Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, is quite the experience. I looked at the event as an observer and as a participant. We (me, my husband, and son) walked into Oktoberfest just as the cannons (or guns) fired to signal the tapping of the kegs. I was surprised that more people weren’t there, after hearing about how crowded it gets, but then I realized that it’s because everyone was inside these massive tents that hold 3,000 to 6,000 people.
Here’s what I learned about Oktoberfest:
Getting into a tent is quite the production. You have to reserve a spot and order your food way before the event takes place. We’re talking possibly a year in advance. When I had looked in May/June to reserve a table, most tents were already full. Luckily, they also have outdoor seating as well. Most tents have tables available (outdoors) on a first-come-first-serve basis. Since we did not have a reservation to get in to any tent, we had to do the legwork (meaning power walk from tent to tent to see if we could get in). We scoured the streets, watching for side entrances to these tents where people were getting in. We wanted beer and the only place to get served beer was inside a tent. We scored. We were able to get into the outdoor section of the Augistiner-Festhalle. Yay! When we found a table with three open spots, we planted our butts until they kicked us out. When they figure that you’ve had enough to drink, they won’t serve you anymore.
Each tent serves one type of beer. You order by saying how many you want. The mugs that they come in are huge. Each one holds about 36 ounces (three American sized beers). My suggestion is to pace yourself and also to order food. We ordered a huge pretzel with each round and shared it to soak up all the beer we drank. We should’ve ate a meal. And don’t think about stealing a mug from the tent. My understanding is that they don’t take kindly to theft so if you’re caught, you’re charged. This is the same with being drunk. If they know you are smashed, they will cart you off to the First Aid tent or by ambulance to the hospital. We saw a lot of people on gurneys.
Bring cash. At least 160 to 200 Euros. I brought 160 Euros and that covered three mugs of beer, one big pretzel, one chicken sandwich, two coffees, two ginger cookies, and one t-shirt. I had some money left over, maybe 30 Euros. We didn’t go on any rides…can you imagine if we did after drinking all that beer? That wouldn’t have been good. Period.
Do not drive. Do not attempt to drive. The streets around Oktoberfest are filled with cars and people, parked and moving. We took a tour bus and our drop off/pick-up point was a 10-15 minute walk to/from the event. We didn’t have to worry, and we got to sleep on the long ride home.
Beer overcomes language barriers. We didn’t talk to the people at our table until after the first mug was downed. And then the friendships opened up. Our table buddies were three couples from Norway. Two spoke English, not fluent but impressive. They translated for the rest of their group. Very nice, fun, and friendly people. And everyone knows the universal language of a toast. At our table and surrounding tables, we toasted many times in different languages.
If you go to Oktoberfest with a group or even with just one other person, have a place to meet if lost or when you need to reconnect. The best place is near the Bavaria Park statue. You can’t miss it. She’s huge. The area is also known as a sleeping point for many. The hill is littered with people. I stayed amused watching how people sleep without a care in the world, even when it started raining. Not so good was watching someone on the hill puke. I guess people will spend the night on the hill, crash when the tents close and then get up again in the morning to do the same thing all over again. If you want to people watch, this would be the place to hit.
I loved seeing the authentic German costumes worn, Dirndls for the women and Lederhosen for the men. The streets became fuller as the evening wore on. Most people were friendly, others were too drunk to care, and some (as at any event) were simply odd ducks that you did your best to avoid. For example, we were standing near the Bavaria statue and a German male, in his mid-twenties, asked where we were from since we couldn’t understand his drunken mumblings. We told him that we were from the U.S. and he said, “You were the ones who dropped the bombs.” Now how can you reply to that? Of course later that night I thought of some snappy comebacks…
All in all, I had fun. The experience of being at Oktoberfest in Germany was awesome. I loved the beer tents (even the outside area), seeing people dress in costume, and meeting people from other countries (Cheers to our table buddies from Norway!). There were some low points—when I worried that we wouldn’t find No. 1 Son before our time came to leave or when one man kept coming up to us to see how we were doing (still not sure of his motive)—but all worked out. Will I reserve a table inside a tent next time I go? Maybe. Half the fun was doing the leg work. The reward was getting a beer.