‘Tis the season for Oktoberfest
As the summer starts to slowly fade and the breezes feel cripser, Volksfeste begin to pop up in villages around Germany. Tis the season … Oktoberfest season! Whether you’ve been here for years or just a few weeks, Oktoberfest is one of those festivals that you should experience at least once during your time here. And if you decide to brave the crowds and hit up the original in Munich, here’s a little history and things to know before you go.
History of Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest has always been a festival for the people. On Oct. 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. To celebrate, the newlyweds invited the citizens of Munich to join festivities in the fields outside the city gates. The event was such a success, that the decision was made to hold the festival annually. Thus, Oktoberfest was born.
The first carnival rides were added in 1818, with beer and food booths popping up shortly after. Due to the exploding popularity in the beer stalls, the first beer tent was erected in 1869. Initially only held over a few days, more and more events were added to the festival. Spanning between 17-18 days, Oktoberfest was gradually shifted from October into September to accommodate the more temperate weather. What started as a local wedding festival has now grown into a behemoth event with nearly 7 million visitors each year.
Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to head to Munich for the world’s largest Volksfest! It’s time to start getting prepped, my friend. Actually, you probably should have started making arrangements a few months ago. But don’t fret — there are still plenty of options available and plenty of time to get it figured out. Oktoberfest runs from Saturday, Sept. 22 through Sunday, Oct. 7.
Lodging and transportation. Look into places farther from the city center, S-Bahn or U-Bahn lines. Oktoberfest is located in the heart of Munich with no less than seven U-Bahn stations surrounding Theresiwiesen (the festival ground). We stayed on the outskirts of the city and took the U-Bahn to Goetheplatz. We followed the sea of Lederhosen straight to the fest in less than 10 minutes. Don’t drive. There is no parking in the area, and the sheer volume of taxis creates massive traffic jams and delays.
Be prepared. Be sure to bring only what you need. Bags and large backpacks won’t be allowed, and there will be a lot of security checks when you enter the fest grounds as well as the tents. When purchasing your garb, check to see if it has pockets. I was lucky that my Dirndl had them. All I brought was enough cash for the day, my ID and my phone.
It’s not cheap. The prices at Oktoberfest are borderline extortion. When you add up the average cost of a Maß of beer, food and transportation, one visit can cost upwards of 50 euros. Bring plenty of cash, as credit cards may not be accepted in all locations. Carry extra if you’re planning on riding the rides or playing midway games.
Timing is everything. If you can, plan on going between Monday and Thursday. It’ll be busy, but not nearly as crazy as it is on the weekends. During the week, you won’t have much difficulty finding a spot at unreserved tables or benches. However, if you have a large party and plan on going over a weekend, you may be out of luck. Tables are often reserved well in advance. If you didn’t make reservations, split your party into smaller groups, and designate a time and meeting place. Just remember the earlier you go, the more luck you’ll have in getting a spot.
Family matters. Oktoberfest is quite family friendly. Tuesdays are family days, and special discounts on rides are offered to families. If you bring your kids into the tents, a parent or guardian must be with them at all times. Children must leave the tents at 8 p.m. Teens between the ages of 16 and 17 may be served beer, but no hard alcohol. Those 18 and older have no restrictions.
The Unwritten Rules
Now that you’ve gotten the nitty-gritty details figured out, it’s time to have some fun! Hang on … there are a few unwritten rules you should brush up on.
- Know your limits. It’s easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and get a little crazy. Think of it as a marathon and not a sprint. Stay hydrated (with water), and be respectful of yourself and others. If you get too crazy and start acting like a disrespectful jerk, the beer proprietors will have no problem tossing you out.
- Dancing is encouraged. But whatever you do, don’t dance on the tables. The benches, yes. Tabletops, no. Unless you want security to escort you out, keep it off the table.
- What is imbibed in the tent stays in the tent. Unless you’ve bought a stein (be sure to have your receipt handy), do not take the tent stein home with you. These aren’t free souvenirs, so please don’t assume you get a five-finger discount. Staff will often check bags on the way out, so just leave the stein on the table.
- Eat all the things. The fest food is fantastic. Roasted chicken, savory Käsespätzle, succulent pork knuckles and Knödels, pommes frites and of course, the doughy goodness of pretzels. The only item I wouldn’t recommend are the gingerbread cookies. Those are more decorative than anything.
- Be nice and tip. With close to 7 million visitors, the servers in the tents are going to be busy. An ounce of kindness and patience go a long way. The kinder you are, the more attentive the service. This is also one of the few times when tips are expected, usually about 10 percent.
- You’ll make friends fast. When you sit down, you’ll likely be sitting at a table with people you’ve never met. In our first tent, we sat with a lovely couple from Augsburg on their honeymoon and a man that was already two liters in. In our last tent, we toasted with an elderly couple that didn’t speak a word of English, but who managed to converse with us in our broken German.
With close to 7 million visitors each year, it can be easy to brush Munich’s Oktoberfest to the side. There are plenty of others to choose from. However, there is nothing quite as magical and fun as the original.
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