“ Locals call it the Wies'n and many of us know it as the beer festival. It's said to be the biggest public festival in the world. Over 6 million people attend. „
Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival in the world, stemming from the 19th century marriage of Prince Ludwig, when he and his new wife invited all of Munich to share their celebrations. Now, the Theresienwiese area of the city is all but filled up with up to 250 000 revellers at any one time, all intent on having as much fun as possible.
There are around 14 main beer tents and a few smaller ones with food specialities - Fischer Vroni is a fish tent, and I recommend you don't wear any clothing you might want again during your stay if you go in. Each one has a different reputation. Hippodrom is for the fashionistas, and is crammed to the rafters (these "tents" are semipermanent structures and do indeed have rafters) from about 11am any weekend day. The Hofbrau Festzelt , right in the middle of the Wies'n grounds, is the place to go for a giant party experience, while other tents may be more sedate.
Things it's worth knowing:
A litre of beer this year was Euro8.60, with tip the same Euro10 as last year. Don't even try not to tip the staff, unless you're looking for them to never come near you again.
The first Sunday at the Braurosl tent is known locally as Gay Sunday. The tent is packed from some ungodly hour of the morning, and if you're easily shocked it's best to stay away,
The beer is stronger than you're used to. Be careful.
You're allowed to bring the cheaper food from the stalls outside into the tents, although you can't bring drinks in for obvious reasons.
It's traditional to wipe the chicken grease from your fingers onto your Lederhosen, it conditions the leather.
Lederhosen are passed down from father to son and the older the lederhosen the more prestigious they are. They cannot be washed, and it is customary for men to go without underwear when wearing them. Think of this before you accept a casual hookup.
Any soft drinks you buy outside come with a one euro surcharge and a little ticket. This is a deposit against the return of the bottle - return it and you get your euro back.
It is easier to get into a tent if you're wearing traditional dress. You can buy these cheaply enough at various shops around the city.
If you're wearing one of those absurd tourist hats you're not getting in.
You should wear sturdy shoes or risk losing your toes.
If you can, go on the fairground when you've had one or two beers - enough to make it less important that you just paid Euro6 for a three minute ride, but not enough that you'll revisit your beer.
Everything closes at 11pm. This is normal for Munich. Go home and sleep it off. You can take the U-Bahn from Theresienwiese or the S-Bahn from Hackerbrucke. Both are busy, but the U-Bahn has a long escalator that has claimed many stumbling victims.
Take care of your valuables, and bring nothing into the Wiesn that you can't afford to lose.
Have fun. Prost!
Hesitant at first about joining in the madness, I am glad I did so. Here is my account, or rather, an "Ausländer's" guide to the Munich Oktoberfest, a festival that hosted 6.3 million visitors in two weeks.
As much as like beer, the draw card for me was visiting the city of Munich. Currently I am living in Berlin and sadly I haven't managed to see much of Germany outside the "Poor but Sexy" Capital. Munich is, in a nutshell, the richer, better looking, but more conservative older sister of Berlin. It's lush with public parks, has an endless amount of architecturally snazzy glass buildings, and the public have a strange penchant for wearing garments that make you feel like you have travelled back in time.
I am not a big fan of dressing up, but in Munich during the time of the Oktoberfest you are the odd one out if you don't. At lest half of the city are walking around in traditional dress at any one time. For ladies its the traditional 'Dirndl' which is rather similar to a to milk maids dress. Not a milk maids dress for working mind you, but more the movie kind that buxomest blonde's wear in the Russ Myer film 'Supervixens'. For men unfortunately its not so sexy as they wear 'Lederhosen'. Lederhosen are the leather pants that German mean are stereotyped as wearing while performing Omm-pa-pa music. Personally the pants don't do it for me, but with a price tag of around one thousand euro a pair, it is possible there is more too it than just the aesthetics of the chuffing shorts (I am thinking its reflection of ones wealth and a guage by which you choose your prospective husband).
So I donned one of these Dirndl outfits as I was lucky enough to be staying with Bavarian family who had a wardrobe full of them. The hair is braided into a french plait if you can muster it. My dress was black with a red apron with a short sleeved blouse. The whole dress reached my heels and wasn't too busty, but the waist had a corset. So even though I had no fear of falling out of the garment, oxygen deprivation while drinking is quite a challenge.
