“Excuse me, Which way is the Oktoberfest tent?”
Oktoberfest started last weekend. Just like last couple of years, it has brought with it a multitude of tourist, who end up crowding and closing many train stations at rush hour. Not fun!
However, the festival nature that engulfs the city for these 3 weeks is just as intoxicating as the beer the event is famous for. And having lived through the event for the last two years, I figured I would share some tips and tricks to make the most of the experience, as well as give a brief description of the event to the few visitors whose knowledge of Oktoberfest stems from movies such as Beerfest, and who have on a couple of occasions asked me the question above: “Which way is the Oktoberfest tent?”
So what is Oktoberfest?
You can read about the history of the event here.
In its current form, it is essentially the world’s biggest fun fair/carnival. It takes place every year for 3 weeks, in the end of September, on a large open space about 420,000 square meters, or roughly the size of Vatican City, or 70% of the floor area of the Pentagon (Imagine a beer festivals in Pentagon). It consists of rides including Ferris wheels and roller coasters, side stalls with bunch of games and loads of delicious food, and tents serving Oktoberfest beer.
It is the last thing which really makes Oktoberfest what it is I guess. So to answer the question, there is no single Oktoberfest tent. There are actually 14 big tents and 21 small tents (as of 2014): all of which have different beers and different atmosphere. In addition to the tents, there are also outdoor sitting areas next to some of the tents, aka, beer-gartens.
Another thing to note is that only Oktoberfest beer is served at Oktoberfest. This is beer with certain alcoholic properties, and which are made within the greater Munich area. There are 6 Oktoberfest breweries, so you don’t get that much option, but the beer that is served at Oktoberfest is often more alcoholic than their regular counterparts, so there is that.
Okay.. now that the introduction is done, time for the tips and tricks. To start off with:
Don’t follow the crowd
Maybe the first time you are going to Munich and to Oktoberfest, just follow the crowd. It is probably also wise to do this if you are already drunk and heading home.
But if you are sober, and decent enough at navigating, break away. Oktoberfest is huge, and has multiple entrances all around it so go for one of these. These are usually less crowded than the “main” entrance at Theresienwiese U-Bahn stop and will allow you to see more of Oktoberfest.
My personal favorite is U3 or U6 from Marienplatz station going towards “Sendlinger Tor” and stopping at “Gotheplatz”. This entrance is also very close to the most fun rides at Oktoberfest, and to my favorite nuts shop.
Explore multiple tents
As I mentioned, there are a lot of tents, and they all have a different character to them, in addition to serving different beers. Schottenhamel is worth visiting for tourists since its full of young people and plays a lot of commercial music (check this out). You will definitely find a lot of English-speaking people in Hofbräu whereas in Löwenbräu you will get to hear a lot of really cool German folk songs sitting among older people who are fully dressed up.
If you are in Munich for just a single day then go for it, but otherwise pace yourself. It’s a 3 week-long event, so loads of opportunities to explore different parts of it if you are here for long. Also, resist the temptation on going on a “nausea inducing” ride after you have just spent countless hours drinking beer.
You can always come back the next day to go on the ride.
Don’t drink and drive
Well… Just don’t!
Don’t go to the event after having a tooth removal.
You would think this is pretty straight forward, but it actually is not. One one hand there is potential of getting an infection since your body does not get rest and is in close proximity to large number of people. On the other hand, alcohol kills things. But just to be safe, wait for next year if you just had your tooth removed.
Unless you have already reserved a table in advance, the entrance into the tents is usually free. You can try to bribe the guards, but this hardly ever works and they might refuse to let you in afterwards so I would not recommend it. However, if you just arrive early enough and wait a bit, you will get in. Afternoons are good time for this when all the people who went early in the morning have had enough.
… Or Be Creative
Though, sometimes there can be huge waiting lines to get in to a particular tent, at which point you can either go to a different tent, or be creative.
You can pretend to cry a little and mention your friends are inside. This tend to have different success rates for different genders.
The other approach is to get someone inside to come to the door and claim you are their partner/friend and then try to get you in.
Of course, these tricks only work on doors without a line otherwise the doormen would not want to show any “weakness” in front of all the other people waiting in line.
You can order a Maß (pronounced mass) to get a liter of beer or a Hendl to get some roast chicken at Wiesn (what locals call Oktoberfest). It is good to know some words even if you just have to point to them on the menu.
Weisn = Oktoberfest
Lederhosen = Leather pants
Dirndl = Traditional female dress
Maß = 1 litre beer
Hendl = Roast Chicken
Schweinebraten = roast pork
Schweinshaxe = grilled ham hock
Steckerlfisch = grilled fish on a stick
Würstl = sausages
Breze = pretzel
Knödel = potato or bread dumplings
Käsespätzle = cheese noodles
Weisswurst = white sausage
A lot of Germans sit around and drink beer in beer gardens throughout the year. Another special thing about Oktoberfest is that they actually dress up in Lederhosen and Dirndl for it. So dress up and immerse yourself into the Oktoberfest. However, be careful when it comes to tying the knot on the apron of dirndl. A modern interpretation assigns meaning to the location of the knot. A knot on the left side suggests single, on the right suggests committed, in front suggests virginity and behind suggests widowhood.
Stay for Angels
Angels by Robbie Williams is not only my favorite songs but also a favorite in a lot of Oktoberfest tents. It is amazing to see all the Germans stand up and sing the song, so make sure you stay there long enough to hear it. In case it does not happen, here is a video: