The moment I found out I had been accepted for an exchange semester in Germany, I began looking forward to Oktoberfest! I just couldn’t wait. The name Oktoberfest, in English, is a bit misleading, as this festival begins in September, lasts three weeks, and actually finishes in early October. In German, it’s known as the Wiesn, which originates from the name of the fairgrounds (Theresienwiese, or the meadow of Therese, a queen of Bavaria).
My friends and I went for the final weekend, but we suffered a little from uncertainties, last-minute planning and coordination issues. For example, there was little left in terms of available accommodation — Oktoberfest attracts thousands of tourists — and renting a car the day before the drive down to Munich was not an ideal situation. But, there was really nothing that could stop me from going! And I was fortunate to have friends who took care of most of the logistics for the weekend.
That being said… Oktoberfest was AMAZING!!! I cannot think of another festival I have been to whose very design, down to the detail, is so conducive to fun! Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people jam-packed into the many tents, dressed in lederhosen and dirndl (the traditional dress for men and women, respectively), drinking beer, singing along to the live music, meeting people, and really just having the best time ever!
The tents, which are actually big halls that I learned take about 3-4 months to set up every year, are situated on the Oktoberfest fairgrounds. The significance of this festival to the people of Munich and Bavarians is reflected in the fact that there is even a subway station named Theresienwiese that takes you directly to the fairgrounds: you literally walk out of the station and you’re among the tents. And there are so many of them to choose from! Some have reputations for their excellent beer, others are known for being party tents, and still others are famous for their unique atmosphere or food. Some are big, others are smaller. On several recommendations, we went to one called Augustiner on our first day. Their beer, Augustiner Bräu, is the best beer I’ve ever had.
Oktoberfest works like this: if you want to be served food or drinks, you have to be seated at a table (as the day progresses, it turns into standing on the table benches). There is no bar where you can order it. Even though some of the tents are huge, there is obviously still only so much seating, so if you want to be absolutely sure you get a table, you have to go early. We got to Augustiner at around 8 a.m. on a Friday and had our choice of table when the tent opened at about 10. I’m so glad we went early because our spot was perfect, in the middle and close to the music, and we were able to get our Oktoberfest on nice and early!
The music starts in the early afternoon and the bands play traditional German music, with some tents playing more popular, contemporary music later in the evening. I think we danced to Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” at least three times on our second day in the Schottenhamel tent (one of the best party tents). By 2 p.m. everyone is already standing on benches, singing along to the music and dancing. And by singing, I mean actual singing! At one point a group of Germans from Hamburg were translating the words of one of the traditional German love songs to me.
Everyone orders what’s called a “Mas,” which is a liter of beer. It comes in a huge mug. Oktoberfest beer is stronger than regular beer. Try not to forget that while you are there, because it’s tasty and easy to drink! A Mas costs around 10-12 euro, and if you tip well (especially at the beginning), you get served faster.
If you want to be 100% guaranteed entrance into a tent, you have to make a reservation and you get a place in the “Reserved” sections within the tents. But this is difficult to do and it’s also expensive. Most people do what we did, which is to try to get there early and wait in line at the tent of choice. If you don’t, especially on a weekend, your odds of getting in are slim, and your odds of getting your own table are zero (which isn’t to say that you can’t eventually find and ask to join a partially occupied table that has lost some of its people to another table)! To get in later in the day without a reservation, you either have to know the bouncer or you have to buy your way in. I speak from our experience on Day 2…
If you don’t get in at all, not to worry: Oktoberfest is a fair! Outside the tents are all kinds of rides, including a pretty ferris wheel. Little booths sell souvenirs, games, food, and much more. People, young and old, are everywhere, and it’s especially cute seeing young children dressed in lederhosen. The rumbling and near-shaking of the singing coming from the tents can be heard from outside. This was really a cool thing to hear, and I will not forget the sound.
I was able to see an old German friend living in Munich from my undergraduate exchange in Budapest five years ago! It was great to actually be able to meet up — in his words, “It’s not so easy to do that at the Wiesn!”
We had SO much fun, and I have every intention of going back next year! This time appropriately dressed in dirndl and a little more prepared for the scale and intensity of this incredible festival! Munich — see you in 2014!