On arrival to the Oktoberfest I felt that all descriptions given to me prior were quite poor. First of all it is a fairground. Rides and sugary snacks everywhere. There were even two rollercoasters and an uncountable number of hauted houses. Apparently the festival uses more power in two weeks than the whole of Munich in a year so you can imagine how many bright lights and whirring machines their were.
Secondly, A 'beer tent' is not actually a tent at all. A 'tent' is a structure that takes three months to build and is very permanent looking. They are gigantic! I was quite surprised to learn that the buildings are pulled down after every festival. Three months work for a temporary bar that lives for only two weeks. Each tent holds around 4,000 people minimum and has its own target audience. There is a tent for the under 30's, a tent for Italians, a tent for Australasians and the list goes on. Each tent is sponsored by a brewery that has had the rights to build the tent for eons. No new breweries are allowed sponsor tents so it is rather an old boys club with exclusive membership. This I was told is a ages old argument that media cover every year in the months leading up to the festival.
Once inside the tent, we were lucky enough to have had a table. I am not sure what the target audience of the tent was, but it seemed to me to be a rather local crowd. The interior of the tent was brightly lit, loud and hot. Chaos reined as as thousands of people were crammed at hundreds of tables. Everyone was yelling loudly to the person beside them, and the person beside them was trying to get the attention of one of the waiters or waitresses by yelling some more. Getting a spare seat was truly an impossible mission. Once seated there is rather little else to do other than eat, drink and be merry.
Being merry is a natural progression that is accelerated after consuming your first one litre 'mass'. A mass is a beer glass that is larger than your head. As a general rule I don't try to eat anything that is larger than my head but seeing I had never had a reason to extend this to drinking I thought it was worth a shot.
A litre of beer cost eight euro. Rounding this up with a generous tip so that you will be served again, ten euro for a litre was still a good deal. Especially at the start of the night when you hastily proclaim that you could never possibly drink more than a litre of anything.
I think the key to the festive vibe at the Oktoberfest is the fact that drinking and eating go hand and hand. Ultra salted pretzels (the size of four heads combined) and a constant flow of rotisserie chicken that are cooked in the hundreds on wall mounted racks ensure that you are constantly parched and needing a drink (and that you come out of the tent smelling great!)
To my surprise there were very few people that I saw that could not hold their alcohol, and even though I did stand in some sticky patches outside later in the night, the general mood was one of community and festivity which of course was expressed through loud and cheerful singing.
One thing the Germans are good at is taking English pop songs and attaching German lyrics to them. In fact, any ditty that is yelled out at a football match is yelled out in the beer tents, often the prompting the crowd to take another swig. Expect the band to cover hits from Ricky Martin, Four Non Blondes. From about six o'clock onwards everyone is standing on the bench seats singing and dancing. Its a bit of a balancing acting dodging the drunkards who shouldn't be on the tables dancing, but even when people fall they are too limber to be injured and the beer glasses to think to be cracked.
The tents are open till 11pm at night, which if you live in Berlin is ridiculously early, but here it is accepted comes around with no fuss at all. It is an exodus to the U-bahn, but with the efficiency that the Germans are famous for it all goes without a hitch.
I'd always quite fancied a trip to Munich during September to experience the event known around the world as Oktoberfest. I'd pretty much ruled it out for this year what with moving house and was aiming to go next year till my Dad suggested I go with them this year. So on the 15th September we set off for Munich to visit the most famous and probably biggest beer festival in the world. From the moment you get on the plane you know it's going to be busy as the plane from Stanstead was packed full of groups of Australians, Americans and English all heading over for the weekend.
So how did Oktoberfest start? Well it originated back in 1810 as a celebration of the Wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa of Saxony-Hildburghausen. After the wedding the Royal couple invited all the people of Munich to celebrate their wedding with them. Over the years the festival got bigger and bigger as the Munich breweries carried on the tradition. As time went by they enhanced the reputation and added to the festivities with the introduction of parades in 1887 to really kick things off.
The festival itself runs from the 16th September to the 3rd October every year. It's held quite close to the centre of Munich on the Theresienwiese (Theresa's Fields) in front of the city gates with the watchful statue of Lady Bavaria in the background. Getting to the site is simple enough with the U Bahn and S Bahn running quite close to the site. With the U Bahn there is actually a station that opens out onto the site at Theresienwiese station, but this does get very crowded. We chose instead to get the S Bahn from our hotel which stops at Hackerbrücke and it's only about a 5 minute walk from there to the site, made all the easier by following all the locals.
