Imagine: You’re standing in the middle of a human sea. Thousands of bodies jubilantly chatting, swaying, toasting and swigging away out of immense beer krugs. Women in elegant Dirndl-dresses mix with men in leather pants, called Lederhosen. You order another beer from a stout-looking waitress and stand up on a bench in the immense wooden hall. An oompah band lurches into another drinking ditty and the crowds go wild.
You’re at the Munich Oktoberfest and the atmosphere is electric.
The Oktoberfest in the southern German capital of Munich is the world’s biggest party, attracting over six million revellers a year. Most of them pack into one of 16 large beer halls or “tents”. The tents are wonderfully decorated and can hold up to 8,000 people. Visitors are served by an army of waiters and waitresses constantly buzzing about lugging up to a dozen of the one-liter beer mugs (called Mass) in their arms.
But there’s more to the Oktoberfest than just the beer. The festival site is also home to dozens of rides, from tiny carousels for kids to looping roller coasters throwing visitors around at breakneck speeds.
The festival is extremely popular, so the best move is to arrive early. The beer tents fill up quickly, especially on weekends, and the rule is that if you don’t have a seat you don’t get served. Tables inside the tents seat 10 people each, so there’s a good chance you might find one that’s only half full. If you and your friends want to sit down on the other half, don’t be afraid to ask. Most Germans speak great English and are very welcoming; you’ll probably be invited to sit and before long will be laughing and singing along with your new friends. That’s part of what they call “Gemütlichkeit”, a uniquely German concept encapsulating friendliness, fun and a warm feeling of social acceptance.
Oktoberfest wouldn’t be much without traditional German food, either. Be prepared to chow down on huge pork knuckle (Schweinshaxe) or a pretzel (Breze), just the thing to fortify your stomach before one of those huge beers! The beers aren’t cheap (count on paying 10 Euros for a litre, including a small tip) but entry to the grounds and the beer tents is free.
When the festival began the drinking was purely incidental. The first Oktoberfest took place in 1810, in an open field near Munich, in the then blossoming Kingdom of Bavaria. Horse races and games were staged to celebrate the wedding of King Ludwig I to Princess Therese. The event was so successful everyone decided to come back and do it again the next year, even without the wedding. It has grown decade by decade and has been cancelled 24 times due to wars and outbreaks of disease. Although the festival used to be entirely in October, it now mostly takes place in September to take advantage of the better weather. It still takes place on the same spot as it did 200 years ago; a vast field called the Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow) in honour of the princess whose marriage kicked it all off.
No two days at Oktoberfest are same. The biggest bang is made on the opening Saturday, with a parade of all of the waitresses and other service people onto the grounds. Munich’s lord mayor taps the first keg of beer open with a giant mallet at 12pm. After this happens, and only after this happens, can the suds start flowing.
On the second day there’s an impressive parade through the streets of Munich to the Oktoberfest grounds called the Costume and Riflemen’s Procession. This involves over 7,000 folks in all kinds of costumes (think knights in armor, marching bands and Bavarian milk maids). Other events include special children’s days (where kids’ fairground rides are cheaper) and an unofficial “Italian” weekend.
The Oktoberfest will leave you dazzled, exhausted, satisfied and most probably hungover. You’ll have made new friends, memories to last a life time, and almost certainly a burning desire to get back to Munich for next year’s Oktoberfest!
Enjoy the party!
The Munich Oktoberfest starts on 17th September and runs until 3rd October.
The beer tents open at 09:00 or 10:00 and close between 23:30 and 00:15.
It takes place on the Theresienwiese in the Ludwigsvorstadt district of Munich.
This blogpost is a guestpost from Stuart Anderson