Oktoberfest in MunichOn December 17, 2014 by Emil
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.
Besides Augustiner Brau, one of my new friends took me for a quick tour around the other beer tents. Speaking German, he told security we just wanted to take a look inside, so got to skip any lines (still not too many since it was mid-afternoon on the first Monday). Each tent was different, not just due to their decorations, but also the atmosphere. Some you could feel had a younger crowd, some played more modern music, and so on.
It’s certainly possible to make a little tour around the tents; just be aware that if things get crowded finding a space to sit (or length of lines) will be a factor. Beyond that, there didn’t seem to be any real “minimum” purchase to enter a hall… I’d say you could even sit and hang for a while and then leave without buying anything! In regards to that, it appeared that each tent served just one beer – obviously the brewery’s beer in those affiliated tents, but probably just one of the major brands in others. This isn’t so different than many restaurants that I saw in Europe, where they would carry just a few (or maybe just one) selection. I had no complaints as the beer was superb (and seemed super fresh) just about everywhere, but just don’t expect lengthy beer menus at Oktoberfest. Of course, there are also places all over Europe where you choose from dozens or even hundreds of beers.
As you saw above, I tried the roast chicken… a great meal but like anything inside the beer tents, a bit pricey. This year (2014) a liter of beer was just about 10 Euros (some places a little less and some a little more). Apparently this is a historic high price (above 10 Euros) but in general a bit expensive. Then again, no cover charges, no drink/food minimums and (at least as far as I know) no maximum seating times. That said, there are plenty of food and drink options outside the beer tents so I’d encourage a mixture of walking around and beer tents. For example, I got a currywurst with bread outside a beer tent for about 3 Euros. While also an “Oktoberfest” price, a lot cheaper than similar inside a tent. Also, one thing I didn’t know, is that you can skip the bread (“brot”) and save a bit of money. Yes, I know currywurst is from Berlin and not Munich.
So although I had just a day at Oktoberfest, and didn’t know anyone there, it was a fantastic time. It was a lot more than I expected, from the variety of tents to the carnival atmosphere, and in many ways what I hoped it would be, as far as the friendly people and laid back atmosphere. It’s a huge event and spans a couple of weeks, so I’m sure that things change as the crowds hit maximum, or late at night, but I would say Oktoberfest is definitely something to experience at least once — I think there’ll be something for everyone to enjoy.
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