TR: Oktoberfest!

September 27, 2010

The Wiesen, Munchen, Duetschland

(Munich, Germany)


Well, I knew I wanted to go to Oktoberfest to ride the rides, and I also knew Bob did not, so once I knew Bob was going to go with George, I was out ot the Hotel Regent and on my was to Oktoberfest, held at a fairgrounds type park called Theresienwiese, often shortened to just Wiesen. It’s a large fairgrounds at 4,500,000 square feet, and during the 2 week run of the fair, they expect about 6 million visitors. I had done my homework with a map on this one, and so after leaving the hotel as fast as if I were shot out of a cannon, I quickly walked through the railway tunnel (This being a road that tunnels under the train yard, as our hotel was right across from the main train station), coming out of the tunnel on the other side, I simply needed to fall into step with the seemingly unending parade of people headed to Oktoberfest. It was just a right turn, go down one block, take a left turn, then maybe two blocks to a fair entrance, All in all about a 15 minute walk. Oktoberfest is a free fair, which means admission to the grounds is free, nothing else is.

First I took a walk from one end of the midway to the other, all the time my head spinning like it was on a swivel, my jaw almost on the ground. The Oktoberfest grounds are essentially a large rectangle, on one long end of the rectangle is the serious side of the Oktoberfest, this is where you can find the beer tents, as well as most of the food, the other long side of the rectangle houses the rides midway, with all the stuff that comes with it, meaning games and quick service food. Literally about every 10’ there is a souvenir booth, which all seem to sell about the same thing, so if you miss an item at one, or if they are out of stock on the size you need, try the next one, Connecting the beer tent side to the rides side are several cut over walkways, and amusements are spilling over into these cut across paths.

As I get to the other end of the fairground, the big ride in the back center prominent location is the Olympia Looping Bahn. This is a 5 loop portable rollercoaster, its distinguishing feature is that the 5 loops form a likeness of the Olympic rings, with each ring painted in its proper color. Any non ring section of the track is painted pink. In terms of specs, it is 4,101’ long, 126’ high, pulls 5.2Gs, attains speeds of 60mph, and when the fair is finished, travels on a specially built 50 car train. It also has, according to its official website, an exemplary safety record, with commendations by the TUV.

Okay, enough with the dry statistics, let’s go ride. At Oktoberfest, there are no Pay-One-Price plans, there aren’t even universal tickets. Each ride has its own ticket booth and tickets. To handle the capacity of the ride, Olympia looping has an entrance to the queue that resembles the front gate of a small amusement park. I’m talking at least 4 ticket windows that can have open. The entrance routes you up to the 4 windows, where in my case the price was 6 Euros (about $8.35), yes that’s one ride. When you have your ticket (computer generated in this case), you continue through a walkway around the side of the ticket booths and this dumps you into the ride queue area. 12:30 must be early of Oktoberfest as I walked right up into the station. As you enter the station area, they collect your ticket and you head towards a seat queue. As it turns out, things were so slow at the moment, they were only running one train. Slow would not be used to describe what happens when the train parks in the station. The bars pop open as soon as the train stops, the queue gates snap open, riders jump out onto the unload side, riders like me jump in from the load side. Here you pull forward on the lapbar, and lower the ‘shoulder fingers’ Ride ops practically run alongside the train checking the bars, a horn blows and you are out on the course. You start the ride with a long curved flag lined lift, as you approach the top you may take the time to enjoy the view of the Oktoberfest from on high. What happens next is a coaster ride that is so smooth you wouldn’t believe it if I told you. The train tracks flawlessly, you don’t get headbanged on the shoulder bars, and it goes through the loops at high speed with extreme forces. You fortunately don’t do all 5 loops right in a row, on the ends of the ride there are the usual assortment of turnarounds, with the loops being in the center of the ride. Yes, I was giddy with excitement, and I can say “First Euro Coaster Credit!” How fast do they dispatch? I wasn’t down the exit ramp before the train was back out on the course.

We often say on the amusement park or amusement ride safety forums that riders don’t read all the safety warnings on rides, I can attest to that today as all the safety warning and rider instructions were in German. Just goes to show you how far common sense can take you. But next, lets try a German flat ride. The Break Dance right here is just loading, and I’ve heard I need to try one of these. It’s a nicely, for me, themed break dance. Its an American themed break dance believe it or not, the scenery panels behind the riders depict iconic sights in the USA, the center spindle is a rocket that reads “USA #1”, and the ride is lined with Unted States flags. Not quite what one would expect to see at a German fair. Funny thing about the flags, you know those flags they pass out at parades with the dull gold plastic spear tips, surely you’ve seen them. The flagpoles on this ride are topped with what look to be large versions of those plastic spear tips.