As you can imagine the festival site can get quite crowded and it's a very good job they have very wide streets up through the middle of all the tents. Entry to the festival and the Beer halls is free and anyone can turn up and just have a walk around the site, without necessarily partaking in any alcohol, but where would the fun be in that? The site consists of 14 Beer tents from Munich's biggest breweries set out along two streets, with a large funfair filling up the rest of the smaller roads to the back of the site. Mixed in amongst all this are numerous food stalls selling Bavarian specialities like Sausage and Roast Chicken and a number of souvenir stalls with official Oktoberfest merchandise and it's all quite reasonably priced.
The biggest challenge of Oktoberfest seems to be finding a seat inside one of the Beer Halls as it was incredibly busy, especially as it was the opening weekend. The best idea seemed to be to get there around the middle of the day as they open at around 10 but trying to keep a seat in one all day will prove difficult as generally after 4 or 5 hours you will be incredibly drunk. Each tent has a variety of live bands playing a mixture of traditional Bavarian Oompah music and more universally known tracks like "Let Me Entertain You" and "Sweet Home Alabama".
While each brewery has at least one tent, they also brew a special, stronger beer just for the occasion. The normal 5% beers aren't served on the site and instead they tend to go for something between 6 and 8% in content. So when you consider a litre (about 2 pints) stein is around 7 (£5) it's not too bad. All you have to do is find a table inside one of the Halls or in the beer gardens and someone will come and serve you. It can get quite busy and obviously the better tip you give them later in the day usually results in quicker service as it gets a lot busier. Of course one sure fire way to get a table in the evening is to book advance using the Munich tourist directory, which I've got a link to at the end. This makes it a much simpler way to get into the tent and ensure you have somewhere to enjoy the festivities.
Of course they don't just serve beer within these halls, there are also a number of meals, pretty similar to those available outside, available to eat in there as well. Although we didn't eat in these Halls there was the usual selection of Chicken and Sausage along with Sauerkraut and the famous Munich White sausage. The portions looked pretty reasonable, but as we didn't get a menu I couldn't actually tell you what the prices were like.
Obviously the main reason for Oktoberfest is to enjoy the traditionally brewed Bavarian beers there is something for everyone. During our first two days there they held a parade with all the breweries represented and as a showcase for the Bavarian national dress, something people in Bavaria are very proud of. These parades are only on the opening two days but are well worth seeing if you can be there on one of those days. If you miss them or can't make those days you'll still be able to enjoy the delights of the biggest funfair in Europe, scattered around the edges of the beer halls. There are some 200 rides and side attractions catering for all levels of thrill seekers, just watch what you drink before hand. The rides again are quite reasonably priced at around 2 - 4 Euros (£1.40 - £2.80).
Like all pubs the festival does have opening hours with Weekdays seeing the halls open from about 10 am till10.30pm and at Weekends opening an hour earlier at 9am. The bands are on for the whole day and finish at 10.30pm as well with the official kicking out time being 11.30pm, giving you an hour to finish up that last stein of beer before heading for a cramped train back to your hotel.
Having arrived there on the Saturday morning unsure of what exactly to expect it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. The streets are lined with these semi permanent structures filled with people drinking and having a good time, something we could never do in Britain without it resorting in a mass brawl, something that we didn't see happen at all over the weekend. For an event this size to be largely trouble free shows that the German police handled it right and it means everyone can have a worry free, good time.
Overall my opinion of Oktoberfest changed drastically over the weekend. Before I went it seemed like a decent weekend but wasn't sure quite how it could be done. Now sitting looking back on it I think it's a fantastic weekend that I will certainly be back to as regularly as I can. Even if drinking isn't really your thing, Munich has plenty of other attractions you could visit during the three weeks and also allow you to at least see what Oktoberfest is all about. It may not be as cheap as drinking in the beer halls in the centre but it's a totally different experience. My advice, get booked up for next year and go, it's well worth it.
