Shanghai’s Oktoberfest, or as I like to call it…

…the Chinese’n.*

Just when I thought I’d gotten all the Oktoberfest stuff out of my system for the year, I packed a bag, finished up a presentation and waited for the airport shuttle to pick me up and take me to Emirates‘ Lounge for Lesser Deities. I was off to Shanghai for a week to do some training to the people I support in the region (meaning all over Asia and the South Pacific). I had a lot of room left in my suitcase, as compared to my NAFTA trip, where my suitcase scooted in at just one pound under the weight limit, and I had no idea I should have packed my Trachten (Lederhosen, traditional shirt, suspenders, Haferlschuhe, wooly socks) along with my biz cazh.

I overnighted it on the plane, which you can do on an Emirates plane in business class to a realistic degree of comfort. I woke up in Dubai to a fantastic airport and an enormous business class lounge there. I waited about four hours and continued on to Shanghai to the Sheraton Hongkou hotel — a rather new and classy place to stay not far from my company’s office building. The taxi trip to the office was an eye-opener. All that stuff you’ve heard about roads in China: absolutely true.

I found the people there in the office very welcoming and friendly and helpful. My first night there, they took me out to a great restaurant for dinner and gave me a glimpse of the Bund — the waterfront area famous in Shanghai for 90 years already.

But during the training, when I was trying to encourage open discussion and group participation in the exercises I had planned for them (with a few exceptions), they weren’t helping me at all. I felt abandoned and confused, flipping through my slides at light speed and amazing myself at our pace. My training presentation went off without a hitch, content-wise and concept-wise, in Mexico and the U.S., but clearly something was different here. No one was willing to talk. No volunteers. No shared experience. Almost no questions. Certainly no cross-functional discussion. I still have a thing or two to learn about business culture in Asia.

I thought these people must be crazy uptight at first. And then I watched them cut loose at the Holiday Inn Oktoberfest.

Some had been to Germany before. Some had even been to the real Oktoberfest before — though surprisingly, none of the actual Germans present in our party (there were three, and one from Bavaria even!). My main contact knew what she wanted and made it herself after the waitress couldn’t bring her one — a Radler. As the party progressed, I grew more and more astounded how these reserved, conservative, shy, self-conscious colleagues of mine from the day before really tied one on to the beat of all your traditional and non-traditional Oktoberfest favorites: YMCA, Dancing Queen, Das ist so ein Schöner Tag, Cowboys und Indianer. One notable exception: the Chicken Dance!? And I have to admit: I was missing Country Roads. Enjoy the video.

Auf der Wiesn with Democrats Abroad

Democrats Abroad raised funds again this year by hosting a visit to the Wiesn, as it’s known. We had a swell time with the Zurikas last year, and were immediately keen to reserve some spots for us this time around too…and we had the pleasure of the company of some pals from Heidelberg, too.

We departed Regensburg bright and early on Sunday morning to beautiful weather. Our reservation was not guaranteed for arrival after 11:00, and we had to pick up our tickets between 09:00 and 10:00 in the Munich Hauptbahnhof — which meant a departure from Regensburg at 07:44. Ugh — but it’s all in the name of a party, and proved to be worth it in the end.

When we arrived at the Theresienwiese around 10:00, we found the main thoroughfares not quite hopping yet with people. But when we made our way to the Schottenhamel tent closer to 11:00, we found out why — they were all getting their sunny outdoor beer tent patio buzz on, or else queued up a hundred yards long. Lots of excellent flanking maneuvers for position in typical German crowd style. If you’ve ever waited in line for anything in Germany with locals present, you know what I mean.

After we got our fill (and believe me, we were voll), our local expert Scott led us to the Teufelsrad tent. Lots of Oktoberfest carnival stuff makes kind of a weird impression on me (did you spot the Mack Truck / Geordi LaForge / windsurfing montage on the bumper cars display above?), but it’s usually a concept not completely foreign to me. The Teufelsrad was something completely new for us. Here’s the gist:

  1. The announcer calls groups of kids, teens, adults, families, whatever to pile on to a disc-shaped platform.
  2. The effects of inertia are applied, and augmented as necessary by the staff.
  3. Merriment ensues.

With the Damen und Herren gemischt, a slightly saucier sense of humor began to emerge. First some hulahooping (reminiscent of the old Wheel-of-Fortune prize carousel) to “Mambo No. 5.” And then after instructing the men to lay prone, heads toward the middle, the advice to the women was (loosely translated)

Ladies, pick out an available butt and have a seat. Don’t worry — in this position, men are completely harmless.

A final word of caution for the men:

Gentlemen, please do not turn over; this is not the company picnic.

Man Butt Rodeo from Cliff 1976 on Vimeo.

And then the announcer chose a couple of scrappy little guys to bob and weave while we cheered them on.

It was a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon with friends. I am looking forward to next year already.

Da sind wir einig: Oktoberfest

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We spent the 20th anniversary of German Reunification in common song and spirit down in Munich with some pals who live there and were gracious enough to show us around. We’d been to Oktoberfest a couple times before, but kind of at random. It was a really fun time, though I have to say, a weekday late morning with real oompah music (as opposed to holiday weekend, with a party band) is my preference for next time. There was a little stress in getting to our reserved table on time due to some transportation issues (S-Bahn stopped running for some reason and we had to re-route), and once we got on the U4/U5 line to Theresienwiese, I started getting impatient (though not panicky) in the train and on the platform heading up to the Wiesn — but finding our table at the Schottenhamel tent made me feel better. And the prompt delivery of the main dish (liquid bread) made me feel a lot better.

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Perfect Chili

This is originally from here, but I made a few changes. I was tempted to add more spicy elements, but was glad I didn’t – the chili powder, chipotle pepper and pepper flakes really combine to create a nice, cumulative burn.

2 T olive or vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large chipotle pepper, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin
1 t salt
2 t cocoa powder
1 large pinch red pepper flakes
1 T molasses
1 c chicken broth
1 can stewed tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans
1 c amber beer
1 c tomato sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil to medium and sauté the onion, garlic and chipotle until tender. Add the ground beef and cook until mostly done, then drain fat. Combine chili powder, cumin, salt, cocoa and red pepper flakes and stir into meat until just fragrant. Add molasses, broth and tomatoes and break up tomatoes with spoon, then add beans. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, the stir in beer, tomato sauce and Worcestershire. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally for at least 45 minutes or until thickened.