Picture the scene. You land in Munich, Germany, in September, armed with a pocket of Euros and an invitation to one of the most spirited parties in the world. You’ll be joined by millions of people from all over the globe, who have all flocked to this wonderful city for two main reasons- to enjoy some of the finest beers Germany can offer and party long into the night. Is there anything more you could possibly want?
If the answer is no, then you might like to look into visiting the state of Bavaria for Oktoberfest. From September to the first week in October, the city is brought to life as tents that fit thousands of people supply litres of beer from pint glasses, steins and even boots.
Prepare to drink alongside burly, moustached old men and waitresses dressed in Dirndls. Account for re-adjusting your snug pair of lederhosen socks (yes, it is customary) as you tuck into a platter of pork knuckles or slabs of ox. And when morning comes, you can bank on dragging yourself out of the hotel for another night on the tiles. All of this can be expected during a week in which locals tick just about every stereotype imaginable.
Oktoberfest might make for a curious celebration, but it’s not all that confusing to plan, book or enjoy. If you’re thinking about making a trip yourself, here’s what you need to know.
What on earth?
Oktoberfest traditionally starts in the third weekend of September and lasts up until the first weekend of October. While Britain likes to send off the year with a bang on New Year’s Eve, Munich uses its biggest party of the year to reel in October. There is however a good reason behind the odd timing.
Oktoberfest came about when Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, later known as King Ludwig I, wanted the people of his state to join him in celebrating his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810.
Historians say the very first party drew over 40,000 guests – a small crowd compared to the 6.4 million that flocked to the celebration in 1997, but still pretty good going. Copious amounts of beer were consumed and a horse race through the city provided the main attraction.
That’s since been abandoned, although several characteristics of the early celebrations remain. Alcohol is still served by the bucket-load, but attendees are now advised to pace themselves to some extent. That’s because Oktoberfest now lasts 16 days, starting in the first week of September and ending the first Sunday in October.
What to do?
In truth, there’s little more to do at Oktoberfest than drink excessively, eat excessively, sing excessively and laugh until your jaw decides it’s time for a rest. It’s the tradition and atmosphere that draws millions of people into the city, so you’re better off visiting Munich at a quieter period if you’re only thinking about joining in.
You’ll find the tents are the main attraction and they’re all free to access, which means you can pretty much conduct a tour of the city centre by hopping between them.
You can try a quick amble through the fairground to catch a breather in between the drinking. This surrounds all of the tents and is a delightful option to explore in the evenings.
The Costume and Rifleman’s Parade is also worth a watch. Usually occurring in mid-September, this sees thousands of costumed performers, musicians, horses and farmyard animals parading through the city centre to a fanfare of cheers. Then around week later, there’s an open-air concert featuring around 400 bands to celebrate Oktoberfest’s traditional opening weekend.
Of course, the festival format and programme changes every year and it’s always best to swot up on what’s going to be around before you set your plans in stone.
Food and drink
The beer tents at Oktoberfest will knock spots off the ones at your local village fete. Each structure fits in thousands of visitors around shared wooden tables, with waitresses on hand to provide table service and take your order.
It’s not all plain sailing, though. You’ll note that these tents hold thousands and Oktoberfest attracts millions. The tents will serve until 11:30pm but tend to open very early in the morning. Such is the popularity of Oktoberfest that it’s quite hard to get seated at any time past 11am, so you might want to consider getting out of bed a little earlier to guarantee a pew.
A litre of beer comes in at around nine Euros and that’s all you’ll need to join the choruses of cheers and clanks with drinkers bellowing “Prost” (cheers) with every hit of their glass.
The beer is often stronger than your average pint at home, so fill yourself with plenty of local cuisine as you drink. You can have the waitresses serve up snacks like pickles, cheese and radishes, or quite literally go the whole hog with a serving of pig knuckles or bratwurst. Just ensure you can move enough to raise your glass.
Interested? Good. The biggest stretch of your journey is likely to be from your nearest airport across to Munich’s very own hub. When you get there, it’s best to get into the city centre via the local public transport network. Going by car is not recommended as there are almost no parking options during Oktoberfest and far too many crowds of people to contend with.
On to your roof for the week, and if you’ve not booked your hotel before August then you can expect to be disappointed. Oktoberfest is hugely popular among the locals but gigantic crowds still flock from all over the country to sample the famous party atmosphere.
It’s popularity is one of the main reasons why Oktoberfest is so worthy of its billing, but – unlike your holiday insurance (try Columbus Direct) - you’ll need to book your hotels and flights way in advance to avoid getting stung by the crowds.
If you’re planning your trip in spring or even winter, give yourself a pat on the back; you’ve got the luxury of being able to pick where you stay. The five-star Mandarin Oriental Munich is one of the best hotels in the city and a perfect spot to pitch up if you fancy the idea of luxury living.
The Anna Hotel is one of the most acclaimed in the mid-range price bracket. It’s also right next to the train station in the city centre, so you won’t have to worry too much about getting there or staggering back late at night.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind missing out on the scented pillows and extra digital TV channels, you can save a fair amount of money by staying at one of Germany’s Motel One budget hotels. Double rooms are just over £50 per night if you book well in advance – just think of all the steins you can fill up with the savings!
One final note: just remember to look people in the eye as you clash your glasses together. It’s bad manners to keep your head down and look as if you’re not thoroughly enjoying yourself, so always let your emotions show. Prost!