Advance bookings: www.muenchen-tourist.de
Useful site for Hotels: www.hotel.de
One, two, three, drink! Every year it’s the same procedure: I don’t plan to go to the Oktoberfest, and come up with all sorts of excuses and reasons for not heading down to Munich – the train journey, the cost, the fact that it is almost impossible to get a seat inside a tent after 11am. And then I get a phone call from a couple of mates in England who tell me that they are booking a cheap flight to Frankfurt, and that I really ought to get cracking and organise a trip to the Oktoberfest. Yes, I really am that weak-willed! Despite all my protestations, I have been to the world’s biggest beer festival for the last three years, and I have to say that it has been thoroughly enjoyable every time. So how did it all start? Well, the original Oktoberfest was a celebration of the marriage of Ludwig of Bavaria to Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen in 1810, and the festivities returned year after year, gradually gaining in notoriety to become the huge extravaganza that is now known the world over. Despite the name, however, the Oktoberfest now begins in the middle of September, and runs for 3 weeks – the visitor numbers were down a little this year, to just 5.5 million, and beer consumption slipped a little as well, dropping to a paltry 4.8 million litres! What is there to do at the Oktoberfest? The main purpose of proceedings is obviously the consumption of copious quantities of the specially brewed festival beer at one of the 14 (yes, fourteen!) beer tents that are scattered around the Theresienwiese. Only the Munich breweries are allowed to have a presence at the Oktoberfest, and they all push the boat out more and more each year, designing bigger and better tents to cram in as many revellers as possible. The obvious ones to go for are Löwenbräu and Hofbräu, as these are (I think) the two biggest tents, but whatever you do, make sure to get there early. And I do mean early – the doors open at 10am, and if you wa
nt to get a seat inside a tent then you absolutely have to be in place right from the start. This year, we arrived at the Hofbräu tent at 11am to find it packed to the rafters (mostly with Italians, oddly enough) and with standing room only left, right in the pit in the centre of the tent. We did manage to grab a table outside the front door though, and hung to it for dear life until 10pm that evening. Unless you are prepared to stand, or squash up against some random Germans to grab a perch on the end of their table, you won’t be able to wander around the Theresienwiese doing a tent crawl. The best bet is to pick a tent, find a table and stay there. The beer itself costs 13.50DM per litre, served in a glass mug called a Maß (and this is a standard price set for all tents), but quite often you will find that the waitresses only carry 5DM coins for change, which means that they automatically work in a 1.50DM tip per litre that they serve. Cunning. You don’t have to drink beer though – you might get a funny look but you can order soft drinks from the waitresses, who still amaze me every year by their ability to carry 8 litres of beer at a time, when I struggle to lift just the one. You can also enjoy some traditional Bavarian fodder at your table – huge pretzels, spicy sausage, onion bread, or the biggest gherkins you will ever see, all at about 3DM each. The speciality of the Oktoberfest is the ‘halbes Hendl’, or half a chicken, spit-roasted and eaten using your fingers. These cost 15DM each (or you can get half a duck for 30DM), and I recommend venturing out to one of the stalls selling these rather than ordering one in a tent, as the quality of chicken from the stalls is noticeably better. While you are wandering round the Theresienwiese on the hunt for food, you should also have a go on some of the rides – there is a full set of fairground attractions, rollercoasters and dodgems to mess about on,
all of which are great fun after a few beers! Just make sure that you leave a few people guarding the table while you are gone, otherwise you’ll never find a seat on your return. There are also cashpoints dotted around the area in case you run out of money after one Maß too many, but the queues are normally immense. Getting to the Oktoberfest is easy enough: Munich is one of the biggest cities in Germany and you can fly there directly with BA, Lufthansa and Go, or fly into Stuttgart or Frankfurt and pick up a direct train down to the Bavarian capital from there. Once at Munich station, there are signs everywhere to tell you how to get to the Oktoberfest, but the underground station you need is Theresienwiese, on the U4 and U5 lines. However, if you are planning to visit, you need to make plans well in advance – flights and trains are booked solid on all routes to Munich, and the city’s hotels are booked out weeks beforehand. I travelled down with 6 mates, and despite looking for accommodation a month in advance, we had to stay in Augsburg (40 minutes away from Munich by train), which was cheap enough but it was a bit of a chore getting back there at 10pm, having spent all day at the Hofbräu tent! Basically, the Oktoberfest is a great place to go with a group of friends for a day or two – the atmosphere in the tents is generally amazing, and even if you can only find seats outside, you can still hear the music and the singing, and the huge numbers of people there just give the whole day a great party atmosphere. If you haven’t spent much time in Germany though, watch out for the beer, as it is a lot stronger than anything you will have drunk before! Will I be going back next year? Only time will tell... ;-)
