Fancy yourself as a well-cultured person or consumer of many beers? Not without a trip to Munich and it’s beloved Oktoberfest you aren’t.
Known as Wies’n to locals, Oktoberfest started in 1810 as a horse race to celebrate the wedding of Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. A parade through the city streets in 1835, and beer was first sold in glass mugs in 1892. Today, the celebration has grown to an epic scale, far beyond the horse races. More than 6 million people squeeze into the 14 main tents’ 100,000 seats every day during the 16-day celebration. Almost 7 million liters of beer is consumed, compared to a little more than 900,000 liters of water and lemonade. The races themselves are gone, replaced with live bands and carnival rides.
Oktoberfest is a blast, trust me; I went this year. However, potential festivalgoers should not expect to just go and get hammered. Truly enjoying the festival requires planning and advanced knowledge, both of which I’d be more than happy to share with you.
Long Term Planning
This isn’t a suggestion. You must begin planning your trip to Munich and Oktoberfest well in advance; I suggest a full year as a nice round number. When six million people descend on a city, it tends to jam everything up. Figure out exactly when you want to visit Wies’n and plan the rest of your trip around that. Then book your hotel immediately afterwords. I had travel agencies tell me they booked their best room and better prices almost a full year before the event when we went. My group of four got a quote for a four-star hotel in two cities for a week plus extras for $8,000 in early spring. When we actually booked the the trip in late summer, the best we could do was a three-star hotel in Munich for about $1,500 more. Plan early.
Don’t Go Alone
No, I’m not talking about a haunted house, I’m talking about not going to the world’s biggest party alone. Seriously, make sure to grab some buddies, family members, significant other(s) or homeless bums – I’m kidding about the last one – before you hop on the plane. Just make sure that everyone likes each other, is willing to spend a great deal of time together, is not a prohibitionist and knows what a shower is.
Oh boy, more planning, and boy is it important. Once you’re in Munich, it is essential that you plan the most minute details for every day at Oktoberfest. Find a list of the tents online and peruse their descriptions until you find that special beer hall that gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling. Please note that each tent only serves one brand of beer, although it’s all fest-style. You’ll need to be at that tent bright and early, especially on weekends. As a rule of thumb, plan on grabbing seats inside the tents before late morning on the weekends and by early afternoon on most weekdays. If you can’t find a seat, you won’t be served beer.
I also suggest you figure out some type of communication system, or at least a failsafe plan in case everyone gets separated. The tents are big and fair grounds are gigantic and crowded. You don’t want to have to worry if someone goes to the water closet and doesn’t return for four hours. A few Handys (German word for cell phones ) could go a long way, but are not necessary.
That Strange Clear Liquid
What’s that fluid comprising 60 percent of the human body? No not blood, nor do I suggest you drink it, regardless of what those stupid vampire movies suggest. I do, however, strongly recommend making a conscious effort to drink water. Germans often will not serve free tap water at restaurants and just general gallivanting around Munich will work up a thirst. Drinking large quantities of beer without drinking water is stupid and will leave you begging for mercy the next morning. Consume plenty of water the night before, morning of and after your Wies’n adventures.
Munich is like Manhattan, it’s expensive. Add the poor conversation rate from the Dollar to the Euro and your wallet takes that much more of a pounding. Sadly, Oktoberfest will offer no relief on your financial situation. Fest beer is only served in ein Mass, one liter glass steins, for roughly 8.5 Euro – about $13! There is a silver lining here, between the size of the glass and amount of alcohol, that beer is comparable to three regular American beers – not such a bad deal after all. You’re also not expected to really tip the servers, just pay the bill, rounding up if necessary as their tips are required to be included in the price by law.
Europeans as a general rule are a lot closer than Americans, literally. The culturally accepted space between people is much smaller and they tend to have no problems cramming together. Hopefully you enjoyed your days in public school cafeterias, as you’ll notice that the tents utilize similar seating. Festival goers are expected to grab whatever seats are available; reservations are only permitted for large groups and well in advance. And for the love of America’s reputation, please do not ignore whomever you sit next to. Oktoberfest is all about being chummy and trying to get whatever limited thoughts you as an English speaker and the German guy next to you can. To be perfectly frank, many Europeans speak at least some English, Oktoberfest tends to draw citizens from around the globe and you should know a few basic German phrases. It’s also important you learn the German drinking songs so you don’t look like an idiot not loudly singing along and clanking steins. Ein Prosit is a favorite and comes highly recommended.
If you’ve followed my advice, you should be happily downing beers and singing “New York, New York” with some random guy from the Bronx you found, or at least that’s what I did. But after a few hours of revelry in the tents, your stomach will likely start complaining. Thankfully the tents sell food, not so thankfully, it’s not cheap. Still, the general rule of thumb is order at least one meal for every two beers you drink. Most tents offer a limited variety of food – ox, pig’s knuckles, etc. – while others offer specialties – fish on a stick – but you already knew that since you planned out which tent(s) to visit, right?
Don’t Be An Idiot
Seriously, just because everyone’s getting plastered and having a grand old time, do not chug beers as rapidly as you can. Let me say that again, do not chug beers as rapidly as you can. If you drink too fast, you will become very inebriated in a hurry and unable to enjoy the festivities for long. Sadly, this comes from experience. I drank four beers in the course of four hours, compared to five beers for one friend and a beer plus three radlers for two other buddies. By early afternoon we were stumbling back to our hotel, where I passed out with a headache until 8 p.m.
Like all good things, the Oktoberfest must eventually come to an end. Beer tents will stop serving at 10:30 p.m. and actually close at 11:30 p.m. That means your ass will, if required, be physically removed from the tent. If you’re headed back to your hotel at this point, I hope you planned ahead as the crowd will be dense. Supposedly there is mass transit nearby, but we never used it. Our hotel was about a mile away, well within walking distance. There are also bars and restaurants not far away that will remain open for several more hours if you so desire.