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Oktoberfest in Munich

Updated on June 9, 2011

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 Bavaria).

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 much.

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.

My boy, dressed in a traditional shirt with bone buttons, drinking water.  Notice the masses of people all around him - this is typical!
My boy, dressed in a traditional shirt with bone buttons, drinking water. Notice the masses of people all around him - this is typical!

Family Fun

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 crowds.

Hend'l
Hend'l

Fair Fare

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 beer.

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 wunderbar.

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).

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