On our recent trip to Europe, our first stop was Munich. Munich was a late addition to our plans – when we realized that our September-end flight to Prague (our original first stop) was with a layover in the German beer capital, I quickly checked the dates for the Oktoberfest 2014 and voila! – our first stop was changed to Munich in less than a minute.
I loved Munich on my first visit 6 years ago. The city was pedestrian-friendly, had a beautiful city centre and an extremely efficient public transportation system (gotta love the Germans for this!). The only slight apprehension at the back of my mind was the accommodation that tends to triple price-wise and get sold out months (even an year, maybe) before the fest and the actual getting entry into a Festzelt (the huge beer tents at the fest grounds) part. On my last visit, I had noticed that the tents were all full even on a weekday by 4 PM. And the thing about the Oktoberfest tents is – if you don’t have a seat, you don’t get served.
We landed in Munich early on a Saturday morning (the second fest weekend a.k.a. Italian weekend). Because of jet lag and my online research suggesting it, we decided to save our drinking adventures at the fest for the next day (our Munich sightseeing actually began with the Concentration Camp at Dachau but more on that later).
Our strategy (which worked well) was:
– Leave our AirBnB accommodation early morning around 8 AM
– Reach the Munich Hauptbahnof (Main Train Station) by 8.30 AM, dump our luggage in the lockers there, grab a snack and head to the fest
– Reach the fest by 9.30 AM and get seats inside one of the large beer tents – stay put till it was time to leave for our 5 PM bus to Prague
My online research and advice from local friends in Munich seemed to suggest that getting there at 6 AM was a good idea to queue up for the tents that open at 9 AM – but waking up at 5 AM is a no-go on any day! (this also turned out to be unnecessary, fortunately – but does hold true for Saturdays as we learnt later)
When we reached the fest grounds, we were actually turned away from one of the tents because of our big backpack (not entirely sure, but I think it was the Paulaner tent). This was a scare as having to go back to the lockers (at the train station) would have meant getting back only about an hour later and that would’ve been too late to grab a seat… Thankfully, the Hofbrau tent next door welcomed us – backpack and all; and when we got in, we actually got a choice of multiple seats on the unreserved benches (yay!). But it REALLY DOES fill up in a matter of minutes so don’t be too picky!
Of course, when you’re drinking beer from 10 AM in the morning and want to last the whole day, the key is to pace yourself. And also, never let go of your seat at one of the unreserved benches. You’ll see people hanging around you all day, waiting for you to leave so that they can grab your seats. Tent-hopping is also a bad idea in general on weekends – the only real chance is if you move from one tent to another before 11 AM and are not more than 2 – 3 people.
The fest itself was incredibly fun! I know it sounds trite to say this but it was one jolly party of hundreds, if not thousands of revelers. This was my second time and I wouldn’t think twice about going again. The atmosphere is buzzing but sober till about 11 AM but once a Mass (a litre of beer at the fest) or two have been taken care of, you’ll witness hundreds of people standing up on benches, singing, dancing, cheering (and jeering if you volunteer to chug and then fail to). It’s just one hell of a party!
We couldn’t, but if you enjoy your beer and don’t mind a sea of ‘happy high’ people, you may want to visit on more than one day – weekdays are supposed to be much easier, entry-wise. Munich itself is lovely, though could get a little boring by day 3 / 4 but is a very convenient base for day trips like Dachau, Neuschwanstein or even, Salzburg (Austria)!
I’ll leave you with some shots from our visit and a popular fest song that you can memorize before your visit ;).
P.S. Some other practicalities of getting to / being at the fest:
- Theresienweise and Goetheplatz are the two closest U-Bahn stops to the Theresienweise (fest grounds) but a short walk from Hauptbahnof would be less suffocating, even if it takes a little more time.
- In case the tents are full and you can’t get inside, some of the tents also have seating outside – on a sunny day, this works just fine but the atmosphere is a little tempered down, compared to the inside – this could be a good / bad thing depending on you.
- Be friendly with others at your table – it can be a little awkward at first (you could break the ice with a communal ‘Cheers!’ or ‘Prost!’ maybe ;)) – but the more of you, the more fun it is!
- Vegetarians may want to grab a snack before getting into the fest – your only choice of snacks is ‘Pretzels’ but they were a couple of vegetarian mains on the menu this year.
- ‘Trachten’ or the traditional costumes are not required – of course, putting one on will put you in the festive mood sooner.
- Reservations aren’t too practical for small groups / couples.There are restrooms inside the tents – you may want to keep some tissue paper handy because the stalls tend to run out very often.
- This goes without saying, but keep your valuables safe – a couple of litres of that strong beer tend to make one light-headed and happy without reason but you don’t want to ruin that buzz with a realization of lost belongings.