25 years is silver, 50 years is gold - what do you call your 200 year wedding anniversary? Munich Oktoberfest of course, the world-renowned festival. And, ladies note, it is not just for the men
It all started with the wedding of Ludwig I of Bavaria to Princess Therese on 12 October 1810. Then the celebrations included horse races and fairs and it proved so popular that the citizens of Munich decided to carry on the celebrations annually. However it was not until 1867 that the first beer was served. As the festival extended over the years, the start had to be moved forward as it can get very cold from mid October onwards.
Sixteen days, six breweries, 12 large tents, over 100 acres and seven million people make it the world’s biggest beer festival. “Tents” is a slight understatement; these are huge solid structures with frames that are sunk into the ground with the largest tent seating 10,000 guests at a time. In between the large tents are smaller ones where you can both sit and have a drink and something to eat or get takeaway food and drink. When you enter, the first thing that will hit you will be the size of the tent, then it will usually be the numbers of people and the noise. You might expect to see only men but the tents are filled with people of all ages and many couples.
You must find yourself a table before you will be served. The tables and benches are wooden and rustic - be prepared to share your table and make friends with others. The atmosphere is noisy, bands playing Oompah music, people singing and clinking glasses – and this starts at 10am each day! Tents such as the Hofbrau tend to be livelier as they attract a younger crowd, if it’s tradition you want head to the Schottenhamel or the Augustiner, but any tent will do. My favourite is the Winzerer Fahndl. After 6pm the bands start in earnest and then you can stand on the benches and sing and dance to Fest favourites such as 'Country Roads' and 'Hey Baby'. It is hard to imagine 10,000 people standing on benches dancing but it happens.
Only beer or water is served in the tents and it only comes in a one-litre stein called a “Mass”. The price is announced in mid May but usually just over 8 euros a Mass. The beer is cool and refreshing and will have a large foamy head. The food is hearty and just what you need to soak up the beer. A popular choice is spit-roasted half chicken – crispy and delicious, about 8 euros, or a haxe (crispy pork knuckle) about 10 – 12 euros or sausages and sauerkraut for about 6 euros. Look out for the waitresses selling giant pretzels as these too are a good snack and soak up the beer well.
Things to look out for
Look out for the locals dressed in their traditional Bavarian dress. The men in lederhosen of various lengths – short, knee length or long, worn with a Bavarian shirt. The girls will be dressed in a dirndl, which is tightly fitted like a corset and again can vary in length. The breweries bring their dray horses in their finest livery everyday down to the Fest and stand outside the various tents – a good photo opportunity. They are majestic animals and the livery shines as if it was new. After the Fest they go on holiday to the mountains for the winter.
What else is there?
On the first two days there are parades that start in the city and lead to the Fest site. There is a large funfair with amusement stalls and rides – but go there first because after a few beers it might not be pretty! There are also souvenir stands to buy that silly hat or t-shirt to wear or a variety of other trinkets.
Where to stay
I recommend staying near the Hauptbahnhof if possible because then you can either walk or take the underground for a couple of stops and you are there. A little further away, but again just 10 to 15 minutes on the underground, is the Holiday Inn on Hochstrasse. This is a centrally located hotel convenient for the other bars and sights of the city. A cheaper option would be a hostel or small hotel. HostelBookers (www.hostelbookers.com) has a good selection. You need to book early as hotels fill up very quickly and expect to pay premium rates.
Get there early as seats will fill up very quickly from 2pm onwards and the doors are often closed at 6pm due to the high numbers of guests, and then you need to wait until someone leaves.
Remember to eat as the beer is very strong and unless you have food you will not last the pace – believe me!
Respect your waiter and the security team – they decide who stays and who goes!
Do not try to steal a stein, it is a criminal offence and they will prosecute. It is also classed as an offensive weapon and they have prosecuted someone for attempted murder for throwing one.
It is a fantastic festival and should be on your list of one of those things you must do – even if only once. Take time to have a good look around and soak up the whole atmosphere that is Oktoberfest.
For more information on Munich and the Oktoberfest see www.insidersoktoberfest.com