Four years ago, the Internet set me up with a guy who took me on a first date to Chicago’s Maifest wearing lederhosen and a Hawks sweater, and my life has never been the same. Before I met the man who is now my husband, I was vaguely aware that Oktoberfest was a thing. I had a loose understanding of pretzels, beer, and what I’d always thought was some sort of German milk maid dress. As I learned more about the rich cultural history behind the tradition, the more enamored I became -- both of Oktoberfest itself and of the man who shared his passion for the event with me. A few years and four dirndls later, when we decided that we would marry in September 2016, the honeymoon destination was obvious: Munich.

Scott’s last visit to Munich was in 2010, for the 200th anniversary celebration. He’d described the experience as both wild and magical. I listened carefully as he talked about sitting at the long tables in the Oktoberfest tents and bonding with strangers from all over the world, but I’d never really understood until I experienced it for myself.

We spent two days in Munich. The first was going to be spent on the fairgrounds, enjoying the carnivalesque atmosphere with shops, rides, and food stands. Unfortunately the weather had other plans. Armed with my trusty travel umbrella and my Dirndl Squad tee, we made the best of a wet situation. As we looked down on the crowd from the top of the Ferris Wheel, it was clear that the rain couldn’t put a damper on the Oktoberfest spirit.

By the time I slipped on my In Bloom dirndl the next morning, I was more than ready. We set up camp in the Paulaner Festzelt, where the Radler became my best friend. Several half Bier, half lemon-lime soda concoctions later, we’d also made friends with the pair of South Africans next to us as well as the Spaniards and Germans at the tables around us. The live bands and the steady flow of conversation made the time zoom by in a flash. As day moved into night, the music got louder and the mood became more festive. Everyone climbed up on the benches to sing along and dance the night away. Hearing thousands of people from all over the world singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at the top of their collective lungs -- in perfect English, no less -- will always be one of the most bizarre and cherished moments of my entire life.

What makes Oktoberfest special isn’t the beer. It isn’t the food or the music. It isn’t even the clothes -- although seeing so many men, women, and children decked out in their finest lederhosen and dirndls did fill my heart with joy. What makes Oktoberfest special is the sense of community that comes only from being truly welcomed by new friends, despite language barriers, cultural backgrounds, or other traits that set us apart, and feeling suddenly at home.

Jessica Rzepka Co-owner of

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July 13, 2017 — Erika Neumayer

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