Anyway, I walk up to the ride, hand over some Euro, I think 3 this time, and I am handed what looks like a casino chip. This is another common method they use for ride ticketing. Each ride that uses chips must have to coordinate because they were all different sizes and colors, as well as having the rides name printed on one side. I start to walk towards the ride, there is no fence around the perimeter of the ride, and the attendant motions me towards a car. These cars still have the steering wheel in the middle, thought I don’t think you can use it to spin the ar on your own, not that you need to. It also bas a seat horn that goes between your legs, The overhead lap bar comes down and locks into place. Then I sat for a few minutes for them to get enough riders to justify running the ride. So, the ride starts and pretty quickly it gets up to about the speed I am used to, then it shifts into an even higher speed. I’m thinking to myself, the ride is saying “Welcome to Germany! Now I’m going to show you whose boss here!” then just as I think that, it goes from 5th Gear into Turbo Hyper Overdrive. At this point the cars, which can spin on their own by inertia are getting flipped around back and forth like a rag doll. Then the ride comes to almost a complete stop, foolishly I start to reach for the release knobs on the lapbar, then I hear some diabolical laughter from the sound system, its time to ramp right back up to top speed for a bit longer. When the ride slows down again, I hear a distinct clunk coming from the lap bar mechanism, so apparently there is another lock besides the one the release knob controls.

Okay that was an insane ride cycle, but I think I’ll head towards another coaster. I walk past a ride that looks like a Swiss Bob and head towards Hollenblitz. My babel fish can’t help me here, but I hear the name translates roughly to Lightning. The ride is themed as a mine ride. This starts with the little wooden shacks that you buy your ticket at, then I go through the empty queue maze up to the station. It looks like a mine train, I get seated and lower the big bulky lapbar. Soon a horn sounds and away we go. About 96% of the ride is indoors so after you leave the station, it’s a right hand turn into the building. When you make the turn you also realize that even though you are riding on a coaster train with lots of cars, each car is free to spin, on its own. So yes, its an indoor spinning mine ride. Some folks have told me that in a former theme package it was a spaceship themed ride called Star World. I suppose trying to be Space Mountain in that case. First you pass a nice quaint mining scene and for a minute you might be fooled into thinking you are on a dark ride. You then go up the first lift, then you do the brief outdoor segment of the ride where you pop out of a door in the top of the façade, go down a twisting drop which insures the cars are spinning, through a waterfall, then back up a curved hill and back into the building for the duration of the ride. Inside the building, they have it loaded with laser lights, strobe lights and other lighting effects. The trackplan seems to be calculated to make sure you are almost always spinning. The later half of the ride you circle around what, for lack of a better term seem to be Christmas trees, all lit up and doing light shows, You know you are almost to the end when you go through the tunnel inside the building that is lined with a grid pattern of white light bulbs. Wow, what a ride, I don’t think I’ve seen anything else that is quite like it.

After that, it’s time for some more flat rides. I was debating whether or not to ride Techno Power, but after watching a cycle, I was up buying a chip for it. Again no fence, so as soon as the ride is over, people start exiting, and others start entering, they don’t collect the chips until after the ride has started. Yes, first they give the rides a couple nice slow turns during which time the operators collect the chips. I have no idea what happens to the rider that does not have a chip, and I didn’t want to find out either. What prompted me to ride the ride, well or the first 2/3 of the ride, it operates about like it does here in the States, what happens next is the arms that are already at their usual position, that is about 90 degrees, so sticking straight out, raise even higher, to about 135 degrees. Yes this means you are essentially spinning while upside down.

I followed that up with another acrobatic wonder, the High Energy. Looks may have you believe it’s a Mondial ride but it’s actually a Zierer Star Shape. Imagine taking the seats from a Mondial Top Scan (such as Space Roller) , so the ride gondola has 6 arms that stretch out from the center each with about 5 seats along the arm, all facing to one side. The arms are build on swivels so they can do flips as inertia dictates. What differs from the Top Scan is that instead of the main boom being mounted at an agnle , it is mounted so that it forms a pendulum, so the action of the main boom is not unlike a Giant Frisbee ride, except for the fact it can go a complete 360 degrees around. You get a lot of the same type ride movements as on a Top Scan, it just seems more pronounced since you might be coming straight down while the arm is flipped upside down, instead of down at an angle.

