O’zapft is! The Mayor of Munich tapped the first keg at noon last Saturday and the Oktoberfest has started! I must admit that I really love this most famous beer festival in the world, even more and more each year. Of course, it’s a bit overcrowded, sometimes tacky and often too loud, but it has undeniable charm! How to survive Oktoberfest in Munich and celebrate like Germans do?
Oktoberfest in Munich – a bit of history
Beer festivals in Bavaria date back to the sixteenth century. In the end of September, big parties were organized to let the citizens drink beer surplus from the previous season, so the new beer could be produced. However, the first Oktoberfest as we know it, was held in 1810 in honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festivities began on October 12, 1810 and ended on October 17th with a horse race. In the following years, the celebrations were repeated and, later, the festival was prolonged and moved forward into September in 1872. Practical Germans decided that then it’s just… warmer and days are longer! This year, Oktoberfest runs exceptionally until Tuesday, October 3 (in Germany – national holiday), normally it lasts 3 weeks, including the first week of October and ends on Sunday.
Till now Oktoberfest is located in the same place as it was more than 200 years ago. In the big square called Theresienwiese (“Therese’s Meadow”), which in fact has nothing to do with the green “meadow”, rather a concrete jungle. However, the real Bavarians won’t say that they “go to Oktoberfest”, but to “Wiesn” (Bavarian variation of the word die Wiesen)!
Actually, selling beer during Oktoberfest started only in 1880. There are only 6 breweries allowed to serve this Bavarian speciality: Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu. All of them are located in Munich and produce beer in line with Bavarian Beer Purity Law. During Oktoberfest, each brewery serves only one type of beer (so-called Oktoberfestbier), which contains 6.2% of alcohol. If you were hoping to finally taste the famous Bavarian wheat beer Weißbier, I must disappoint you. Oktoberfestbier is a typical lager… It is served in the characteristic Maßkrug, one-liter mug. Be careful as taking them home from the tent is a crime! Apparently, in the 1990s, more and more people started stealing them. Since then, security has been keeping a close eye on the visitors. Unfortunately, the beer price increases every year, and in 2017 reached 10.90 EUR on average (plus minus 5 cents, depending on the tent).
|Tip: Oktoberfest beer is so strong that, for example, the official leaflets recommend that women should drink Radler (beer with lemonade) every second beer, so they won’t get drunk too fast! 🙂 Every year it is announced when an ambulance had to assist with the first alcohol-abuser. Two years ago, someone passed out in less than 1.5 hours after the Mayor’s tapped the keg!|
Bavarian outfit – how does it look?
Talking about the Oktoberfest, we should also discuss the famous Bavarian outfit! If you’re a girl, then a dirndl is a must. Formerly worn by servants and villagers, now has a cult status and may cost even several thousand euros! Don’t worry, the more “touristy” ones cost about 100 EUR. Typical Bavarian outfit for girls consists of a mini-blouse, a dress, and an apron. Don’t forget about accessories! The most popular ones are floral bands or hats with feathers, earrings, and pendants with edelweiss or pretzels. When it comes to shoes, I can recommend you something water-resistant – it always rains in Munich!
|Tip: Girls, remember to tie the apron correctly! The bow on the left side means you’re single, on the right – married, in the back – a widow!|
What about guys? Checkered shirt and lederhosen, famous leather shorts (supposedly the best are made of deer…), high wool socks (or “warmers” on calves), some hiking shoes and you’re ready to go! This is of course also the more touristy version. More dignified Bavarians wear a white shirt, a waistcoat with deer horn buttons (poor deers…) and a hat with a giant bunch of feathers. Lederhosen suspenders alone may cost even 400 EUR! Believe me, some people come to work wearing the typical Bavarian outfit (and I work in big, global company)!
How to get the Bavarian outfit for Oktoberfest?
The easiest way is of course to buy it. I would advise you to avoid any tourist trap shops in the vicinity of the Marienplatz or Theresienwiese. The costumes there are usually quite pricey. You will find a very good choice of Bavarian outfits in stores like TK Maxx or Wöhrl (I bought my dirndl 2 years ago for about 80 EUR). Of course, it’s the best to start looking for them at least one month before Oktoberfest. There are many pieces to choose from and prices are lower. You can get your dirndl or lederhosen for even 50-80 euros. You can also rent your Bavarian outfit (eg. here), the dirndl costs about 40 EUR per day and the male-kit is approx. 50 EUR.
Please don’t buy plastic lederhosen – they look terribly tacky. It’s definitely better to come in the normal trousers. No one will look at you disgusted. I know what I’m saying, Michal once again celebrated Oktoberfest in jeans! It’s said that more than 20 years ago, everyone came to have fun in casual trousers, but the Bavarian teenagers started wearing dirndl & lederhosen and then everyone followed the suit.
How to get to Oktoberfest?
