As temperatures cool, thoughts naturally turn to Munich and their gala Oktoberfest celebration; this year the world’s most famous beer festival (starting on the 18th September and ending on 4th October) celebrates its 200 year birthday. If it’s too late to organize a trip for this year, then book some days off in 2014, because Oktoberfest is definitely one of those bucket-list events you’ll always be glad you experienced. Just remember to reserve hotels in Munich as early as possible, as they always get fully-booked for the festival.
Oktoberfest Festival Tips
In late September each year a dozen cavernous beer tents are erected in the Theresienwiese Park, which is located close to the city centre. Over six million beer-lovers attend this festival each year, filling the long tables and consuming more than 6.5 million litres of the specially brewed Oktoberfest Bier over the sixteen days – this is not a festival of moderation!
The Brewer’s Parade kicks off the festival, travelling through Munich city centre and into Theresienwiese Park before the Lord Mayor officially opens Oktoberfest by dramatically hammering off the tap of the first barrel of beer to great applause from the awaiting masses – and so the celebrations begin.
Entry to the tents is free, but to pay for a beer, you must buy special tokens in the tents and you usually have to be sat to get served – something that gets especially difficult at weekends. The majority of the tables are booked by corporations, but if you’re organised (you should aim to book no later than March and ideally as early as November or December for the popular tents) you can reserve seats for yourself. You have to book through the individual tent organisers, most of which will only accept reservations for groups of over ten, and you may also need to buy food and drink coupons in advance. The contacts for each tent can be found here: http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/navitem/Beer+Tents/. If you haven’t been able to reserve a table, it is possible to go without reservations, in which case the best advice for getting a seat is to arrive early (pre-10.30am), find a vacant seat – and don’t move! If you’re up for being a little cheeky, ask to sit at a corporation’s table until it fills up. The beer gardens don’t take reservations, so that’s a good place to bag a seat early in the day.
Costumes usually take the form of traditional Dirndl attire for women (think low-cut dresses with nipped-in waists over white puff-sleeve shirts) and lederhosen with woollen socks pulled up to the knee for the men. This is most definitely a festival of participation, so get involved!
The Hippodrome is the most famous of the tents, with the likes of Boris Becker often spotted there, and the Hofbräu tent is where most American and Australian tourists tend to congregate. Once seated, you’ll be served by traditionally-dressed women (who you should tip, especially if you want quicker service) and beer comes by the litre. It’s stronger than most brews, so it’s highly advisable to keep eating throughout the day (an array of German food is sold in the tents) and to take it as easy as possible.
If you’re travelling with children, there is always a Family Day with reduced prices for the rides and sideshows that surround the beer tents.
Although the sheer scale and nature of Oktoberfest might raise concerns for some, German efficiency has all the bases covered for a safe celebration: there is a dedicated police force; a unit for taking care of beer-drinkers; a first-aid station; a lost-and-found office; childcare; a fire brigade; its own sewage system; and over 1000 portaloos. There is also a nearby U-Bahn terminal to encourage participants to use public transport rather than driving.
For details about how to plan your time at Oktoberfest and the various tents, check out the official website: http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/.
About the Author: Heather Richardson is a freelance travel writer based in London. When she isn’t planning the next trip abroad or writing, she can usually be found drinking wine with friends, catching up on National Geographic back-copies, eating bagels, running off the bagels, and tanning or fake-tanning depending on the season. She also occasionally tweets (@HG_Richardson).
Photo Credits: Google Commons
Editor’s Note: These additional tips have been shared by the German National Tourist Board:
Food– Some popular traditional food choices are “Weisswurst (Bavarian veal sausage), Brezn (pretzels) or halbes Hendi (roasted half chicken). I especially liked the large swirl cut radishes.
Money – leave your purses at home, they’ll only get in the way, but be sure you have an ID. Cash is king – credit cards are not accepted in tents. A Litre of bier will cost somewhere between $12.50 – $13.15.
Closing Time – Tents stay open until 10:30 pm each night, but you can party all night long by heading to Wiesnzeit at Stiglmaierplatz that hosts an “Almdudler After-Party starting at 10:00 pm.
Meeting Friends – Girls should wear their apron bow on the left to indicate that are available – on the right if they are “off the market”.