Inside Germany's best beer fests

Inside Germany's best beer fests

by: Steph Edington | .
Stripes Europe | .
published: May 11, 2016

What comes to mind when you find out you’re headed to Germany? Why, beer, of course. Not just beer, but crowds of happy people all arm in arm, singing, swaying and sloshing giant mugs of the foamy stuff, cheersing each other and eating loads of roasted meat and giant pretzels. Ah, it’s Oktoberfest again. But where is a beer-seeker to start? Well, Munich’s Oktoberfest is the most obvious answer. The largest beer fest and Oktoberfest celebration in the world is on a lot of people’s bucket list. But whether you like large crowds or small events, Germany offers several wonderful fests, both large and small, where there is roasted chicken to be eaten, beer to be drunk and merriment to be had. Here are a few for you to visit.

Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart
Stuttgart is home to the Cannstatter Volksfest and the world’s second-largest beer festival. This fest takes place every fall starting one week after Oktoberfest begins and is held at the Cannstatter Wasen, a fairground in the Bad Cannstatt district of Stuttgart. It is slightly smaller than Oktoberfest, attracting 4 million visitors to Oktoberfest’s 6 million.  Fest grounds are located at the Cannstatter Wasen.

Oktoberfest, Hannover
The city of Hannover hosts an Oktoberfest every year. The fairgrounds house two large beer tents and more than 160 rides. It boasts more than 1 million visitors every year. While the Cannstatter Volksfest is the second-largest beer fest, the Hannover Oktoberfest is the world’s second-largest Oktoberfest.  Fest grounds are located at the Schützenplatz.

Freimarkt, Bremen
First held in 1035,  Freimarkt in Bremen is Germany’s oldest fair, and the biggest festival in northern Germany, covering 100,000 square meters, and features several beer tents. It takes place the last two weeks in October, just after the Oktoberfests wrap up.  Fest grounds are located at the Bürgerweide.

Oktoberfest, Munich
If you aren’t willing to settle for anything less than THE Oktoberfest, plan ahead, or better yet, let someone plan for you. You can purchase a spot on an all-inclusive trip to Oktoberfest with a tour company or club, and have all the arrangements made for you. Some options to look into for booking a pre-fab trip include RTT, Army Outdoor Recreation, the CGOC and the Tannenbaum Ski Club. Some packages include tent tickets, some do not; inquire at the time of booking so you know what you’re getting.  Heading to Oktoberfest on your own during the week or on a low-traffic day may mean being able to get into a tent without a reservation. Tables are reserved by time, though, so don’t be surprised if you are eventually asked to give up your table to someone who has reserved it. Tent tickets sell out months before, and while you can get into the fest without tent tickets, you could find that you’re in standing-room-only or waiting in line to enter. Check on hotels or hostels as soon as you can, because rooms go fast. Fest grounds are located at the Theresienwiese.

These are just a few of the biggest and best-known fall beer fests in Germany, but virtually every city or village has some form of Oktoberfest, and most also have other beer fests throughout the year. Check out our events section in upcoming Stars and Stripes publications both online and in print for further festival listings, or watch for signs posted around your community. Smaller fests, with their shorter lines and more intimate atmosphere, can often be more fun than the huge, spread out ones – more important than where you are is the company you’re with. And with the right people, a tiny fest in a 100-person tent can be the time of your life.

Attire

So, you’ve found a beer fest that piques your interest, and made all the arrangements to get yourself there. Now what? The first thing to consider is what to wear. Traditional dirndls and lederhosen are the preferred beer fest outfit.
For women - Dirndls (dern-dull) consist of a blouse, skirt and apron. You can spend anywhere from €50 on a simple, inexpensive dirndl from somewhere like C&A to a few hundred euro on a high-quality, elaborate dirndl at high-end stores or at larger fest grounds. Skirt lengths vary, and so does the amount of cleavage that will be visible. If you find guys either won’t leave you alone, or they won’t give you a second glance, take a look at the knot of your apron – if tied to the left of center, that means you’re single; right means taken, whether married, engaged or otherwise. A knot tied in the back indicates a widow.
   
