About three weeks from the annual Oktoberfest in Germany, the idea started sinking in to our heads – of going to Oktoberfest! With such little time to plan, we were optimistic, barring: finding a hotel, getting there, and, most importantly, budgeting this trip with the other traveling we were wanting to do this year. The conversation arose more frequently as the beginning of the festival neared.
Finally, we had made up our minds and were decidedly going to THE Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. After searching website after website for an affordable hotel – we found a spot about an hour away via train from Munich in Garmisch, Germany. Munich’s hotels are very pricey around this time of the year due to the festival and it is rare to find any availability. We arrived in Garmisch around 2am the night before opening day at Oktoberfest, slept for a few hours, and woke up early and eager to set out for the festival!
The train ride took a little over an hour to Munich. From the train station, we walked a few blocks, through a huge parade, and finally saw the sign leading in to the festival, “Willkommen zum Oktoberfest.” We made it! Friday was the first day and kick-off of the huge festival. A parade begins in the morning through the streets of Munich and ends a little after noon in one of the major beer tents where the mayor has the honor of tapping the first keg of beer for the festival. We were lucky to be attending on the first day as there was much excitement and a great atmosphere to be a part of altogether.
We walked under the big “Oktoberfest” sign and in to the fairgrounds to begin our mission: getting in to a tent. There are 14 beer tents at the festival. Some are larger than others, but most have the same rules. Reservations are required for many of the long wooden tables inside the tent. Some tables are reserved year after year by the same family or group. Each beer tent is owned by a different family or company and is free to reserve their tables to anyone they choose. We went in with this knowledge and after much Google searching, we discovered a few secrets of obtaining a seat in a tent. We chose one and waited close to the door as there are a few tables in each tent that are general admission, first come first serve. We eventually were able to enter the Lowenbrau tent and joined a table to order our first liters of beer. Yes, liters! Each beer is served in a liter mug and has an alcohol content of about 6.2%. We made a few new friends at the table, chatted for a while, then after a couple of liters, we were ready to try the food.
Traditional German Bavarian dishes are served in all of the tents and all throughout the fairgrounds. Our favorite dish was pig knuckle with potato dumplings, called Schweinshaxe. Throughout our three-day festival experience, we enjoyed bratwurst, Spatzle (noodles with cheese and crispy onions on top), roasted duck, and a huge doughnut the size of a pizza.
Before going, I had a completely different perception of how Oktoberfest was staged. The entire festival is on a fairgrounds site called Theresienwiese. While there, we learned that the locals of Munich call the festival, “Theresienwiese,” after the name of the ground site it resides on for the three weeks. Another misconception was that Oktoberfest is in the month of October. Which is partly untrue, this year it took place from September 19th – October 3rd. The festival is free to attend and is separated by a long road filled with food vendors and souvenir stands. On one side of the street, all of the beer tents are lined. On the other side, a plethora of fair games reside including, go carts, roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, and more.
Despite the lack of care (created in part by the pints of beer), we received numerous “looks” because we were not dressed in the appropriate attire: dirndls and lederhosen. Most of the festival-goers dress in this legendary and customary attire. Lederhosen is worn by men and Dirndl dresses are worn by women. The women wear a bow around the apron portion on the dress to signify their relationship status. A bow tied on the left signals that the woman is single. A bow on the right means taken, and a bow tied in the middle means that the woman is a virgin. We are now on the hunt for our costumes for next year!
The beer corpse hill cannot go without mentioning as well. There is a small hill at one of the ends of the festival where it is notorious to stumble to for a quick nap before heading back for more beer. It’s also an entertaining ground for the more sober people to poke fun at the corpses. Our favorite was a man who made a standing bed in help from a nearby tree.
Our three-day festival trip to Oktoberfest was a memorable one and will go on our list of must-do’s for next year. It is certainly a bucket list item for any wanderlust.