Time to head up the midway past games, dark rides, walk through fun houses with appear to be more elaborate than ours. I didn’t feel like testing my agility today. You could hve your pick of bumper car rides (the flags on top of the stinger poles are a nice touch), two or three Wave Swingers, two Top Spins, a Frisbee, a KMG Afterburner. I worked my way up the midway, it’s hard work, but somebody’s got to do it, right?

Next coaster time: Alpina Bahn. (Alpine Road). The ticket booths look like a swiss chalet, so yes, they are big into ride theming here. I walked up to one window and instead of a ticket taker they had a Laughing Sal like animatronic in the window, that was random. Remember all those good things I was saying about how smooth Olympia Looping Bahn runs and all that? Alpina Bahn has not aged as well, it shuffles its way up the lift, exhibits a jerkier more lateral filled ride, but it does have some nice airtime moments. While Olympia Looping feels like a precision machine, Alpina seems to be out of control and free spirited.

Well, let’s forgo trying to remember in what order I did what, let’s get the last coaster out of the way. It’s a Wild Maus, in fact it’s two mirror image Wild Maus rides, Mack I believe. A large ticket plaza stands in front of the massive twin track ride. They have three cars preloaded ready to send out onto the course as soon as the block is clear. I come up the entrance ramp alone and they crew motions for me, and the people in line move out of the way. There is one empty seat left in one of the cars in the load area. I guess I know where they want me to be. The other three riders in my car appeared to be a family, and the young daughter was not particularly liking the strong forces in the turns all that much. They dispatch both tracks simultaneously so that the cars race each other through the course. That means on the top level of switchbacks when you come to the center of the ride you face off as you appear to be headed right towards the car from the other track. I thought the brakes right before you make the big curve turn at the front of the ride to do the lower level back and forth dips were on kind of hard, but that might be due to the fact I think they had every possible car they could on the ride.

Among the other more exotic rides, there was one called the Rocket. From a distance this looks like a modern replica of the old fashioned rocket ship ride. You may remember the ones, silver Buck Rogers style rockets gracefully orbit around a center pole? This is not that ride. The first thing one notices is the riders are being held in by shoulder bars, the next thing you notice is their legs are dangling free. I watched a cycle, and the rockets get maybe 10’ off the ground, then they flip upside down for about a revolution then flip right back up, then the ride lifts the rockets to the top of the tower, and they start to orbit just like the old fashioned ride, except then they start to do barrel rolls while orbiting the tower. When I was riding it, when we got to the part where you are orbiting the tower and doing barrel rolls, I realized “Hey, I’ve been on this ride before! The feeling is not all that different than Flight Commander at Kings Island”.

Also in the weird category, I came across a Rotor, but it didn’t look like a Rotor, instead it looked like a walk through haunted house. They did have a video monitor mounted above the ticket booth showing the classic Rotor ride. I paid my 3 Euros to investigate. What they have essentially done is use a three story tall walk through haunted house as a themed queue area for the Rotor. You first climb up through one side of the house, when you get to the top floor, you walk out back, and up again where you walk along the observation ring above the Rotor, then you work your way back down the other side of the haunted house, at the end you exit out the back door of the trailer and into the barrel of the Rotor. Wooden floor, not much padding on the walls, and I think the floor goes down a bit further than what I am used to seeing. With all the other antics I had been seeing at the fair, I expected some people to try to turn upside down or sideways, but everybody pretty much rode in the traditional manner. At the end of the ride, you exit literally out into the field behind the trailer, get to climb over one of the supports, and then go through an exit door so it appears to those on the midway you are coming out of the haunted house.

By this time, I needed a ride break, so I took the time to walk around Oktoberfest. Having been up way too long, being all alone in Munich, not knowing how well I could trust others, and needing to coherently find my way back to the hotel, you may find this hard to believe but here at Oktoberfest Munich I am walking the grounds drinking a soft drink, which is washing down a bratwurst. I just happened to be walking down the main beer tent road at the right time. It was the parade of horses, here it seems like every brewery has a wagon filled with kegs of its beer, all decorated up for the festival being pulled by a team of horses, also decorated up for the event. Of course my camera is back at the hotel, as I didn’t want to risk losing it on the rides. However, I was getting my Oktoberfest culture moment. I stepped up to the Hoffbrau Beer Tent where they had a stand outside selling Hoffbrau pretzels. My, there are giant pretzels, and then there are giant pretzels. 4 Euro later I was munching on a pretzel while watching the horses parade. The pretzel itself was similar to what I am used to but the texture seemed to be a bit different. I can’t really place what was different, but it was something in either the texture or the salt.

