A week from today in Munich, Germany Oktoberfest begins! Walking the streets beer in hand you’ll often be surrounded by merry singing men in lederhosen and beautiful girls and women of all ages donning their favorite dirndl. It’s been months of preparation and anticipation as people have watched the over 30 giant beer tents and numerous rides being built. Oktoberfest is more than just beer.It’s a cultural celebration and the biggest carnival or fair I have ever attended. I was fortunate enough to attend the 200th celebration of Oktoberfest in 2010.
Here are some interesting things I’ve learned from attending Oktoberfest and living in Germany:
1. Why is Oktoberfest in September, and how did it start?
Many people wonder how Oktoberfest began and why it isn’t in October! It all began in October 1810 with the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. They held a giant party near Munich that became was so popular it became a traditional local event every year, and eventually world-famous. It begins on Saturday in September and usually extends 16-18 days until the first Sunday in October. It may be slightly extended if the national holiday Unity Day(Oct 3rd) falls on a Sunday after the first Sunday in October. The original purpose of Oktoberfest drinking was to drink up all the old stocks of beer and make room for the new harvest. This was before proper refrigeration! Beer was often brewed from October to March. It was not made during the hot season, because they didn’t have a way to stop it from turning stale in the heat. The only way the brewers knew how to preserve it was to add extra alcohol to the final batches as a preservative. In this time of better weather and celebration it was a perfect way to drink up the old supplies and prepare for the new! In a way it’s called Oktoberfest to celebrate the new harvest starting in October.
2. Oktoberfest is more than just beer
When many people think of Oktoberfest they think of beer, and while that is the main attraction there is so much more! There are several really cool parades to watch. On the first Saturday of the event all of the Beer tents make their entrance to the events. The parade displays historic horse-drawn carriages, traditional floats, and the Oktoberfest bands! At exactly noon the mayor of Munich taps the first keg and after a loud shout of “It is tapped” and a 12 gun salute the beer can start flowing. The fest has officially begun. On Sunday is my favorite parade of the event. It is the Oktoberfest costume and Riflemen’s parade. It is a 3 mile procession displaying the colorful Bavarian history, culture and traditions. They display regional costumes, ‘troops’ in historical uniforms, marching bands, horses, riflemen, oxen, cows, goats, and over 7000 performers. They often show off harvest garlands, ribboned trees and historic craftsmen tools! On the 200th celebration parade they even had displayed the different costumes over the decades.
Some little known secrets and fun facts:
1. Always take the public transit to the event:
Unless you live close enough to walk you should plan on taking the trains and subways. The system runs every ten minutes and is the best way to go. If you try to get a taxi…you could be waiting a while. You will have to expect crowds no matter what, but at least this will prepare you for the event you are about to attend! 🙂
2. Go early in the day and on weekdays if possible:
The weekends are of course very popular and overcrowded. If you are able to go during the week I would highly recommend it. Perhaps you can spend the weekends enjoying the parades and if you choose to go to the event choose to remain outside the beer tents and explore the many food options! The fest is full of delicious food and entertaining rides for adults and children alike.
3.How to get into the beer tents:
If you are trying to get inside a beer tent you will have to plan on getting there 2-3 hours before they even open to have a shot getting in the front door before it fills up. They only let people in as others leave after that, and that could be hours…to never. 🙂 Another thing to note is they will not serve you beer if you are not seated at a table, so I would not plan on “hoping for at least” standing room. My friend and I were waiting outside for over an hour to meet our friends inside until someone let us in on the ‘secret’. Look for side doors! Oftentimes there will be less crowds or an unexpected entrance. We went into a door that some people were using to go outside and pee or smoke and wasn’t being overly controlled. We slipped inside in less than 5 minutes. Another note..smoking isn’t allowed inside, but we did see some people sneaking until caught. If you must go outside to have that cigarette…you run the risk of not getting back in.
4. Don’t wear flip-flops!
Part of the fun of Oktoberfest is dressing up. If for some reason you can’t find the perfect shoes to go with that Dirndl or Lederhosen don’t think you should wear flip-flops. This is more than just a style no-no it’s dangerous! There is often broken glass on the floor.
5. If you have to go to bathroom plan ahead:
The line for the bathroom is always long. The women’s AND the men’s. I have to tell you too that people take these lines SERIOUSLY. Not only are people intoxicated, but they really, really gotta go. I saw more than one fight break out when people tried to cut in line.Don’t wait until you’re gonna burst to go.
6. Make it last: This isn’t your average beer and with it coming to you in the liters you really need to space your drinks! Try and order a pretzel and water in between liters so that you can make it through the whole event. Believe me…you will thank yourself later.
7. Budget for beer:
Like any theme park, concert, or sporting event things are often overpriced. You can plan to spend around 8 or 9 euros per beer. Plan ahead! Unless your lucky enough to be a girl..(sometimes wearing a dirndl and be surrounded by drunk men does have it’s advantages) or you know someone with a bracelet(free beer and food often from their company) you will be spending a lot of money! The food, mostly the chicken, is to die for! Another thing to do is to think like you do at home before you go to a bar…buy some booze ahead. There are people selling beer outside the event for as little as one euro! 🙂 This will save you some money.
Some fun facts…..
- The bands play a prost song (or cheers, etc) in every tent every 7 minutes, and every time the song is played, the fest makes over 3,000€ because of how much beer is consumed by everyone prosting and taking a gulp.
- Every year there is a pair of dentures left in the lost and found
- Established Oktoberfest workers make about 14,000€ during the Fest (in only 16 days). That is 19,000 US dollars. Hence, the reason, I really should have stayed and worked there! 😦 You have to apply for the job a year in advance, and know at least basic German.
Oktoberfest in Munich is an amazing event that you should attend at least once in your life. As with any cultural event the discoveries are endless….
What secrets and little known facts do you know?