Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Photo Credit: Benjamin S. Mack/GALO Magazine.

Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Photo Credit: Benjamin S. Mack/GALO Magazine.

But there was another facet of the dirndl that we were paying attention to. On most dirndls, the placement of the knot on the apron indicates the relationship status of the wearer. A knot tied on the left side indicates that the woman is single; a knot on the right means she is married, engaged or in a relationship; a knot tied in the center means she is a virgin; and a knot tied on the back means the woman is widowed. Unfortunately, most of the knots we saw were tied on the right. A particular German phrase sprung to mind: Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof (“life is no pony farm,” meaning life is not always easy and prone to disappointment).

Life would thankfully soon get easier. Though queues to get inside tents can practically stretch for miles — and seat reservations are made far in advance (and for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars) — we found ourselves at the Armbrustschützenzelt (“Crossbowman’s Tent,” named for a competition that has been a part of Oktoberfest since 1895), one of the 14 large tents at Oktoberfest that can legally accommodate 5,839 people inside, and about 1,600 people outdoors in a fenced-off beer garden (Biergarten). Sponsored by the Munich brewery Paulaner (established in 1634 by the Minim friars of the Neudeck ob der Au cloister, and one of just six breweries permitted to sell beer at Oktoberfest), the tent would be visited the same night we were there by none other than the “world’s fastest man” Usain Bolt (who even donned lederhosen for the occasion), and two days later by the entire FC Bayern München football (soccer) team and their dirndl-clad wives and girlfriends (an event which caused German social media to practically explode).

About 30 minutes of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a swarm of people — many of whom were already drunk — the large bouncer, who looked like he’d make a good stunt double for Hulk Hogan and had been our main focal point, opened the hefty wooden doors at the front of the tent to allow us in. Crossing the threshold, it was like stepping into another world, one where the Roman god Bacchus (known for his love of agriculture and wine) would be in his element with the raucous partying taking place and where diabetes, heart disease, strokes and liver failure didn’t exist.

People were everywhere, but rather than stumbling about like zombies, the vast majority was seated at a seemingly endless number of wooden benches. Women in dirndls buzzed about, each carrying a comically massive amount of humongous mugs and heaping plates of meat and other foods that have a negative impact on one’s blood pressure.

Rather than fighting our way inside the tent itself, we opted for a seat in the sprawling beer garden. Almost immediately upon plopping down on the hard wooden bench, a blonde, middle-aged waitress appeared. We ordered in German, and within seconds two massive, nearly overflowing steins were placed in front of us. All beers served at Oktoberfest must conform to the Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian beer purity regulation of 1516, and none of them are cheap; we had to fork over more than 10 euros ($12.52) for a single drink.

Then again, the “drink” was about the size of a person’s head. A single liter is equivalent to more than two pints (or a quarter of a gallon), meaning anyone who’s not a seasoned alcoholic or about the size of Shaquille O’Neal is likely to feel the effects of the pale lager that boasts 5.5 to 6 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) long before they’ve finished. With cries of “Prost!” (“cheers!”) and a clinking of glasses with everyone within what seemed like the radius of the no-fly zone over the White House, I tried my first sip of a beer known as Märzen (March beer).

I was struck by how malty and smooth the beer tasted. It was almost like drinking liquefied white bread. The finish was clean and dry. Never a fan of carbonated beverages, I was pleasantly surprised the pale golden beer was but minimally fizzy. Perhaps it was worth the astronomically high price after all.

The sun sinking ever-lower in the sky, Kunal and I inevitably got to know the people sitting immediately across from us. They were a Bavarian couple about our age, with the man sporting short, spiky brown hair and wearing a dark sweatshirt over his lederhosen. The young woman with long, platinum blonde hair he was with also wore lederhosen, though in a much lower-cut, feminine style; I thought it was refreshing to see gender norms being challenged, even when it came to traditional clothing.

Beer finished, it was soon time for another — or perhaps food? Yes, I thought, that would be a perfect idea; something perfectly unhealthy to help soak up all the alcohol that was coursing through my bloodstream in perhaps greater quantities than actual blood.

Summoning the server over, Kunal and I agreed to split a large Brezen. A full 3.90 euros ($4.88) was, of course, steep for what was essentially an overly large pretzel like one would find for sale on the streets of Manhattan, but this was Oktoberfest. Exorbitant prices that felt like a violation were just part of the experience. And I was beginning to feel too inebriated to care anyway.

Darkness now blanketed the sky, but the beer garden was still bright courtesy of hundreds of lamps and the luminescent glow of roller-coasters, Ferris Wheels, tilt-a-whirls, and other amusement park-style rides that towered nearby that are also a prominent feature of Oktoberfest. Blood pressure spiking with each bite of the doughy, salt-encrusted pretzel, I was beginning to think that Oktoberfest was more like a New England county fair on steroids than anything else, a gigantic spectacle that somehow has maintained a smallish, old-timey feel.

Stomach to the point of bursting, I followed the signage and stumbled over to the nearest restroom. Even for the men’s room, there was a line to use the urinal trough. Oh, well.

Adequately relieved, I returned to the table with Kunal and our new friends. The saltiness of the pretzel had naturally made me thirstier (thanks to having enough sodium to kill an elephant). There was but one solution: more beer.

Halfway through another beer, and babbling something to our new friends (who, we found out, were named Michaela and Florian) with slightly slurred words about how despite my appearance and accent I was not a “homosexual American rabbi” (a rumor which had rapidly spread amongst other tables while I was in the putrescent toilet), I suddenly felt a chill shoot through me.

Was it the cold? I was admittedly feeling quite chilly. Or was it was a side effect from too much alcohol? Perhaps that was it. I always did tend to feel cold when drinking.

But those were both secondary reasons. The truth: realizing that, even if you attend Oktoberfest alone or in a small group, you’re bound to make a few new friends.