Speaking of getting the culture, I found the big Bavaria statue that everybody gets a photo of, and while in search of a restroom found what has been nicknamed “Pass Out Hill” this is where those people who overestimated their capacity for alcoholic beverages come to lie down. Drinking age at the Oktoberfest is only 16, and I hear that many a youth get their first introduction to beer at Oktoberfest followed by their first nasty hang over.

On the other side of the grounds I found the Top Scan, a legs dangling Polyp called Parkour, I resisted the log flume as it was a bit cold that day, I did not resist a ride called Fire and Ice (or Fuer + Eis). Okay, it’s a powered coaster, so I guess it doesn’t go on the coaster credit list. Generically, its one of those Blauerenzian Runaway Train rides, they just dumped a truckload of theming on it so it travels in and around what appears to be a snow capped mountain. You get around 7-10 laps on it, and each lap seems to go faster than the one before.

Some more rides I found were the HUSS Magic, when I saw the video of this, I thought nice family ride, but in terms of speed, it can sure hold its own. Remember what I said about no ride fences? I had bought a chip for this ride, and the ride had started moving so I was standing in the waiting areas alongside the ride, and a car comes around with an open lap bar an the operator walking along the ride motions me to board. So yes, you heard right, here I am boarding the ride after it had already started. Mind you it was still moving pretty slow, as they hadn’t started to come around and check lap bars and collect the chips yet.

Of course, I would be remiss to not at least try to ride Flip Fly. It’s one of KMG’s newest creations. It’s essentially a claw ride that goes all the way around 360 degrees, but its more than that. It only seats 12 per ride so it’s a real small spinning radius, the main arm has three stub arms that come out each arm seats 4 people two facing each way. The seats themselves can also flip upside down, adding another whole level of demented action to the ride. I was real concerned because Flip Fly uses the same style seats as their Experience ride, and I know what a time I had to get my one and only Experience ride. Not only that, but due to the cold weather, I’ve got a coat on, Oh well, here goes nothing. I figure worst case scenario I have a Flip Fly ride disc I can bring home as a souvenir. The ride is themed to acrobatic flying, and the ticket booth looks like an airport with such signage as “Flight Check In” (yes, in English, which contrasts to the ride area being labeled the Fight Deck (in German) . So I go up to the flight deck and take a seat. The bars come down and of course mine doesn’t lock. But wait, the operator motions for me to sit all the way back. He then does his impression of a battering ram. CLICK. I eagerly hand over my chip, and away we go.

This way, by far, the most demented thing I had found on the midway. Not only doesit swing back and forth, it swings back and forth with enough force to ensure you stay upside down at the top, then they vary the speed so that right as you are flipping right side up, you flip upside down, sometimes quite violently. They weren’t overly busy, so I think the operator was showing off, or that may just be their normal ride cycle. All I know is that when the ride ended, I actually had a case of jelly legs. That or some kind of cramp I had to walk off for a little bit.

On my way out of the Oktoberfest grounds, I couldn’t resist a ride on the Star Flyer. It’s a circle swing ride, that according to the bally on the front of the ride is 52 meters tall, that’s 170’. I think to myself that WindSeeker is going to be almost double this.

After that, I carefully retrace by mental bread crumb trail back to the hotel. It’s not quite as easy as I don’t have the throngs of people to follow, but its just out the same exit, take that road till it dead ends, take a right to the rail road tunnel, take a left and its straight to your hotel. Going back I realized the sidewalks aren’t as wide as they were on the way to the fair. That because the large crowd of fair goers had spilled over into the bike lane. Europe seems to be very bike friendly, so you have the road, then the bike lane, then the sidewalk. Bikers will let you know if you venture over into their territory.

But, after an incident free walk back to the hotel, I walked into the lobby. Following prior directions, I used my tour name tag and passport to get checked into the hotel.

Photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/coasterville/sets/72157624996054711/


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