For men - Lederhosen (leh-der-hoh-zen), or leather trousers, are knee-length or shorter leather pants with a drop flap and suspenders featuring a decorative brace in the front. The pants are usually worn with a checked or gingham button-down shirt, the side-lacing Haferl shoe, and knee-high wool socks. Lederhosen and accessories also vary in price and quality. They are a little more difficult to find outside of fest grounds, although some department stores such as Peek and Cloppenburg may carry them.

Food

As important as the beer at German beer festivals is the food. Fest food is wonderful, unique and something for every taste. Pretzels bigger than your head, all varieties of wurst, grillhähnchen (rotisserie chicken), schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) käse spätzle (cheese noodles), goulash, schupfnudeln (fried potato noodles), zwetschgenkuchen (plum cake), freshly made crépes with a multitude of both sweet and savory fillings, and apfelstrudel are just a smattering of the seemingly endless variety of foods available. Order enough to share so you can try a little bit of everything. Note: Paid tent entry at most fests includes beer (amount varies) and a chicken dinner, which consists of half of a grillhähnchen and a roll.
Speaking of tents, most beer fests are held at fairgrounds in the larger cities, or walkplatz in smaller villages. Some grounds’ tents are actually hardened buildings that stand year-round, and some are temporary. Regardless of its structure, inside the tents you’ll find rows of tables, live music, food, and, of course – beer! Don’t be surprised when the crowd sings along raucously and stands up on the benches to dance along and toast. Enjoy the revelry and get to know your neighbors – you will likely be sharing a table with strangers. Some fests don’t require you to make reservations for a table or purchase entry to the tent, and some do. It depends on the size and location of the fest.

Fest

Most German beer fests are also funfairs with games, attractions and carnival rides, including giant Ferris wheels, full-sized rollercoasters, swings, water rides, carousels and the popular free-fall towers, among others. Each ride will have an attendant that takes your admission money – no need to buy tickets or tokens from a separate booth like many carnivals
in the states.

Something you might be wondering about as you weave your way through the games, rides and booths at the fest are the big heart cookies you see many of the gals wearing around their necks. These are Lebkuchenherzen, or gingerbread hearts. These heart-shaped cookies are given to girls by their sweethearts, and have cute sayings on them like “Ich liebe Dich” (I love you) and “Du bist mein su ßes Herzchen” (You’re my sweetheart). The cookies aren’t very tasty, and are very hard, so they are just for looking. You’re guaranteed to find plenty of other, tastier options to satisfy your sweet tooth.

A toast, a toast, to you!

The toasting song “Ein Prosit,” or “A Toast To You,” is a traditional song that is heard over and over again at festivals throughout Germany. It is meant to be a salute to your health or well-being.
After singing the song, you say “Prost!” and cheers with those around you, then take a hearty drink. Make sure to make eye contact when cheersing with someone — the Germans have a superstition that if you don’t, you will have seven years of bad luck.

“Gemütlichkeit” means a warm, happy feeling. The song can be hard to sing along with if you don’t know the words. Here are the words with pronunciation:

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit,
(Ine Pro-zit, Ine Pro-zit, dur Geh-mewt-lish-kite)
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit,
(Ine Pro-zit, Ine Pro-zit, dur Geh-mewt-lish-kite)
Eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa!
(Ines, tzvye, dry, soo-fa!)
Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi!
(Tzickee, tzahckee, tzickee, tzahckee, oy, oy, oy)

Now armed with knowledge, not only of what fests to look into, but everything you need to know about what to wear, what to do, and what to eat and drink at the fests, you can be confident you are ready to start living like a local. Prost!
 

Tags: Oktoberfest, beer, Munich, Germany, festival, food
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