After the Mayor of Munich tapped the ceremonial keg and shouted “O’zapft is!” last Saturday, Oktoberfest 2015 officially began. Justin and I let our long-standing curiosity about the beer festival draw us back to Munich for the start of it all.
As you may or may not recall, we spent a lot of time in Munich last year. I really enjoyed discovering Bavaria over the summer (sunshine & beer gardens!) and in winter (Christmas markets!), but I knew any proper assessment of Munich was incomplete without attending its event of greatest acclaim: Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world. I wanted to see for myself what this infamous celebration was all about. Was it just a beer-sloshing-frat-party? Was it really as crowded as all the locals said? Why does this festival draw such international attention?
Determined to find out the answers for myself, I set off from Zurich with hubby-in-tow for the Oktoberfestivities. Here are a few things I learned from my first Oktoberfest:
For the locals, Oktoberfest is more than a drinking festival. It’s about tradition. On Opening Day, representatives from each beer hall parade into the fairgrounds behind horse drawn carts wheeling in barrels of prized beer, which has to meet very strict standards. Then the Mayor does the honor of starting the festival by tapping the first keg. A traditional costume parade, where thousands made their way through old town Munich to the fairgrounds, is held on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest.
I think one of the most fun elements of Oktoberfest is seeing thousands of people dressed in Trachten, traditional Bavarian clothing. The men wear lederhosen and plaid long-sleeve button down shirts. Variations include hats, vests, calf warmers, and hiking boots. The women dress up in their colorful dirndls and style their hair with braids or intricate up-dos. These traditional outfits reflect how the Bavarian spirit is still alive and well in southern Germany.
Every fall, the expansive fairgrounds of Theresienwiese transform into the home of 14 large beer tents and 20 smaller ones (totaling 100,000+ seats), an array of snack stands, and loads of carnival attractions. Talk about sensory overload! There’s a lot going on at Oktoberfest, and with well over 7 million visitors each year, getting what you came for – an enormous mug of liquid gold with some Bavarian Bratwurst on the side – is not such an easy task.
To be served, you must be seated at a table. To sit inside most beer tents, you need a reservation. To get a reservation, you need to book it almost a year in advance. Yep, a year in advance! However, the outdoor seating areas, or biergartens, don’t require reservations and operate on a first-come, first-served basis. At peak times, people pack in the wooden benches like sardines and there isn’t much free space to be found without some persistent searching. So, the moral of the story is arrive early to snag a seat – or get your friends to do that for you and join them later. (Thanks, friends!)
TENTS WITH PERSONALITY
From the decorations to the menu, from the beer served to the clientele, each tent has its own personality. The world famous Hofbräu brewery has the largest seating capacity – over 9,000 spaces between the tent and beer garden – and some of the rowdiest patrons.
EAT, DRINK, & BE MERRY
It goes without saying that Oktoberfest is the time and place to drink beer – potentially lots of it. Many beer tents offer only one option when you order a beer: a liter of helles (lager) served in a Maß. Let me repeat that – a LITER of BEER. Knowing your limits and consuming other things besides beer (aka food and water) is the best way to stay merry and avoid getting sloppy.
Friendly company makes all the difference in enjoying your time at Oktoberfest. After all, this is a social event! With the severe lack of any personal spacing, you’re sure to brush elbows with strangers, but then again, your bench neighbor is never a stranger for too long at Oktoberfest.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE BEER!
Theresienwiese is a fairground, and Oktoberfest is a fair – complete with tons of rides, carnival games, and sugary, greasy food! Roller coasters, haunted houses, balloon darts, oversized stuffed animals. Popcorn, candied nuts, chocolate-covered grapes and French fries. Oktoberfest really is an affair for the whole family!
A GOOD TIME FOR ALL
Oktoberfest has grown into a celebration of monumental proportions. It’s popularity as a tourist attraction is undeniable, and the midway of Theresenwiese is full of people from everywhere. Young and old stroll through the fairgrounds, finding something they can enjoy – whether a chance to ride the Ferris wheel or contentedly sip a beer and talk with friends. At Oktoberfest, everyone is invited to have a good time. Prost!
For more information about Oktoberfest, visit the official website: Oktoberfest.de
“Prost” friends! Have you ever been to Oktoberfest in Munich? If so, what can you share from you experience?