Wow. What I thought was going to be an over-hyped anti-climax was a fantastic weekend of close-to-civilised merriment, German culture, festive trachten (costumes) and, of course, delicious flowing beer. And that’s saying something, as I usually don’t drink beer. I also discovered there is a lot to know about and organise before you go, so I wanted to share my experience and tips to help out others.
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is an annual festival held in Munich, Germany and millions of people come from around the world to dress up, dance and drink lots of beer in themed tents. It was first held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of a local prince and princess.
My Oktoberfest tips
- Try and book a table in a tent. If you can’t book one on an official tent website, have a look on eBay. You may think it looks expensive to pay €400 for one table, but that is for 10 people and includes €30 worth of food and drink vouchers each. It means you can get there later, avoid queues, and sit in a nice area of the tent.
- If you really don’t want to book a table, either go during the week, or get to your tent of choice at 6.30am or 7am to queue for a table on the weekend.
- Drink Radler, a mix of lemonade and beer, if you’re not a big beer fan, or you don’t want to get too drunk. The only drawback is they cost the same as a full 1 litre beer (about €9), despite having less beer in them. Alcohol-free beer is also available.
- If you don’t speak German, I suggest downloading a German dictionary app on your cellphone to look up food on the menus, or make some German friends to help you out!
- As well as enjoying the beer tents, make sure you check out the awesome rides and games in the amusement park.
- Take cash as you cannot use credit cards in the tents or at the stalls and amusement rides.
- If you are buying your costumes, shop around for dirndls (women’s costumes) under €60 and lederhosen (men’s costumes) under €100. If you’re shopping in Munich, shops a bit further from the city centre are cheaper – I saw dirndls for about €40 on Haberlstraße near Goetheplatz.
- Ladies – make sure you tie your apron strings to correspond with your relationship status. Front right means in a relationship, front left means single, and front centre means you’re a virgin. Tying it at the back means you’re a widow, or a beer server.
My fiancé and I were lucky enough to be invited to Munich by a lovely German friend we had met in Pisa, Italy (that’s another story) for the first weekend of Oktoberfest. She took us trachten shopping in Berlin a few days earlier, which was an awesome experience in itself. My friend and I had endless fun trying on various cuts of dirndl, until I found a vintage one with the perfect amount of cleavage at the reasonable price of €45. We were a bit shocked at the prices of the lederhosen, so my fiancé decided to just buy the h-shaped braces to attach to some other shorts.
Our journey to Munich began at 4.20am on Friday, when we hopped on the sumptuous ICE train with our bargain €26 tickets – more civilised times cost up to €125 each! We lounged and napped on the comfy leather chairs until 11.30am when we arrived in München (German word for Munich). As soon as we got off the train we saw people wearing dirndls and lederhosen, and every second shop was selling them, even though Oktoberfest didn’t officially begin until the next day. I realised I had got a good price for mine, as most of the dirndls were between €70 to €150.
Oktoberfest day 1
On Saturday we woke up to a beautiful morning, and a traditional Oktoberfest breakfast of beer and pretzels which our German hosts had prepared! The combination of strong coffee and beer first thing was dizzying but delicious! My friend and I spent an hour putting our hair into complicated traditional-style braids before everyone was ready to head for the Weisn (a nickname for the festival) grounds.
It was overwhelming arriving at the expansive area filled with enormous temporary fairground rides and giant beer tents and biergartens. We felt like we fit right in, seeing and smiling at all the other people in trachten. Arriving at midday as we did meant no chance of getting a table in one of the tents, but our German friends had plans to take us to a cute shady biergarten just outside the Weisn area. We met up with other New Zealand and German friends and got our first round of Maß – 1 litre jugs of beer. Or in my case I ordered Radler, a delicious mix of beer and lemonade popular with ladies and anyone who doesn’t want to get drunk too fast. All the beer served at Oktoberfest has to be between 6 and 8 percent alcohol so one Maß of beer is the equivalent of 5 or 6 New Zealand standard drinks or closer to eight UK drink units. I think I had three jugs of Radler on Saturday, which was a good amount spread out over about six hours. In the evening we explored the Weisn grounds – had a dance in a cocktail tent, went on the bumper cars, shot some targets and watched our friends do a vertical fear fall. After drinking all day everyone was keen to get home early-ish, have some food and go to bed.
Oktoberfest day 2
On Sunday our friends had reserved a table in Löwenbrauhaus tent. It was unbelievably awesome! We had to be there by midday to get the table, which was up on a raised area far away from the rowdy drunken tourists (mainly Australians and New Zealanders), and with a great view of the 20-something-piece live band/orchestra. I decided it was time I had a proper 1 litre of beer. It was actually really delicious and easy to drink. I think German beer must be especially good. And all the Oktoberfest beers are brewed in Bavaria – the region of Germany where Munich is.
I was feeling pretty tipsy after one full Maß, and really getting into the songs our German friends were teaching us. “Ein prosit, ein prosit, gemütlichkeit” was a favourite, meaning “a toast, a toast, a cosy time”. Another one was something about jumping and swimming and had an easy “la la la la la” part in it. After that I stuck to Radlers, but others who carried on with full beer felt the consequences!
We ended our day on the haunted house ride in the Oktoberfest grounds. It was cheesy but fun!