Borders may be closed to Americans and Oktoberfest festivities cancelled, but we’re heading for Bavaria anyway — virtually, that is, with walking tours of Munich, video festivals, an Alpine summit and some delicious beer, bites and blue-checkered fun.
Of course, Munich’s boisterous Oktoberfest, which originated in 1810 as a wedding celebration for Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, has always been a major tourist draw. Last year’s festival drew more than 6 million merrymakers to the Theresienwiese — Therese’s meadow. You can glimpse the sights and sounds of that revelry via YouTube, from the glittering lights of the Oktoberfest rides to the revelry inside the beer tents, the largest of which seats 10,000 people.
It’s a scene, for sure. But there’s so much more to this part of Germany than the continent’s largest volksfest.
On this mellow Sunday morning at home, we’re sipping coffee with our Bavarian-style breakfast of rolls, soft pretzels and aufschnitt — sliced sausages, meats and cheeses — and thinking a little virtual sightseeing would be just the thing.
First up, a whirlwind tour of Bavaria — 100 seconds of swiftly streaming landscapes, palaces, forests and sights, from the Zugspitze to the Bayreuth opera house, with wurst, yoga and dizzying muchness. The two-minute video, which is part of the tourism bureau’s “Bavarian Home Delivery” offerings, is narrated at breathtaking speed by Bavarian comedian Harry G, the amped-up alter ego of actor Markus Stoll, whose rapid-fire German patter is accompanied by English subtitles. It’s wildly entertaining, but fast. Did we mention it’s fast? We’re panting slightly as the video comes to a close.
Need. More. Coffee.
Also, we need a closer look at many things in this video, starting with Germany’s highest mountain. Fortunately, it’s a breeze to reach that summit from home, thanks to tips from Google senior research scientist Daniel M. Russell, the author of the “Joy of Search” book we told you about recently. Russell says if you’re only using Google Maps’ street view to view streets, you’re missing out. Drop the map’s little yellow Pegman in the right spots, and you can climb mountains, dive beneath the sea or go inside buildings, too.
One Zugspitze map search later and Pegman is high in the Alps — and we’re there, too — on the observation deck of the Münchner Haus, a sleek Alpine hut at 9,700-feet elevation, just below the mountain’s summit, gazing at snow-capped peaks on a bluebird day. No mittens required.
And you can wear whatever you want — mittens, a dirndl, lederhosen, jammies — for the rest of these virtual jaunts, whether you’re sitting in the orchestra section inside Bayreuth’s 18th-century Margravial Opera House, or exploring Munich’s gardens, squares or royal residences from home. You can stroll the streets with Pegman or opt for an abbreviated version of BookingHunter’s 90-minute virtual walking tour of downtown Munich.
Why abbreviated? Because 90-minute walking tours are only fun in the real world, preferably when accompanied by a witty guide or at least not a silent one. But that’s at least partially fixable: Start the video at the 34-minute mark, and you’ll be in Viktualien Markt, the charming open-air market just steps from Marienplatz, the heart of the city since 1158.
Fast forward as much or as little as you desire, but be sure to take in the fantastical neo-gothic structure in Marienplatz. It’s the Neues Rathaus, whose double-decker glockenspiel, a 43-bell carillon and the colorful figures that dance high above the square, draw crowds each day. The rotating figures on the top level depict a royal wedding in 1568. The figures on the lower level are particularly poignant right now: In 1517, at the end of a terrible plague which killed nearly half the city’s population, Munich’s barrel makers filled the streets, dancing, making music and encouraging townsfolk to open their shutters and reclaim their lives.
The historic Schäfflertänz is recreated every seven years — the next one will be in 2026 — but you can see the glockenspiel version on YouTube.
Pegman can take us inside the building, too, down the vaulted hallways and into a cozy booth in the basement-level Ratskeller restaurant. Our tech buddy can take us inside the venerable Hofbrauhaus beer hall, too.
Of course, if this was a real-life adventure — all that mountain climbing, opera going and city touring! — we’d be fanning ourselves with our Alpine hats by now and seeking refreshment. We can’t exactly access those Munich kitchens right now — the Ratskeller delivery fees would be exorbitant, plus our spaetzle would be cold. But the Bay Area’s biergartens are doing takeout — bratwurst, spaetzle, potato pancakes and more. And there’s always homemade. With beer. Prost!
A taste of Oktoberfest
Party: Sierra Nevada Brewing isn’t just brewing its signature Oktoberfest beer this year. The Chico brewery is hosting a free, streaming Prost Like a Pro party with polka tunes and live music on Sept. 19. Order an Oktoberfest Swag Pack ($60 and up), which includes Alpine hats, beer mugs and table coverings with the blue-and-white diamonds of the Bavarian flag, to get in the spirit of the fest. Details: https://oktoberfest.sierranevada.com
Cook: Alameda’s Chef’s Kitchen, an online cooking series that benefits Alameda Family Services, will feature Speisekammer co-owner Peter Kahl with an Oktoberfest-themed online cooking class ($100) from his Alameda restaurant on Oct. 12. Details: http://bayareane.ws/Speisekammer
Cook: Sebastopol chef and YouTube FoodWishes star John Mitzewich tackles the how-tos of spaetzle, a tiny dumpling-like pasta made with flour, egg and milk, in this easy how-to video: http://bayareane.ws/spaetzle.