Most people say that one of best experiences in Germany is to try visiting Munich during Oktoberfest. For those of you who didn’t know, Munich, or München (as it is called in German), is where Oktoberfest was born! And for those who don’t know what Oktoberfest is (Good Lord!), it’s the world’s largest Volksfest, or beer fest and fun fair.
Held in annually, it is a huge crowd puller. Through the last two weeks i September right up to the first weekend in October, the big fairground, or Wiesn, at Theresa’s Meadows, is bustling with visitors from all over the world going crazy guzzling on beer. Rumour has it that over 6 million people attend every year – I think it might even be 8 million! Here’s everything you need to know about Oktoberfest.
My son studied in Munich so I had a chance to visit a few years ago. The rush of people trying to get into the various biergartens all over the fairground blew me away – quite literally.
Bikes & Chariots of Beer
Outside the ground, it’s also mayhem. There are chariots drawn by huge horses with the massive feet where you can sit and guzzle beer. I even tried the beer bike. These are like pubs on wheels where you can drink beer, sit on the bike and pedals. People with similar ideas join the big bike, and on the count of 3, you begin to pedal (not furiously). Then, the big bike like chariot begins to slowly move along.
The guy who steers is almost always the sober one – the others sing loudly. Ss their hands are free, they can use them to lift jars of beer to their mouths! It’s so much fun and I thought I’d have to strap myself in so that I didn’t fall on the street and get stomped by a passing horse! The beer bikes go around the streets around the Wiesn, and this actually inspires all the non-drinkers to go to the fair.
The rides are amazing – from the biggest Ferris wheel I’ve ever seen (other than the London Eye) to carousels, the place is so alive. Didn’t go on any – as there was a serious risk of a projectile!
Oktoberfest and Outfits
Most visitors wear the traditional Bavarian outfit when they go to the Wiesn. Girls wear the Dirndl (designed to highlight certain assets !) and boys the Lederhosen. I had to buy my son one of those – they are basically knee length dungaree shorts in leather with a checked shirt. I skipped the costume as it’s not engineered to flatter my more robust figure!! The first Sunday of Oktoberfest is crowded – people come to see the parade which has representation from different neighbouring countries – band’s, flag wavers, costumed folks etc. All very colourful and worth a watch – especially with a beer mast in your hand.
I understand there are tours which organise visits to the Oktoberfest. You have conducted tours from Italy, France, England etc. And how do I know that? Because I can recognize flags of different countries! My old geography teacher, Mrs Saldandha, will be so proud of me!
Adventures in the Beer Tents
There are hundreds of beer tents on the fairground. You can go to Paulaner, Lowenbrau, Augustiner Brau, Hacker–Pschorrbrau, amongst many others. And invariably, there are long queues of folks waiting to get in. I went with a friend and when we saw the queue, we realized it was going to be too long a wait for two almost senior citizens. So, we decided to crawl through the hedge!
We walked around the Augustiner Biergarten and found a reasonably big hole in the hedge (we made it bigger of course once we’d crawled through!). My friend went through first. I had to push her through, seeing I was younger and maybe a bit stronger, and I heard a lot of clapping and cheering. When I went through very hesitantly I saw about 5-6 men standing there with hands outstretched to help pull me up!
Drinking with Strangers
After a lot of cheering and hugging strangers, someone put a huge jug of beer in my hand, shouted Prost (or cheers) and said: “drink up”. I could barely lift the mast – truly it was big and heavy – so I stuck my nose in it and slurped up some foam. That led to more laughter until someone kindly got me a half mast so that I could drink in peace. It’s amazing how the waitresses carry 6-7 masts in each hand – I couldn’t even lift one. Something I’m not very proud of.
God knows who those people were, but we sat at their table and regaled them with the story of how we had skulked around the Biergarten and found the hole in the hedge and hoisted ourselves through.
Spicing Up The German Food
Once we had drunk enough, we staggered out and decided to eat some yum caramelized nuts. That may have contributed to us feeling nice and happy and perhaps a bit high! You also get big heart-shaped cookies which are rather tasty. You can also eat Bratwurst or chicken legs in a brown sauce at these biergartens. Not my kind of food – a bit insipid for the Indian palate. But I’d gone fully prepared; I pulled out some chilli flakes and hot pepper to make is spicy to my liking and licked the sauce off my plate.
We went on to another couple of biergartens and entered legally as we were in no position to crawl anywhere other than home. Since I’m not usually a beer drinker I thought I wouldn’t like the guzzling. But guess what? I enjoyed every single moment. My son was very disapproving of his slightly lurching mum – we met up at the gate so that he could take me home – but once he saw I was smiling and so happy, he lightened up a bit! Seriously when this reversal in roles happens, one must be firm and say, Back off son, I’m a big girl now…at least I think that’s what I said!
So try visiting Munich during Oktoberfest if you can – it’s a whole lot of fun and quite the experience. In the meantine, why not read more about Munich.