Munich is, of course, renowned for its beer and in particular the Oktoberfest, an event that happens every year during the month of September (bizarrely – I always expected it to be in October, can’t think why). Unfortunately the Oktoberfest is nowadays a very touristy affair but if you are planning on visiting Munich, it is something should be experienced at least once in your life. Fairground rides, large beer tents, wenches carrying loads of huge litre glasses of bier (or Masses as they are called), lots of German food, traditional German bands playing umpah music – it’s certainly worth a look. Both the Paulaner and Löwenbräu breweries are based in Munich and both have beer halls at the festival (the Löwenbräu hall has a rather scary lion automaton on top of it, growling at people as they go in!). It’s also worth going just to spot some locals (or perhaps they're tourists) with their Lederhosen (yes, some really do wear them), and large curly moustaches. At this time of year Munich is absolutely teeming with people, so if you want to go, you need to get accommodation sorted out pretty early. All the hotels charge their top prices at Oktoberfest time and the youth hostels are full to bursting. There are, of course, other beer or wine festivals in Germany if you are a bit claustrophobic amongst large crowds and feel that perhaps the Oktoberfest isn’t for you. The Stuttgart spring and autumn beer festivals, for example, the Erlangen Kirchweih, and the Bad Durkheim wine festival plus umpteen others that I haven’t yet experienced are all worthy rivals. I would definitely recommend both Stuttgart and Bad Durkheim (a small town on the outskirts of Mannheim whose festival is at the start of September) if you want to experience a German festival that is not too overrun by tourists. If you are overfaced by the thought of so much alcohol, don’t worry, these festivals usually have non-al
coholic beverages too, such as Spezi (a mixture of cola and orange juice – not as disgusting as it sounds), non-alcoholic beer (not recommended), Radler (the German term for Shandy) and other more usual soft drinks. My advice - try it, you might like it.
Having been to the Oktoberfest, it is true that nowhere can rival the beerhalls of Munich. Not only do the tent on the Theresienwiese never run dry of beer, but teh beer cellars sell some excellent beers at not very out of the way prices. A Maß - 1 litre will set you back about 11DM (GBP 3.75) and the beer is infinitely superior to anything you get on draught in Britain, bar in a few very specialist bars. The atmosphere is friendly, although there are a few exceptions. Waiters and waitresses may come across as a bit unfriendly, but they are so used to seeing drunks and so on that it is understandable. For travel connections there are trains to all over mainland Europe from the Hauptbahnhof, and the airport is very well connected by public transport links to the city, which is just as well, as it is tucked away to the North. The tube is easy to use, clean and runs very efficiently and Munich is great for a weekend break - and not just for the Oktoberfest.
The Oktoberfest is one of those events that must be done at least once and probably best done over a few days. The tents where the action takes place are very crowded and it is just about impossible to turn up in the evening and find a seat. Strictly speaking the waitresses arent supposed to serve you unless you are seated, but there are ways round this! Seats outside are marginally easier to come by and a good time to rock up is late afternoon before people arrive after work. If you want to be certain of a seat it is possible to reserve a table in advance over the phone with the added bonus that you will then be able to eat at your table, but dont be late getting to your table or you will find it gone and dont be shy at shooing peole away who are sitting at your table waiting for the chance that you wont turn up. You do need to know the name of the particular tent you are aiming for and speak german too. Drunkenness is not the problem you might think, violence exceedingly rare and almost always involves east europeans or anglo-saxons. The U-Bahn is well organised with a complete row of officers lining the platform to prevent people wobbling onto the line. A good tip is not to go to the advertised U-Bahn at Theresienwiese but instead go to Goetheplatz and enter the Wiese from the other end through the funfair avoiding about ten minutes of push and shove through the crowds. Dont go expecting to get other forms of drink - about the only choice other than the a litre of beer is soft drink from a special vendor really aimed at children, but it is perfectly acceptable for two or three ladies to share a glass. My personal favourite is the Augustinerbrau beer, but go and find out for yourself!!
Munich is one of the largest and liveliest cities of Germany. It's located at the souhtern part of the country. Every year, millions of tourists flow to Munich for the unique and the one and the only beerfest in October. Beerfest, Octoberfest, Munich Octoberfest....they all refer to Europe's best party! What bliss; imagine having a bash with the best atmosphere, lots of beer on tap and a great crowd of people around you 24 hours a day. It's not only tasting the great german beers, but the party atmosphere is great and even better with the fun fair, food stalls, souvenir stalls and everyone concentrating on having a good time. Even when you feel you may have had enough of the festival, Munich itself has lots to offer with plenty of culture and history to investigate. Don't miss the fest on October!