It’s not often that one travels halfway around the world to queue up in the early morning for some beer and chicken. What started off as a horse race in 1810 to celebrate Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s wedding is one of the largest festivals in the world today. Approximately 7 million litres of beer gets consumed annually at Oktoberfest. To put that in perspective, it would take you 57,534 years to guzzle that much beer if you had a pint a day!
As exciting as a beer festival sounds, I have heard plenty of experiences that have been less than stellar, right from not being able to get inside stalls to spending too much money. Here are some tips from my trips to ensure that you do not end up sleeping on a patch of grass behind a tent.
Oktoberfest takes place at Theresienwiese in Munich, Germany, Despite its name, most of Oktoberfest actually falls in September – because the weather is nicer. In 2016, the festival is from Saturday September 17 to Monday October 3. There are big and small tents offering food and drink; rides such as a Ferris Wheel, and other activities such as the traditional costumes parade on September 18 (map here).
The entry to the festival and tents is free. Smoking isn’t allowed in the tents. Children are allowed entry, but kids under the age of six have to exit the tents at 8pm. In 2016, family days with discounts on rides are on September 20 and 27 (both Tuesdays).
A Maß of beer will cost around €10/₹750. A visit with two beers and some food plus a ride should cost around ₹3,500 in all.
The Oktoberfest grounds are huge, and picking a tent is truly a first-world problem. There are 14 big tents and 20 small ones. Some of the big tents can accommodate 9,000 people. Although I found the overall experience to be more or less the same, your choice of tent can determine if you are listening to a traditional German band or a DJ playing “Backstreet’s Back”.
Each tent serves beer from a particular brewery in Munich. Luckily, Munich has very good breweries, which follow the German beer purity law from the fifteenth century called Reinheitsgebot, which practically means that only water, barley and hops can be used to brew beers. All breweries serve their Oktoberfest beer, which is a potent beer at around 6 per cent ABV, along with weißbier, Bavarian for wheat beer.
Beers are served only in one-litre mugs called Maß (pronounced mass), so buckle up! Most tents offer radler, which is an equal mix of beer and lemonade. There is nothing wrong with alternating between beer and radler to prolong your time at the festival. Alcohol-free beer is available at the same prices.
Schottenhamel is the oldest tent at the festival, where Oktoberfest officially begins when the mayor of Munich taps the first keg at noon on the opening day. The Schützen-Festhalle tent is known for its suckling pig (spanferkel) with beer sauce, The Ochsenbraterei tent is known for its oxen roasting on the spit, and the steckerlfisch (smoked fish) in the Fischer-Vroni tent is delicious.
The Hofbräu-Festzelt tent is the most touristy of the lot, and that might be because it’s the only big tent which will serve you beer even if you are not seated. If you are not a beer drinker (and boy are you at the wrong place then), the Weinzelt tent serves around 15 wines by the glass along with Paulaner’s weißbier.
Reservations can help but are not necessary. I’d suggest just turning up, because each tent has its own reservation process that may require an online procedure or deposit, and you’re likely to get a seat if you wait.
● Dress like the locals. One of the best things about Oktoberfest is seeing people dressed up in Bavaria’s traditional costume. For men, it’s lederhosen; good ones start at €100/₹7,500. If not, wearing a blue-and-white check shirt might still make you feel festive. Ladies at Oktoberfest wear dirndls, starting at €75/₹5,625. The side on which the Dirndl apron bow is tied traditionally reveals your marital status: on the left indicates that you’re single; tied at the right indicates that you’re taken; at the middle, that you’re a virgin, and at the back, that you’re a widow or a waitress. The cleavage-revealing dress from the 18th-century brings to mind a Seinfeld quote you must remember at Oktoberfest: “Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don’t stare at it, it’s too risky. Ya get a sense of it and then you look away.”
● Tip well (around €10-20/₹750-1,500 after the first round). This will ensure good service and can get you inside a tent on a later day as well.
● Learn some local songs which will surely be played at the tents – Youtube “Fliegerlied” and “Viva Colonia”.
● Make a note of your address on a piece of paper and keep it in your pocket. After a long day or drinking and a dead cell phone, this might save your life.
● Keep a buddy system.
● For once, it’s okay for men to go to the washroom in groups. The tents are huge, plus the long lines at the toilets can take a toll on you.
● Carry plenty of tissues and hand sanitisers. At any given point, you are just a minute away from a beer spill or someone vomiting.
● Take a walking tour of Munich to get to know the city better. The free tour (at which you should tip generously at the end, say €1/₹1,125) and the Third Reich by Sandemans Tours were top notch.(www.newmunichtours.com)
● Do not chug! After your first Maß, it might seem like a logical thing to do but Oktoberfest is a marathon, not a sprint.
● Taking home the one-litre mug as a souvenir is not going to happen. All tents have major security in place plus the festival has a lot of police in civilian clothing.
● Do not leave a tent unless you have to; getting back in might be very difficult.
● Don’t carry bags or purses. Keep possessions minimal.
● Don’t hoard seats inside a tent; not only will you piss off the servers but fellow punters as well.
● Don’t wear open shoes; it’s just a matter of time before someone steps on your feet.
Weekends are the most busy, with Saturday being the craziest. Weekdays are easier and will have more locals as well – although every day will be packed like a more cheerful Dadar station.
Opening day: Noon-Midnight
Monday to Friday: 10a.m.-10.30p.m.
Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 9a.m.-10.30p.m.
Opening day: Noon-Midnight
Monday to Thursday: 10a.m.-11.30p.m.
Opening day: Noon-Midnight
Monday to Thursday: 10:00a.m.-11.30p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 10.00a.m.-Midnight