“Quick question, please: Is she sleeping or still awake?” I asked the guy working the person-powered ship swings (Schiffschaukeln) a litte before 8 p.m. last night. I was referring to the two-year-old in the kid-carrier/hiking-backpack I was wearing.1
He peered in, then confirmed that she had indeed fallen asleep during the 10- to 15-minute lap that I’d done around Oktoberfest with exactly that goal in mind.
“Great!” I replied, “Then I’d like to give the invertible swing a try!” He kept an impressively straight face during the next few seconds until I had explained that if she’d been awake, it wouldn’t have been possible to put down my load (at least, not without suffering dire consequences), but given that she was sleeping, it was.
It had been someone else on duty at the ride an hour or two earlier, when I had taken the same toddler on one of the non-invertible swings, during which time she’d watched in awe as several other people had tried the invertible ones. After we had gotten off, I advanced a proposal: maybe she could spectate while Mama went on the big swing? She was incredulous that I would even suggest such a thing. “Ich auch big swing!” she insisted. (Translation: “But Mama, I would really love to go on the big swing too, and it just doesn’t seem fair or just for you to go without me!”) I attempted to explain why it wasn’t possible for her to go on the invertible version: only one person could go at a time, and they have to belt you in so you don’t fall out, and the belts aren’t set up to accommodate toddlers. Even a 5′-, 130-lb adult is kind of pushing the lower limits. She was not convinced, though, so we had to move on to other activities for the time being. I had waited three years; I could wait a little longer.
I first visited Oktoberfest in 2013. I happened to be in the Munich area for work the weekend it opened, and I had fully planned to go nowhere near the event. Then I learned there were not just tents full of drunken revelers but also carnival rides, and my love of roller-coasters and their kin got the better of me. It was while I was on the Ferris wheel (Riesenrad) that I first spotted the invertible ship swing (Überschlag-Schiffschaukel) below; back on the ground, further investigation indicated that I needed to try it immediately. I did, but I was not successful in getting the swing over the top. Nor was I successful when I tried it again the next day, nor two more times the day after that before I had to catch my train back to Greifswald — though I did get very, very close.
Stubborn as I might be (or, at least, so my parents have been known to claim), I was not going to travel all the way across Germany in 2014 or 2015 just to go to Oktoberfest. Then earlier this year, we relocated to the Munich area for work reasons. A 2016 rematch was on the horizon. For a while last night, however, the prospects looked uncertain. It was dark and raining steadily, and I had an awake toddler on my hands. I was also worried that we’d be kicked out at 8 p.m., having misremembered the rule involving children under 6 years old.2 Fortunately, the toddler was eventually persuaded to get back into the backpack, the backpack’s hatches were then battened, I took the long way back to Schiffschaukeln . . . and, somewhat miraculously, she actually fell asleep.
Having learned that that was the case, I set down my load, making sure she stayed asleep; debated taking off my jacket but decided not to; and bought my token, only to hand it back about 20 feet away and one minute later. The Schiffschaukeln weren’t exactly doing brisk business, what with the weather. The guy manning the ride strapped me in (right foot anchored to the floor of the swing, plus a waist belt), gave me the standard push to get started, and I got to work.
The principle of successful Schiffschaukel operation is simple: bend your legs at the top of your swing, straighten them at the bottom. In practice, this gets harder and harder the higher you swing, in two significant ways3:
- The timing gets a lot trickier, because you’re going pretty fast through the bottom of the swing.
- The muscular effort to do the “squat” gets a lot harder, because you are (in the rotating reference frame) fighting more and more centrifugal force.
Thinking about it now, I wonder if that first part is easier during the day, due to having more distinct visual cues to use for orientation (and therefore timing). Yesterday evening was when I had my opportunity, though, so I had to make the most of it. The swing went higher and higher, getting closer and closer to the top.
And then it went over.
Have you ever envisioned swinging so high that the swing goes over the top of the swing set? It’s just as satisfying as one imagines.
No photo/video documentation was done, but feel free to confirm my story with the operators of the Oktoberfest Schiffschaukeln (located at Matthias-Pschorr-Straße 14, Theresienwiese, Munich, Germany). I’m pretty sure they’ll remember me, and not just because I showed up with a toddler on my back. The woman at the ticket booth (Kasse), who also wished me “Viel Erfolg!” before I started4, told me that they’ve never had an American make it over the top before, despite many having tried over the years. It’s apparently even a running joke among the operators.
So now there’s one. The two-year-old (who slept soundly through it all, including her mother’s joyful “Wooo!” in the moment of triumph) is also an American, her having been born in Germany notwithstanding. Maybe when she’s tall enough to fit in the belts, she’ll get the chance to try to make it two.
1.) Quotes are not “direct” by journalism standards. They’ve also have been translated from American-accented German to American English.
2.) They aren’t allowed in the beer tents after that time, even accompanied by their parents. Other parts of the fairgrounds are not affected by that restriction, though.
3.) Note to self: calculate each of these quantitatively, because that’s the sort of thing I do in my spare time, when not playing on playground equipment.
4.) Essentially “Good luck!” though it literally means “Much success!”