Ensuring an Epic Oktoberfest
It’s 11am and once again I hear the band revving up to play. They start singing and everyone in the tent joins in, “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit…” are the only lyrics I can make out. What is this song that gets everyone to stand on their benches, join arms in comradery, sing, and clink glasses? We of course join in on the fun without realizing the words or true meaning of the song, but that’s Oktoberfest! It doesn’t matter. You get up, smile, drink, and sing along.
You may have heard of Oktoberfest or even have attended a version in your city. It’s a festival that celebrates beer! I mean what could be bad about that? The original takes place in Munich, Germany every fall for 16 days. Don’t be fooled, the festival actually starts in September and runs through the first Sunday in October. Some compare Munich’s Oktoberfest to Disneyland for adults, but really the festival is for everyone with merry beer-drinking, great food, and carnival rides. You’ve seen the pictures; men in lederhosen and women dressed like milkmaids with huge beers and smiles on their faces.
The first time I attended Oktoberest was in 2008 when I was studying abroad. My girlfriends and I took an overnight bus from Prague, spent the full day at the festival, then took a bus back that night. Can you say phew? Never again! We arrived at the festival at 6am and were the first ones in the Hofbräu tent at 9am. Let’s just say that I didn’t even see daylight in Munich because we spent our whole day in the tent!
Despite not being a big beer drinker (or big drinker generally), I was excited to return to the festival as an “adult” and join in the revelry. The main reason I wanted to go back was for the roast chicken and pretzels anyway! Have you seen the size of them?? We spent two days in Munich, one at the festival and the other touring around the city (Munich city guide coming next!).
Follow along as I share our experience as well as our TBP Insider Tips to ensure you have the most epic experience!
Now, how to describe Oktoberfest? You will spend your days drinking, singing, eating, and participating in the overall merriment. There are large “tents” set up every year. I couldn’t believe they were temporary structures! There are 14 large and 20 small tents, each with a different theme and beer. Some are rowdy, and others more family friendly. There are tents centered around food. Others are more German or filled with tourists. We made it to 4 of them!
Expect to join a table of strangers and make new friends. They’ll be more than happy to teach you the ways of the festival: help you order and sing you the song lyrics! You most likely won’t have a reservation, so prepare to secure your spot early and have friends hold it down for the day. The tents fill up quickly, especially on the weekends. Once full, the doors are closed and then you can’t get in.
The tents get toasty, so make sure to head outside for fresh air and wander among the crowds through the festival. There are great food stalls as well: popcorn, roasted nuts, sandwiches, and sweets. It’s also fun to enjoy a ride or two. Plus, the people watching is one of the best parts!
Of course you should spend time in the tents, but it’s also great to sit outside in the beer gardens if the weather is nice.
You’ll find a band in the center of every tent. They’ll be playing classic German hits as well as rock songs. Hello Beatles and ABBA! Every 20 minutes or so the band may play a song that begins with “Ein Prosit.” Make sure to join in. The song is about cheersing and having a good time! Here’s a guide to the pronunciation.
Here are some fun facts about Oktoberfest:
> Over 6 million people attend every year!
> Each tent brews its own beer specifically for the festival.
> The festival began as a wedding in honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghuasen in 1810.
> The festival originally took place in October, but was moved earlier for better weather!
> It’s located at Theresienwiese, named after the princess. Locals refer to the festival as “die Wiesn” (pronounced veeson like season).
> It’s only in the last 8-10 years that everyone at the festival has worn the traditional Bavarian trachten (outfits).
Our two favorite tents are Hacker-Festhalle and Schützen-Festzelt. Hacker has the best beer! Even our German friend Martin agreed. Be warned, it goes down quickly :) Schützen had a great vibe, especially at night. Both are mostly German.
If you’re looking for a more college experience, head to Hofbräu Festzelt. We went in for a bit to meet our younger brother and his friends. It was just as I remembered; nice and rowdy.
Make sure to visit Café Kaiserschmarrn, aka the gingerbread tent, run by the bakery Rischart. It’s a great spot for breakfast or maybe an afternoon cake!
There are two late night tents: Käfers Wiesnschänke is open until 12:30am and Weinzelt until 1am. Otherwise, the tents are open 10am-10:30pm weekdays and 9am-10:30pm on weekends & holidays.
