Copious amounts of beer, sausages and roller coasters. It may not sound like these three elements should easily go together but every year in Munich they combine magically to create Oktoberfest, the world’s biggest folk festival. But beware, Oktoberfest mainly takes place in September! In 2015, it runs in Germany’s third city from September 19 to October 4 on a vast festival ground filled with enormous beer tents and scary rides to the southwest of the centre.
“The Munich Oktoberfest is very difficult to describe in words. The unique atmosphere, the friendly people, the special feeling at the site - you just have to experience it for yourself,” Munich deputy mayor Josef Schmid told Hi Europe. “It is when Munich and Bavaria show our most sociable side, we welcome guests with the warmest of welcomes!”
The massive party has its origins in 1810 when Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The city of Munich has celebrated their anniversary ever since in increasingly grandiose style and the festival site was even named after the bride - Theresienwiese (Therese’s Fields). Nowadays locals refer to the now tarmaced site as simply Wiesn.
The reason the annual party gradually shifted from October to September is debated but experts believe the better weather in September was the major factor. Not that you need to stay outside in the sunshine to enjoy Oktoberfest. Most of the fun is had inside the giant beer tents erected especially for the occasion. There are 16 festival “halls” with seating for a mindboggling 118,000. But before you think about stepping into a tent and sampling Munich’s most famous exports of beer and sausage, you should consider enjoying the funfair first before you down the alcohol and munch on platefuls of “wurst”, otherwise you could end up feeling queasy.
There were 178 attractions at last year’s Oktoberfest to cater for everybody. Watch out for the Olympia ride, it has all five Olympic rings and yes you go upside down five times! Now to the beer. The halls are run by Munich’s big six brewers - Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Loewenbraeu, Paulaner, Spaten and Staatliches Hofbrauhaus – and they even produce special beers for the event. Prices are higher but the size of the beer glass is so huge (one litre) that you feel like you are getting value for money. Prices in 2015 will be a little over 10 euros for one beer.
You are not just paying for the alcohol but the ambience. There are fellow drinkers almost as far as the eye can see and music is played by the famous oompah bands in the middle of the beer tents throughout the day, with visitors often getting up and joining in the singing, especially when several beers have been drunk.
Traditional Bavarian costumes add to the party atmosphere. Tourists do not need to dress up but the men of Munich will don the ubiquitous and uncomfortable-looking short Lederhosen (leather trousers) while the local women and the waitresses wear dirndls, traditional Bavarian dresses which tend to create a large cleavage…
The food also makes the event special.
Obatzda is a Bavarian cream cheese while other classic dishes at Oktoberfest include roast chicken, radishes, spicy fish on a skewer and ox roasted on a spit. There is of course also every type of sausage you can imagine and the famous German pretzel breads.
It can get crowded though and getting a seat is difficult because German corporations book up huge swathes of the long benches for their employees. Luckily you can go online ahead of your visit and reserve benches but it is best to do it as early as possible. If you turn up on the day there are chances to sit down but you have to be eagle-eyed to grab a spot.
If the actual festival site is too packed, especially on weekends, there are other possibilities. “It is a bit commercialised now but the good thing about Bavaria is that every town has its own little Oktoberfest which is more traditional and community friendly. Everyone dresses up in old Bavarian dress, music is in the air and the beer tends to be a lot cheaper,” said Johanna Schlienz, a Bavarian and Oktoberfest regular.
Even in Munich itself the normal pubs have a festival feel even if they are not on site. The most famous Berlin beerhall, which is worth a visit anytime, is the cavernous Hofbrauhaus in the centre. However, don’t get confused and think this is the actual Oktoberfest as many drunken tourists do every year. Indeed, the Oktoberfest idea is so ingrained in people’s minds when they think of Germany that many other German cities outside the Bavaria region have cottoned on to the money-making potential of having their own festival.
Berlin turns its huge central Alexanderplatz into an Oktoberfest spectacular every year from September through October with the same elements the original has, if a little smaller. “At first I was annoyed when Berlin started copying Munich but it is a German thing now and it is what we are famous for so I thought ‘why not?’,” said Berlin resident Tim Ploke. “There are a lot worse things to be famous for than lots of people having fun together. I especially love the special brews made for Oktoberfest – they are extra alcoholic!”