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Oktoberfest in Munich
Auf die Wies’n!
At exactly 12 noon on the second-to-last
Saturday in September the mayor of Munich taps the first keg of
Oktoberfest and shouts „O’zapft is” (the beer has been tapped!). The
exclamation is met with thunderous approval from the hoards that are
eagerly awaiting their first Maß (liter of beer). Oktoberfest, the
biggest folk festival in the world, heralds the beginning of fall in a
celebration of complete hedonism. Every year millions of people from all
over the world make a bee-line to Munich which is host to this famous
party. In fact, during the 16 days of Oktoberfest, Munich’s population
swells from about a million and a quarter to over 7 million people.
Most people think that Oktoberfest is
typically German but it is unique to Bavaria. Unlike many tourist
attractions that serve to repel the locals, Oktoberfest is for the
Bavarians a celebration of all things Bayrisch (Bavarian) and they adore
it. The locals proudly don their finest tracht, (traditional clothes)
and revel in a schmorgesborg of typical Bavarian delicacies like
Bratwurst, rotisserie chicken, smoked fish, roast oxen, giant doughy
soft pretzels and, of course, beer.
It all started just over 200 years ago
in 1810 when Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (who was later crowned as King
Ludwig I) celebrated his marriage to Princess Theresia of
Saxony-Hildburghausen. At that time blue-bloods didn’t socialize with
the plebs, but for the occasion they made an exception and some 40,000
Bavarians attended the celebration in Munich on what is now called
Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Green – named for the new princess of
Everyone had so much fun that they
decided to do it again the following year and so a tradition was
born—always held in the same spot which is now fondly referred to by the
locals simply as the “Wies’n” (a Bavarian word for “The Green”).
More Than Just Beer
Although over 6 million liters of beer are consumed in a little over two weeks there is a lot more to Oktoberfest than just beer. Oktoberfest is rich in pomp, circumstance and tradition that may be lost on the casual observer. It is a virtual “who’s who” of Teutonic society with movie stars and national celebrities putting in an appearance. If you do catch of glimpse of one of Germany’s “new nobles” it will probably be either in the Hippodrom, the Weinzelt (Wine Tent) or at Käfers. Out of the 14 tents that host the various establishments these three are sehr schiki-miki (tres chic) and the best place to see and be seen.
One tradition that really surprised me on my first visit to Oktoberfest was that everybody sings along with the band - every tent has their own band. Don't worry, you'll know the words as they play old favorites like Country Road, I Will Survive, YMCA along with German Standards. Forget about looking cool and just have fun by joining in.
If you really want to enjoy the
festivities without worrying about which tent will have room for you,
then you should make reservations as far in advance as possible. For the
three tents mentioned above, even a year in advance would not be too
But, even if you don’t have a
reservation you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a place to sit (as long as the weather is fair).
All the tables in the middle of the floor are for people without
reservations just like all the outside tables. If you see one that looks
like it has room for you walk over and ask, “Ist der Platz frei?” (Is
this seat taken?). Of all the Germans, the Bavarians are the most open
and friendly so you won’t have a problem.
Through out the years, Oktoberfest has
evolved from a horse race and agricultural show to a full fledged
carnival with Ferris wheels, roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and
parades. Kids, just as much as adults will find that time flies on the
“Wies’n”. But parents take note -- it’ll cost you! Expect to pay upwards
of €50 (circa $67) for an hour or two of fun. The best day to enjoy
Oktoberfest with your kids is Tuesday. On that day, all rides and games
are half off.
It is also advisable to come early and
leave early if you are traveling with children. That way you will avoid
exposing your kids to the drunken debauchery that is inevitable at
Oktoberfest (the later in the day, the drunker the folk). The heavy,
glass steins of beer hang about level with a small child’s head making
it an inadvertent but dangerous target as you make your way through the
I am sure that it comes as no surprise
that Bratwurst is consumed in copious amounts during Oktoberfest but did
you know that if you laid each piece, end to end, you could circle
Munich three times? In addition to sausage other favorites include grill
Hend’l (half a rotisserie chicken stuffed with parsley) and slices off a
whole roast ox. To get things started you should try some Obaztda which
is a soft cheese spread made from Camembert and paprika among other
things and it is absolutely delicious! Spread it thick on a piece of
black bread or a pretzel and wash it all down with a slug or two of
Although Bavarian cuisine is best known
as “food for the folk”, it does have a sophisticated side. You really
couldn’t go too far wrong if you were just to close your eyes and let
your finger fall where it may on the menu. Just about everything is
If you are the least bit adventurous you
should try some of the more traditional Autumn fare like roast duck
served with sweet, red kraut and huge potato dumplings or tender shank
of suckling pig topped with dark “Weisse” beer sauce. For dessert, make
sure to sample Kaiserschmarrn which is a wonderful pancake-like
concoction topped with powdered sugar and served with a side of savory
stewed fruit for dipping.
If you still have room after all that,
make sure to grab a bag of candied, roast almonds from any one of a
number of kiosks… just follow your nose.
Something for Everyone
No matter what you are looking for you
will probably find it at Oktoberfest. The most important thing to
remember is to go with an open mind and a little common sense. This will
ensure that you have a good, safe time and enough memories to last at
least until next year’s Oktoberfest.
Ein Prosit! (Cheers!)
About the Author
Anne Alexander Sieder lives in Munich with her German husband, son and feisty Jack Russell Terrier
Direct to Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest is the definitive website about Oktoberfest run by the city of Munich it includes map of all the tents and their telephone numbers ( in case you want to make a reservation).