Getting into a Tent
If you have a large enough party, you can try to reserve a spot, either morning, lunch, or evening. It is quite difficult to get a reservation as large companies, locals, and past reservation holders typically have first pass. That being said, the Oktoberfest Insider has a great guide on how to secure one if you’d like to try!
If you’re a small group of 2-4, you won’t have a problem securing a spot if you have patience. My number 1 piece of advice is to arrive early, sometime between 9-10am on the weekends. Otherwise, the tents will close when at capacity and you’ll miss out on the festivities!
If you find yourself closed out, you can wait outside the entrance and wait for a waitress to come to the crowd. Try to get to the front and hold up your hand with the number of people you have in your party. The waiters/waitresses are the only ones that can let you in! You will most likely be seated in the beer garden and you MUST buy your drinks from the waitress who brought you in. Once you finish your beers, you can then try and get inside the tent the same way. Make sure you finish your beers first though because you won’t be able to bring them in the tent!
What to Eat and Drink
The beer is served in 1 liter steins! It’s a lot of beer and its alcohol content is higher than you're used to, so make sure you pace yourself. You can also order a Radler, half beer half soda, but I recommend to at least try the beer. I don’t love beer, but enjoyed it tremendously at the festival. Some call it liquid gold!
Here’s a list of foods you must try:
Brezel – pretzels go without saying. They are perfectly crunchy yet soft in the middle. Expect to share multiple throughout the day.
Sausage – Weisswurst (white sausage) and Bratwurst. Don’t forget the mustards and sauerkraut!
Spätzle – like mac and cheese. Vegetarian friendly!
Brathendl – roast chicken. OMG the best I’ve ever had. You typically order by the half.
Steckerlfisch – grilled fish on a stick
Flammkuchen – a flat bread pizza with crème fraiche, onions, and bacon
Lebkuchenherzen – German gingerbread heart. They have cute mottos! More to wear than eat if you buy from one of the stalls at the festival.
Planning Your Trip
Start early! I mean 6-9 months in advance. The reason I only stayed one day in 2008 is because we couldn’t find reasonably priced hotel rooms when we planned our trip the month before. Accommodation prices are of course inflated during the festival, but if you book early enough, you’ll find something!
I don't think you need more than a day or two at the festival unless you can handle more (power to you!). We went the night we arrived and then the next full day. We spent our third day touring Munich (post coming soon).
Where to Stay
Munich has a great subway system, but I would recommend staying within walking distance of the festival. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard, about an 8-minute walk away. It was perfect for sneaking away for a mid-afternoon nap before heading back for the night.
Getting to and from the Airport in Munich
The S-bahn trains S1 and S8 take about 45 minutes to get into the city center. A ticket costs 11 euros one-way or you can get a partner ticket for 20. You CANNOT use an American credit card to buy your ticket at the desk with a representative or from the machines. You must have cash! Make sure to validate your ticket in the machine right before taking the escalator down to the train.
What to Wear
Yes, you should wear the traditional trachten (outfits). Lederhosen for men and dirndl for women. Dan purchased his lederhosen through eBay. I borrowed a dirndl from a friend. Here are a few sites I was searching. And make sure to check trusty old Amazon.
They don’t come cheap, but if you buy in advance, you can find sales. Worst case you buy when you get there!
Ladies, there’s important etiquette to the way in which you tie your bow to let potential suitors know if you’re available. Tie on the left if you’re single and ready to mingle! Tie on the right if you’re taken. A bow in the back means you’re either a widow or a waitress. Finally, a bow in the center front means you’re a virgin (I mean…really?).
Wear sturdy sneakers or boots because there is a lot of broken glass!
TBP Insider Tips
> Book your trip to Munich early!
> Wear the traditional trachten and ladies, make sure to tie your bow correctly!
> Get to the festival early to secure a table.
> Bring cash. Each stein costs 10.10 euro. And tip early because you’ll have the same waiter all day and you’ll definitely have faster service.
> Make friends with other people at your table.
> You can only bring a small purse into the tents. No backpacks allowed!
> Do NOT try to steal a stein. They check on the way out.
> Do NOT dance on the tables. If you so much as step on the table, you are showing your intent to chug the entire stein. Be prepared to have all 10,000 eyes on you waiting to see if you succeed or fail. The entire crowd will cheer or boo depending...don't FAIL.
> You cannot bring outside food or drinks into the tent. That being said, they won't stop you for a partially full water bottle. They do not sell water bottles inside.
> Prost means cheers in German!