One of the world’s most famous and well-attended festivals, Oktoberfest has become synonymous with Munich. As many as 6 million people flock to the Bavarian city every year to join in what can only be described as the Beer festival to end all Beer festivals!
Oktoberfest originated as far back as 1810 – October 18th to be precise. Back then, though, it was a very different occasion; a Royal marriage, in fact. Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become king, and his new bride Princess Therese held a prestigious horse race to commemorate their union on October 12th. Since 1818 beers have been supplied to the festival by the ‘Big Six’ breweries, although originally much darker than the lagers we are accustomed to today. The horse races continued to be run until 1960, by which time the Oktoberfest had become well-known internationally.
The main location of the Oktoberfest is the Theresienwiese Festival Ground – named after the aforementioned princess – or ‘Wies’n’ as it’s more likely to be called by Munich people. Here you’ll find the fourteen main beer tents. However, if the phrase ‘beer tent’ conjures up an image of a small tent at a village fête, you’d be so very wrong. The Hofbräu tent is reputed to be the most raucous of them all and the Fischer-Vroni tent reckons to have the best food – and not simply the sausage, ox and chicken that seem to be everywhere around the city. The Hippodrom – which might well be the first tent you see as you enter the site – although one of the smallest tents is said to be one of the friendliest. Each tent has its own atmosphere and own specialities. Apparently, local residents like to keep the Augustiner-Festhalle tent a secret because they consider that its beer – in wooden kegs rather than stainless steel – is generally reckoned to be the best.
Whichever tent you choose, though, you’ll see backpackers and the luxury traveller side by side, along with Bavarians fully decked out in their lederhosen and sennerhut all merrily drinking beer.
Since 2005, tents have been instructed to play music at restricted sound levels, to try to make them more accessible for older people and families until 6 pm. It’s after this time that things can begin to get rowdier.
Although most people know of the beer-drinking element of Oktoberfest, there is more to it than just swilling lager. Folk lore groups parade through the streets and give concerts; there is an agricultural show and a fantastic fair ground fun fair.
Although it’s possible to get into some tents without a reservation – as long as you arrive early, before they become full – it is best to make reservations before you go. That way you can be certain of getting a seat and a table. Visitors can buy beer and food vouchers to use at the festival, although unused ones are also valid in taverns in the city.
With so many visitors accommodation in Munich is highly sought after. Your chances of locating something suitable, and at far cheaper prices, are raised by looking outside of the city itself. For such advice the Munich tourist office website is worth a look.
There are two excellent camping sites – Obermenzing and Thalkirchen – but again try to book early and the city provides additional parking spaces for people with motorhomes. Those driving cars into the city are recommended to use the abundant Park and Ride schemes as you approach Munich. Although the subways can obviously be very crowded, generally public transport is superb.
Often considered to be a beer drinker’s idea of Paradise, the Oktoberfest will surely be an occasion to remember – well, what you can actually remember of it. If you’re interested in attending the Oktoberfest then there is a comprehensive web site which gives full details for visitors.