As you know, the festival takes place on the Theresienwiese and it is best to take the U4/U5 metro to the Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhöhe station. You will enter through the main gate. But if you want to skip the crowds, I recommend you to get off at the Goetheplatz station (U3/U6 metro) and take a short walk to reach the other entrance. Two very important things. First of all, you won’t be let to the Oktoberfest with a big backpack or larger bag. Only small bags are allowed (you can see some examples in the pic below!). Otherwise, you will have to leave them at the deposit next to the entrance. Secondly, cash is king here. No one accepts cards (but there are some ATMs on the premises).
Ok, you finally got there! You will soon discover that the Oktoberfest is primarily a big amusement park (nearly 35 hectares!). In fact, there are “only” 14 Oktoberfest tents (one actually with wine, operated by Nymphenburger Sekt). However, the most popular are those belonging to 6 breweries, each can accommodate about 10,000 people (including outdoor gardens). If someone at the door of the tent wants you to pay for entrance – don’t pay, it’s a scam! Entrance to Oktoberfest tents is always free. However, if there are too many people in the tent, it’ll be closed (during weekends this happens even at 11am).
By the way, popular images of Oktoberfest waitresses are misleading. They usually wear thick fleece not a sexy dirndl and they are on average 50 years old, but still can carry 10 or more mugs (each Maßkrug weights approx. 1.2 kg!). This is a very profitable job, often passed from mum to daughter, from dad to son – during 3 weeks you can earn tens of thousands euros!
|Tip: To order a beer, you have to be seated at the table! During very busy days, when there is no chance of finding a place, many people ask the people sitting at the tables to order beer for them, then take it and drink standing elsewhere. No one cares about it because in the evenings the whole tent stands on the benches and sings anyway! 🙂|
Which Oktoberfest tents to choose?
If you haven’t booked a table in advance, you don’t have much choice. You have to simply look for a free spot! If you’re visiting Oktoberfest during the weekend after 3.30 pm, you have little chance of finding a place in a tent. Usually, there are some free tables outside in the garden. As the Germans say – there is nothing better than the morning beer, so you can go for a drink at 11 am and this is not frowned upon. I definitely recommend sitting inside the tent – live music makes the crowd quickly get into the party mood. You must learn the “Sweet Caroline” lyrics – it’s evergreen Oktoberfest hit. Another advantage? You won’t get wet (yes, it rains a lot in Munich, like A LOT). Usually, tables in the center of the tent are not reserved. Keep in mind that if you’re a group of 2-4 people, you won’t have a table to yourselves. The waitress will seat other people with you not to waste the space.
Even if you are not much into beer, it is worth seeing all the tents. Be sure to visit the Spaten brewery tent, Schottenhamel, where the Mayor taps the first keg, this is also the largest tent. I also love the Himmel der Bayern tent (the Bavarian heaven) of the Hacker-Pschorr brewery (my favorite beer!), looks so peaceful. FC Bayern fans should visit the Paulaner Brewery tent – Winzerer Fähndl. Löwenbräu-Festhalle is a favorite tent of another Munich football team fans, TSV. The Ochsenbraterei tent (also the Spaten brewery) has a characteristic white-blue décor, and is famous for its ox dishes (you will see a huge rolling roast in front of the entrance!).
|Tip: If you have a “dream” tent where you really want to sit, then you have to book a table very early. First reservations start already in February! Usually, you can make a reservation for minimum 6 people (if only eg. 4 people come, you must cover the cost of missing people) and you must spend at least 50 euros per person.|
What to do except drinking beer?
The Oktoberfest is not only about the beer. You will find here many fancy stalls, quite similar to these in German Christmas markets. Big gingerbreads with icing sugar, chocolate-covered fruit… You can always take a ride on the merry-go-round (I don’t recommend this AFTER drinking beers, I saw a few sea motion sickness victims). I love especially the giant Ferris wheel with the excellent view of Wiesn. Try also my favorite Tobogan (you must run fast onto the belt rushing uphill, trying not to collapse). If you feel tired, you can always go to the infamous Kotzhügel hill next to the Bavaria monument. In the morning it looks really, REALLY bad 😉
If you want to see how Oktoberfest looked like in the past, take a look at Oide Wiesn in the southern part of the Wiesn. It’s much more traditional (carousels from 1919!) and somehow nostalgic (there’s 3 EUR fee). On the opening day of Oktoberfest, there is also a parade of the breweries, but there are huge crowds. It’s better to go on the next day to the Trachten parade (the generic name of traditional Bavarian costumes). You can see how dirndl should really look like!
|Tip: Even if you party so hard that you lose something, don’t worry too much. There is a very good Lost & Found Office. In 2016, 2948 lost belongings were registered there. They included one dog, three wedding rings, two pairs of lederhosen and two dirndls 🙂|
Oktoberfest for kids
If you would like to take your little ones to Oktoberfest, remember that they can stay in tents only until 8 pm. There are also special “Family Days” during Oktoberfest when there are special attractions for kids. They usually take place during normal weekdays, when it’s much calmer.
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