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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Munich’s 180th annual Oktoberfest. This festival, which dates back to 1810 as a wedding celebration for the king, now brings people together from across the world for a weekend of carnival rides, themed tents, and enjoyment of traditional German food such as Hendl (chicken), and Brezeln (pretzels bigger than your head)!  Oktoberfest attracts swarms of tourists, along with locals – it’s often hard to tell who is a tourist and who isn’t, with everybody sporting conventional dirndls and lederhosen! While this festival is almost a rite of passage for American college students studying abroad, many people do not realize the overwhelming nature of Oktoberfest. As more than six million people attend the festival every year, it can be nearly impossible to navigate through the crowds. If I had attended this event when it started in 1810, the chances of me finding my friends who were meeting me there from Barcelona or Paris would be slim. Fortunately, however, I attended Oktoberfest in 2013, and I had the assistance of social media to guide me through the most overwhelmingly crowded event I had ever been to.

After arriving at Oktoberfest Friday morning with my friends who are studying in Prague, we were eager to meet up with our friends from home who are currently studying all over the world. As crowds of people rolled in, however, it was soon apparent that trying to fight the crowds to find our friends, find a meeting place, find our way back to our hotel, or even find the least crowded tent would be a challenge. Then, I got a Facebook message from one of my friends who had just arrived from Milan, asking where I was. Unfortunately, I have one of the worst senses of direction, so I couldn’t even tell her where I was, exactly, within the huge carnival. “Turn your location on”, she told me. I did, and within minutes she found her way to us, using my location services on Facebook as a map. After saying hello, we decided to try to find our other friends. We sent them numerous Facebook messages, but did not get a reply. Just when we were about to give up, I checked my Instagram feed and saw that they had posted a picture, and tagged the location of the picture as “Hofbräu-Festzelt”. We made our way to the Hofbräu tent, and after waiting in line for what felt like an eternity, we found the rest of our friends inside.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user digital cat

Social media can be used for much more than just finding friends at an event like Oktoberfest. If you are like me and don’t like crowds, there are apps you can use that tell you which tent at Oktoberfest is the least crowded. Or, if you’re not sure where to go after spending a day at the festival, like the Oktoberfest page on Facebook for advice about restaurants, nightlife, or hotels.

There has been much debate about the role that social media networks play in enhancing relationships. Many have argued that social media sites enhance online relationships, but do not help (and may actually hinder) offline relationships. However, my experience at Oktoberfest proved the opposite to be true. Because of the availability and accessibility of social network sites, I was able to find my friends, thus “enhancing” our offline relationship. With the assistance of social media, I was able to have an amazing weekend at a slightly overwhelming event, with friends from across the world.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user digital cat

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