An Oktoberfest Survival Guide: Tips, advice and more!

OctoberfestInterested in paying homage to Bavaria’s favourite beverage?  Well if you hurry there is still time to get yourself to Oktoberfest in Munich before the festivities conclude on October 4th.

We’ve got some tried, tested and true Oktoberfest advice to ensure your experience runs more smoothly than the author’s last attempt at conquering Europe’s biggest beer bash. So strap on your lederhosen or dust off your dirndl and let’s go!

Have you’ve always dreamt of partying at Oktoberfest in Munich? Well don’t worry; you’ve got tons of time to prepare. As everybody knows, Oktoberfest takes place in October and I’m sure you can just show up and party with little to no planning, right?

Well I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you couldn’t be any more misinformed. Oktoberfest actually begins on Saturday, September 19, 2009 with the ceremonial tapping of the first keg by the lord mayor of Munich.  While the early bird may get the worm, you still have a little time to get to Munich to give that aforementioned worm a tutorial in partying 101. 

Learn From My Mistakes!

They say that the best way to learn about something is to tackle it head on and then learn from your mistakes. As an eager beer enthusiast, I spent years dreaming about visiting Munich’s autumn-inspired kegfest. While I planned ahead and booked a hotel room six months in advance, there were still several lessons that I unfortunately learned the hard way. While I may not have survived Oktoberfest, I can certainly guarantee that you will if you follow my trusted advice. 

Just the Facts

Originally held to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 18, 1810, today Oktoberfest in Munich is known as the largest “people’s fair” in the entire world.  The festival draws over 6 million visitors in but 16 frenetic days of eating, drinking and amusements. During this time almost 7 million liters of beer are knocked back, and more than 500,000 chickens and 140,000 pairs of sausages are wolfed down by locals and visitors alike. 

OctoberfestBook hotels and train tickets well in advance

Ok, so it may be a little late to pre-book a hotel now, but don’t let having a place to sleep at night become a deal breaker. Hotel rooms in and around central Munich fill up months in advance, and even camp groups tend to be maxed out during the festival. As every Bavarian, and Italian for that matter is as interested in the festival as you are, don’t expect to find a comfortable, cheap place to stay right around the corner from d’ Wiesn. Also if you do book well ahead, be prepared for special “festival pricing”. The Disney-themed family room I accidentally booked in the commuter suburb of Pasing was no bargain at over 100€ a night – and that was with significant advanced booking.

Hotels of all prices and styles in the beautiful and historic city of Nürnberg, but an hour outside of Munich by high-speed rail are still readily available. At the time of writing, numerous discounted rooms in Nürnberg could be found on the Hotel Deals section of Augsburg, Ingolstadt, Landshut and Rosenheim are also popular alternative accommodation choices for party-goers who can’t find a place to stay in central Munich. 

Trains always fill up during the festivals, so you’d be wise to plan your time and make rail reservations in advance of travelling. The Deutsche Bahn website is easy to use, and is an imperative website to have bookmarked prior to travelling. Here you can check schedules, travel times between cities, and most importantly, make online reservations. It may come as no surprise that most high-speed and long distance trains in Germany require seat reservations to be made at an extra cost. Simply showing up, buying a ticket and sitting wherever you’d like doesn’t fly in Germany.

Prepare a Battle Plan:

Hacker-FestzeltDo a little homework and create a list of the tents, events and activities that you want to visit. Each tent offers a unique atmosphere and supplies visitors their own special niche. 

For instance the Hacker-Festzelt is a larger tent that features a beautifully painted ceiling known as “the heaven of Bavaria”.  The Schottenhamel is where the first keg is tapped and is a popular choice amongst younger people. Those looking for sekt (German sparkling wine) and a trendier tent that is popular with European celebs you’ve probably never heard of will like the Hippodrom. The foreign backpacker crowd most often frequents the Hofbräu-Festzelt, while the local favourite is often considered to be the Augustiner-Festhalle, where excellent beer is served straight from wooden barrels as opposed to stainless steel kegs. 

Show up early on the days you want to attend. 

There is one very important rule to remember at Oktoberfest: no seat means no beer. To avoid wandering around a packed tent sober as a judge while every one around you appears to be having the time of their lives, you must arrive early. Now early has a different meaning to different people, so I’ll spell it out for you.  Make sure you arrive at your desired beer tent by 2pm on weekdays, and well before noon on weekends. Try to avoid the opening weekend of the festival all together if you can. 

Despite attending on a weekday, my group wandered around several tents for almost two hours looking for seats. After trying to sneak in to a corporate section under the false claim that we were with “Herr Meyer” and after a run-in with some annoyed German businessmen, we finally gave up and sat outside on an unseasonably cold September evening. While it was still a great time, the frigid beer garden lacked the rousing music, singing, dancing and overall atmosphere of the massive tent just beyond our reach. 

Don’t forget your Credit Card

While it costs nothing to enter the grounds or the beer Big pan of German Sausagetents, pulling up some picnic table and enjoying a delicious liter of lager will certainly hit you in pocket book. As a matter of fact, the official price for a liter of delicious lager will run you between 8.10 €and 8.60 € this year. That’s roughly $12 American for a beer, but keep in mind that it is a very large beer. Food prices within the tents also involve some gouging, but this is to be expected when you have a captive market of thirsty beer drinkers looking to satisfy the munchies.

Make sure to grab a souvenir or two. Trachten wear or traditional German costumes cannot be found cheaply (despite our best efforts) and honestly, when will you actually wear calf skin lederhosen again?  Souvenir mugs are sturdy enough to survive the trip back home, and they’ll look fantastic in your kitchen or on your mantle. Don’t try and steal glasses from the tents because if you get caught you will be dealt with in a stern Germanic manner. As a matter of fact, thieves may be fined up to €50 for each glass they are caught with. Please note that this particular event did not happen to the writer of this article for a change. Honestly! I purchased my stein legally from a souvenir stand.

Don’t try to be a hero. 

Sure you can out drink your new middle-aged German friends. I know that, you know that, but you don’t have to try and prove it to them. Yes they are in their forties and you are young, fit and straight out of college, but they have experience, wisdom and canny on their side. Oktoberfest beer, or Märzen, is brewed to a higher strength than conventional lager, and the 1-litre steins account for more than 3 American-sized bottles of beer for each large frothy glass you quaff. If you arrive early, you’ll have plenty of time to get to work on drinking your massive Maß of Oktoberfest beer. 

Give yourself several days in Munich 

There is a lot to see around Munich that doesn’t involve Oktoberfest. You’ll find the city alive with history, art and much old-world charm. If you are looking for the same hearty Bavarian atmosphere that you’ll find within the beers tents at the festival, you can simply seek out on the city’s famous beer halls. Most travellers visit the world famous Hofbräuhaus, which is so popular that they have opened satellite beer halls of the same name all around the world. The Augustiner Keller in the old town features beautiful vaulted ceilings, walls adorned with hunting trophies and some of the best food and drink this side of Düsseldorf.

Lessons Learned from 2008

In closing I suggest that you give yourself at least 3 or 4 days in Munich to take in both Oktoberfest and the city itself. It is my advice to commute to the festivals from outside of Munich. Pre-book your train tickets to avoid disappointment and travel with at least one type-A personality who would rather die than miss the train back home. Arrive as early as possible in order to find seats (and seats together) and take things nice and slow so as to soak up as much Oom Pa Pa as possible.


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