussing the issue of Europe in speeches will often refer to Bavaria almost as if it were a national state. They inevitably call it by its full official name: Freistaat Bayern, or simply “der Freistaat,” meaning “the Free State.” The term was coined by Kurt Eisner, Minister President of the Socialist government that rid the land of the Wittelsbach dynasty in 1918.
The first Oktoberfest commemorated the wedding of soon-to-be King Ludwig in 1810, and has grown into a massive public fair that celebrates Bavarian heritage. This includes the food, the costumes, and traditions. While it is not just about the beer, beer is deeply ingrained in German culture. The only beer that can be served at Oktoberfest must be brewed inside Munich city limits. It must also be brewed to the stringent standards of the Germany Beer Purity Law. You will only find beer from these six breweries there: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu and Hofbräu.
Half of the festival is a long run of beer halls large and small. The other half is an equally long midway with rides, food, games and shopping stalls. Each half is massive. Think of it like a state fair or a small amusement park. It is a very family-friendly affair, with plenty of amusements, attractions, shows and culture for all ages and personality types.
Admission to the festival is free. Just bring plenty of cash for food, beer, souvenirs and rides.
A tent is just one huge room with a bunch of people on benches clinking beer steins and singing along to oompa bands.
That scene plays out constantly inside each of the 13 large beer tents (and many of the smaller ones). It is exactly as fun and lively as it looks.
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Doing it my way
This is my fourth visit to the Holy Land of brewers and drinkers. This time a little shorter than before, at around seven days. I usually travel light and that goes the same for the camera I always bring. I brought my nifty fave DSLR, which has been accompanying me for years now. No lens switching with a formidable 25-600mm zoom consistently open at f2.8 throughout the zoom length. I have learned to be a fast shooter all these years, keeping my index finger aligned with subjects menu pre-ordered in my mind. Walking with buddies demand alertness for a 15-20-second stops gives me enough room to catch up with the stride.
Munich for me is colors, a festive air to breathe with 6 million people in attendance. Decibels of glee and merriment abound wherever your head turns. For Germans, it’s time to pause and celebrate. For us outsiders, it is time to get lost, immerse and blend with this amazing tradition of downing one-liter jugs of the finest brews available in this part of the planet. “Prost” seems to be a word understood by all. No need to know names and origins, one is obliged just to raise that glass of golden liquid that came from those bottomless wooden barrels. Oktoberfest revelers are light-footed and almost always primed to dance by stomping and bodily swaying to the tunes of Bavarian marches and polkas. It is tough to get sober in this 15-day festivities where an average of 7 million liters are consumed annually.
Each of the six breweries that are allowed to participate in Oktoberfest, all brewing within the Munich city limits (Hofbräuhaus München, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Paulaner Bräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu and Augustiner Bräu) has a tent where only the host brewer’s beer is served. While the festival rings in the beginning of October, the beer is traditionally brewed earlier in the year – back in March, when the summer’s heat and rampant bacteria wouldn’t interfere with the brewing process. The beer called Märzenbier is typically higher in alcohol so it can last all summer. By October, the rest of the year’s beer is consumed to make room for a new year’s worth of beer. Today, the beer is still brewed under the same style, but it’s now brewed right before the fall.
Food is always for the carnivorous – white sausages (Bratwurst and Currywurst), rotisserie chickens, Schweinshaxe usually served with a heap of traditional sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, beef, ducks, and soft pretzels.
Oktoberfest beer is typically around 6 percent ABV, far stronger and sweeter than typical German lager. That is why you often see “casualties” lined up on the grassy ground in the perimeter surrounding the tents. Me returning? Of course. The pilgrimage is worth the 14-hour flight.
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Good work, good deeds and good faith to all.