Via some roundabout train rides (Amsterdam to Prague to Warsaw to Munich) I ended up at the Munich Oktoberfest on September 22, the first Monday of the festival. FYI Oktoberfest actually starts in September (although it does end in October). Apparently the dates have been moved up over the years to provide better weather for the festivities. Surprisingly, many of the Germans I met/know outside of Munich have never been to Oktoberfest. Not that Oktoberfest is not well attended by Germans…
Anyway, here’s a brief look at Oktoberfest as I saw it that day. One thing I liked about going during the day on the first Monday was that it wasn’t super crowded and that overall people seemed pretty relaxed. I’d heard that things get progressively more crowded, and the behavior progressively more drunken and rowdy, as the weeks go on. I have no doubt that things get more crowded and drunker, especially on weekend evenings (as in any bar or similar type place) but I couldn’t say to what extent.
First thing is getting there… I decided to make things easy and go to the Theresienweise U-Bahn station (which during busier times may better be avoided in favor of slightly more distant but less crowded stations). Mid-day Monday it was busy but not crowded. Exiting the station, it’s still a few minutes walk to the festival, but pretty easy — follow the signs or even better, just follow the crowds of people headed in the same direction!
Oktoberfest is more than just beer – besides the many beer tents there is a full-on fair going on, with lots of food and drinks and rides. It was a little cloudy that day, but in nicer weather you could probably spend the whole day outside the beer tents. There is no entrance fee to enter either the overall area or the beer tents, although the beer tents can get full, in which case you’ll have to wait in line. It’s possible to reserve tables in the beer tents, which does cost extra.
The different beer tents have their own color scheme and atmosphere. The biggest ones are associated to breweries, but there are others not directly affiliated, but may specialize in things like rotisserie chickens. Obviously, if you’re in a brewery’s tent, don’t expect any other kind of beer! I had heard that Augustiner Brau was one of the best, a bit more traditional, and favored by Munich locals. There was a basic bag-check at the entrance — naturally they don’t allow outside food or drink. A helpful tip: they also don’t allow water! Whether that is to promote more beer sales, or to discourage smuggling of clear alcohols like vodka, I couldn’t say. In any case, just be prepared to dump even your water before entering.
After entering, a waitress will find you a spot… generally speaking unless your group fills an entire table, be prepared to share! She found me a spot at a reserved (but not full) table, with a bunch of locals enjoying their annual Monday trip to Oktoberfest. Although they spoke only a little English, and I spoke no German whatsoever, they made me feel quite welcome and I now have places to stay for the next Oktoberfest visit — as well as a spot at their reserved table! I’m really glad to have met them and experienced an Oktoberfest beyond just massive quantities of beer and drunken foolishness.