PRIEN, Germany -- I'm familiar with Milwaukee's Germanfest celebration but I was able to experience the real thing during my bicycle tour in Germany.
The festival in Prien, located about 60 miles southeast of Munich, coincided with the small community's 850th anniversary celebration.
The two-day festival began with a big beer drinking and dancing event under a huge white tent in a field at the edge of town.
Women and men dress in authentic German-wear; the women in colorful dirndles and the men in hand sewn, leather lederhosen.
Women serve food and men draught drink. Beer is tapped from a real wooden barrel and served in heavy, 32-oz., dimpled glass mugs called masskrug.
Choices of beer include the weiss on tap and a mix of the beer combined with a watery lemonade.
The women bring beer orders to the table, grabbing (at most) nine full mugs at a time.
Women also deftly maneuver from table to table serve trays full of authentic German food including white sausages and whole roasted chicken served with potatoes and a roll.
While the food and drink keep people full, the entertainment is downright fantastic. No Jimmy Sturr or Barefoot Becky, as the house band includes horns and drums and plays on stage to a variety of young dancers in lederhosen and dirndles.
The young men perform a crown dance with the girls which features couples dancing with a large, green horseshoe of flowers.
The boys then perform a schubplattler dance which includes quick kicks and hand slaps of the feet and knees. The rhythm of the dance is kept as the boys pop their fists into the palm of their hand.
The second day of the German festival includes a parade through town. Every business, church, and former business is represented with a float pulled by a team of four horses.
Over 180 participants dress in costumes, which are a throwback to the German era of King Ludwig II to blacksmiths and hawk trainers and men who rode the streets on big wheeled bicycles wearing black top hats and tails.
Huge Bavarian horses are also magnificently dressed with red and blue fabrics hugging their ears and decorative weaves spilling down their nose. Large bronze bells dangle from a tangle of leather harnesses, halters, bits and breastplates.
My final days in Munich ...
In my final few days in Munich I take advantage of Lenny's Free Bicycle Tours which is a four-hour guided tour by bike around the city of Munich. An English-speaking guide (Tyler) mixes humor with history.
"The statue of Leopold shows him mounted on his horse which has one foot raised off the ground," said Tyler who was 20-something, dressed in a T-shirt and khaki cargo shorts. "The one raised foot tells us Leopold was injured in battle. If both feet of the horse were off the ground it means the soldier was killed in battle and if all four of the horses feet are off the ground it means the drugs are working and you'll be seeing white rabbits soon."
My adopted host, Christiane, spoils me once again allowing me to stay in her Munich apartment which is on the top floor of a six-story building overlooking the English Garden.
For those not familiar, the English Garden allows nude sunbathing and on our free bicycle tour there was also nude soccer playing and naked Frisbee.
Reflecting on Germany ...
It was the best bicycle tour ever. People say "I beam" when I talk about my trip.
Germany is just so far ahead of the game compared to the U.S. They are proactive with recycling, charging 15 to 20 cents per plastic bottle but then reimbursing the same when it's returned.
Everybody brings a bag to the store to transport their groceries and there's no need for a cart person to retrieve wayward carts from the parking lot as the stores all use the Aldi concept of depositing a quarter and getting it back when the cart is returned.
The bicycle lanes are exceptional in Germany as is their mass transport system with trains and buses (which both allow bikes).
The breads and beers of Germany were fantastic. I don't think I've had that much carb loading in a long, long time.
Finally the people and genuine hospitality were awesome. I've experienced the same thing across the States but it was nice to see in Europe, as well.
Judy is a Milwaukee native who is ever exploring the country. Her favorite mode of travel is her 21-speed, blue Centurion bicycle, which she bought after high school. Judy has worked in the local media for the past 20 years. "I need to do something to support my biking habit."
Judy has an extensive history in radio news, having worked at WISN, WUWM, WTMJ, WKTY in La Crosse and WBKV in West Bend. A strong interest in sports also had Judy reporting for ESPN Radio covering the Packers, Buck, Brewers and Badgers. "One of my first Brewer games at County Stadium the security guy yelled as I walked into the locker room LADY IN THE LOCKER ROOM. Now its so commonplace. But that story makes me sound really old."
Judy is currently working at WISN-TV in Milwaukee. She is a freelance writer and her pieces have been seen in The Small Business Times and The Business Journal. Her travel journal has appeared in Minnesota Trails Magazine, The Statesman and the West Bend Daily News, to name a few.
Aside from biking, running and being active in her community, Judy is known as someone who is "very, very thrifty." "I get candles for Christmas. My friends call them my space heaters because I normally keep the heat in my house at 40 degrees during the winter. Its not that I cant afford to turn up the thermostat, I just hate paying for heat."
Judy said her "conservative attitude" plays a part in her bike tours ... not needing to pay for gas and frequently spending nights camping inside churches. "First of all, it makes me feel safe since Im traveling alone and second all youre doing is sleeping, so why pay for that. Its no wonder I cant ever get someone to travel with me."
Judy grew up in Whitefish Bay and graduated from Dominican High School and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Judy is the second oldest among seven siblings and spends a lot of her time working as a "park tester" along with her eight nieces and nephews.