Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Germans seldom need an excuse to raise a frothy beer and exclaim “Prost!” But each autumn a new Oktoberfest rolls around, giving locals and tourists as good a reason as any to raise a toast and have another drink.

Diners in Bavarian Dress, Oktoberfest, Germany (photo credit: GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski)

Diners in Bavarian Dress, Oktoberfest, Germany (photo credit: GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski)

Bavaria’s most famous festival is often called Wiesn by locals, a colloquialism referring to the Theresienwiese Park where the event has been held since its inception. Contrary to common belief, Oktoberfest begins in September, running from Sept. 20 to Oct. 5 in 2014.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You want to meet friendly people from across the globe at the world’s largest party.
  • You want to dig into the best traditional German beer and food on the planet.
  • You want your kids to experience a cool amusement park alongside children from all around the world. (Yes, there’s more than beer at Oktoberfest.)
  • Perfect for the traveler who wants a taste of quintessential Munich, including beer, sausages, polka music, dirndls and lederhosen.

Over the course of 16 days approximately 6.5 million guests will travel from destinations around the globe to descend upon Munich and take part in the world’s largest public festival.

Oktoberfest Beginnings

Germany’s quintessential festival began as a wedding celebration. On Oct. 12, 1810, Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese and invited all of Munich to celebrate the happy occasion in a meadow still known as Theresienwiese, or Therese’s Meadow. The party’s climax featured a horse race open to all Bavarians, an event so popular it was decided to hold the race annually each October.

No one’s sure just when the annual horse race evolved into the public party known primarily for its amusement park rides and beer (although beer was surely on that original wedding menu), but most think it was in in 1818. That was the year that Oktoberfest debuted three amusement rides and four little beer huts. By the 1870s, when carnival rides had blossomed throughout Germany, Oktoberfest benefitted from the new pastime. And those little beer huts morphed into full-fledged beer villages just 20 years later, each sponsored by distinct breweries under circus-style tents.

Oktoberfest’s popularity accounts for its ever-lengthening schedule. What began as a weekend wedding reception is today two weeks long, originally moved back into late September when the weather is predictably warmer and drier. In 2005 organizers extended the dates forward again to include October 3, German Unity Day, the national holiday of German reunification.

Modern Oktoberfest

Today, Oktoberfest is still held on the Theresienwiese and lays claim to being the world’s largest public festival. The festival still takes place in “tents,” the beer halls that spread across the festival grounds looking anything but temporary. Construction of the largest of these tents, with seating for more than 6,000 people, begins about a month prior to the opening of Oktoberfest.

Besides the enormous beer tents, visitors can expect over 200 amusement park rides. Carousels and haunted houses, Ferris wheels and giant swings are immensely popular with kids and adults. And since the amusement park action is separated somewhat from the drinking action, parents don’t have to worry too much about their little ones seeing anything in the way of über-partying.

Lebkuchen vendor, Oktoberfest, Germany (photo credit: GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski)

Lebkuchen vendor, Oktoberfest, Germany (photo credit: GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski)

Food is a big draw at Oktoberfest, too. Ammer’s tent has been serving up roast chicken and duck since 1885. The Wildstuben specializes in venison while Hochreiters Kalbsbraterei focuses on veal, the Ochsenbraterei dishes up ox dishes and Fischer Vroni specializes in grilled fish on a stick.

Grilled sausages and soft pretzels? You’ll find them in beer and food tents large and small everywhere you go at Oktoberfest. And when dinner is over, Café Kaiserschmarrn dishes up elaborate cakes and pastries for dessert. And all of the goodies paired with beer.

Oktoberfest and Beer

There’s no denying the role that beer plays in Oktoberfest. Yes, people enjoy the live music, the people-watching, the traditional German food, the amusement park rides, the vendors selling lederhosen and dirndls and giant Lebkuchen hearts. But also, there is beer. Enough to drown an army. 6.7 million liters of it in 2013.

Hacker-Pschorr Beer Tent, Oktoberfest, Germany (photo credit: GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski)

Hacker-Pschorr Beer Tent, Oktoberfest, Germany (photo credit: GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski)

Festivities kick off at noon on Oktoberfest’s opening day by the tapping of the first beer keg and a shout of “O’zapft is!” or “It’s tapped!” Visitors can toast good Prince Ludwig’s wedding anniversary with a delicious local draught beer (a bit pricey, though—expect to pay about €10 for your 1-liter glass) at any of 14 beer tents on the 104-acre festival grounds. 14 beer tents, you say…Not so many. Keep in mind that the largest, sponsored by Hofbräu, seats 10,000 people. (The smallest, Burtschers, seats 90.)

Each beer tent is sponsored by a single German brewery. Augustiner has their own beer tent, for example, as do Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, etc. There is no point in walking into a beer tent and asking for a beer by brand. You will not find an Augustiner beer sold in the Hacker-Pschorr tent. Just ask for “ein Bier.”

Not into beer? It’s ok. Oktoberfest also features the Weinzelt, or Wine Tent. More than 15 varieties of wine are poured at the Weinzelt as well as a variety of sparkling wines, or Sekt.

It’s easy to get carried away drinking at Germany’s famous party. You get to singing with the band, chatting with friends, solving the world’s problems…and before you know it you’ve downed more liters of beer than you can keep track of.

Keep in mind that Oktoberfest beer has an alcohol content of around 6%, nearly a full percentage point over that of everyday German beer. Overdo it and you’re likely to become a Bierleich, a beer corpse, passed out from too much of a good thing. More than 600 visitors fell into that category in 2013. Be safe and know when to quit.

Practicalities

  • Oktoberfest takes place in Munich’s 100-acre Theresienwiese Park, accessible via subway lines U4 or U5, the “Theresienwiese” stop.
  • This is the world’s biggest party. Arrive before noon for less-than-crazy crowds and a sure spot in an Oktoberfest tent. Remember that beer is not served to those without a seat. If you want to visit later into the evening, make a reservation by contacting the tent of your choice on the official Oktoberfest website.
  • Oktoberfest takes place Sept. 20 to Oct. 5, 2014. In 2015 festival dates are Sept. 20-Oct. 4.
  • Official Oktoberfest information, including opening hours, maps and tent names/contacts for reservations.
  • Munich tourism information

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