Despite its name, this holiday — turned universal excuse to drown one’s self in giant glasses of golden beer — is actually celebrated in September. That’s why I’ve chosen it for this month’s travel post.
The fest begins when the mayor of Munich (aka the bürgermeister) taps the first keg at noon, which takes place this year on September 21. Then the heavy drinking commences.
The beer served at Oktoberfest must be brewed within Munich’s city limits and is specially made for the fest — and that means it has a higher alcohol content than usual. It’s served in liters (a maß) although half the time you’re getting a lot of froth and not so much beer, and at about 9€ a mug, it’s not cheap.
Reservations generally are needed for the tents (14 in total), and you’d be wise to make one well in advance. But if you’re there early, not a large group, at a lesser known tent, its a weekday or the weather makes the thought of sweating under a hot tent unbearable, you can usually get a spot. Yes, that’s a lot of caveats.
To pad yourself for the day drinking, start the morning off with a traditional Bavarian breakfast of bread, soft or hard-boiled eggs, meats, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and of course some Weisswurst with sweet mustard and pretzels).
When eating the sausage, you have to remove the skin by cutting it in half and ripping the casing off (as it turns out, I’m pretty good at this). And you might want to accompany it with an Augustiner beer. This will help make you more comfortable with your attire.
Lest you think that only the tourists dress up, I’ll assure you that this is not the case if you’re under the age of 70. Ladies should wear the cleavage-revealing dirndls, and guys don chafing lederhosen. These are quite pricey if you purchase them, so hopefully you can find someone who will agree to properly outfit you for free.
Now that you’re ready, you might want some ground rules so as not to end up dead on a nearby train track (this apparently happens to the Aussies who can’t hold their beer). Be aware that there are tons of police and EMTs around for those who overindulge to the point of being ill, get injured from either falling down drunk or being hit with a mug while toasting or singing “Ein Prosit” or one of the other songs that is played over and over again by the bands. (For some reason, La Bamba and John Denver’s Country Road seem to be quite popular too.)
If you don’t have a reservation, avoid the biggest and most popular tents. The Hofbrauhaus tent is usually the most chaotic. Instead, try finding space in the Ochsenbraterei (oxen) tent and have a Spaten. (Each tent serves only certain brews.) If you aren’t a big beer drinker, you can also check out the Weinzelt (wine) tent, which has an outdoor “beer” garden, perfect in humid weather.
Head over to the Statue of Bavaria for an overview of it all. (The statute is where people come to make out and/or puke at the end of the night.) It’s right near the Schützen-Festzelt tent, which is full of people actually from Munich (or at least Germany) and a bit less touristy than the others.
Of course there is more to do than drink beer. So go on some rides if you dare. An upside down roller coaster or ride that spins you all around but after a few beers in the heat, might appeal to the more adventurous of you. At about 6.50€ per ride, you’ll need to choose wisely too.
Beware of the Höllenblitz – a twisting coaster – which gets dark, shoots out lasers and then ends with spinning you around several times so you are dizzy and confused. That was a lot of fun. The Wilde Maus ride had me flying from side to side in the seat and in pain most of the time (and left a nice bruise on my leg to show for it). Despite the torturous few minutes, it was great fun.
If rides aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of entertainment in drunk people-watching. As the day progresses, someone will surely be smacked in the face with a mug, requiring medical attention. Or those who are passed out on the side of the tents. It’s like Mardi Gras for amateurs.
At least there is plenty of good food. I highly recommend the rotisserie duck at Heimer’s.
If you need a little break or want to explore the lovely city of Munich, there’s plenty to do. Don’t miss the amazing museums, the English Garden where people surf the wave in the river, the square where Hitler gave speeches, and the Residenz.
Even if you might feel slightly vomitous after eating one from the richness and the high fat content (no way to resist that crunchy pig skin), it’s totally worth it.
And the great thing is that you don’t have to cram everything into one weekend if you have more time. There are two full weeks plus of partying until it ends this year on Oct. 6 with German Unity Day falling Oct. 3 — lest you forget that there is an historical point to this celebration.