I recently had the privilege of checking an amazing experience off my bucket list. I was able to attend Oktoberfest in Munich; the world’s first and largest Oktoberfest celebration. Oktoberfest is one of the largest festivals in the world and is best known for huge beer tents that are overflowing with 1000’s of people drinking and partying. While aspects of this are true, this is only a small portion of the Oktoberfest experience. At its heart, the Munich Oktoberfest is a family-oriented event that is very similar to state fairs that are common throughout the United States. Oktoberfest takes place in the middle of Munich in a large open field known as Theresienwiese. The fair grounds can be divided into two halves. One half is lined with a collection of beer halls while the second half is filled with carnival and theme park rides. In addition to this, there are many smaller vendor stalls dotted throughout the fair grounds that offer a variety of food and souvenirs.
The carnival rides include a collection of old-school funhouses, more modern rides, and traditional regional attractions. The largest of these rides was the full-scale roller coaster that could be found at the top of the fair ground that included multiple loops. A popular traditional attraction is the Devil’s Wheel. Here, participants stand on a wheel that is then spun increasingly faster by the operator while others along the edges throw objects to try to knock the riders down and off the wheel. This is essentially a competition to see who can stay on the wheel with the last person standing getting awarded a prize. The funhouses at Oktoberfest use themes from modern pop culture such as horror and action movies to ensure each fun house provides a unique experience to visitors. Other options are large spinning swings that take riders dozens of feet into the air, free fall drop rides, and a large Ferris wheel that provides an amazing aerial view of the Munich (especially at night). These factor heavily into making Oktoberfest a very family-oriented attraction with locals often spending the entire day on the rides with their kids. This family-based fun extends into the beer tents as well.
While those under the legal drinking age are not served alcohol within these tents, there are no restrictions on parents bringing their children into the tents with them. Children are often seen running around each of the tents at the festival and joining in on the singing, especially during the daytime hours. The largest tents at Oktoberfest are owned by the largest breweries in Munich and qualifying for a tent at the fairgrounds requires that brewery to provide evidence that their water supply is sourced from Munich itself. The largest tents at the festival are owned by Augustiner Festhalle, Armbrustschutzenzelt, Festzelt, Fischer-Vroni, Hacker-Festzelt, Herzkasperl-Festzelt, Hofbrai-Festzelt, and Kafer Wiesn-Schanke. Each of these tents are temporary structures that are erected over several weeks prior to the festival and then disassembled again following the conclusion of Oktoberfest. The largest of these tents can fit 10,000 people in there and depending on when in the week you attend, most of the tents are often at full capacity and lines to get in are not uncommon. The busiest times for these festivals are during Friday and Saturday night. To ensure you can get in, one good strategy I learned was to select your favorite tent and find a seat there during lunch or early afternoon and then remain there the rest of the night. Just be sure that the table you are selecting is not reserved by a party. While reserves are common, I didn’t find them necessary in my experience unless you have a large party you are attending with. If you are traveling solo or with a small ground of 2-3 people; then wandering through the tents and finding an open space or group that was willing to let you join their table was not difficult to accomplish. Just be friendly. Due to its size and international reputation; Oktoberfest attracts visitors from all around the world and this is an excellent place to meet new people and exchange stories. Swapping travels plans and life goals over a few steins of beer and some awesome food is a great way to pass a day at Oktoberfest.
Each tent has a different atmosphere so choosing the one that suites you can greatly affect your experience. For example, the Hofbrau tent is best known for attracting the largest number of international travelers, often twice as many as the other tents. This is reflected in the music that is played at this tent. While there is still traditional Bavarian folk music played here; around 2 pm each day the music takes a shift towards American pop songs and sing along ranging from John Denver to Queen. Hofbrau also tends to attract a younger crowd; often in the 16- to 24-year-old range. By contrast, Hacker-Pschorr attracts a more diverse aging while offering a similar international atmosphere. If you tired of beer and want to try a change of liquid nourishment, then Kuffler’s might be your ideal target. This tent offers wine to visitors as opposed to the beer that is exclusive at other tents. If you want a break from pop music and sing along; and instead sit back and enjoy traditional Bavarian folk music and brass bands, then Augustiner-Festhalle is a good option to visit. If you want to add on even a little more traditional atmosphere to your experience, then Oide Wiesn could be your perfect destination. This is a subsection of the festival that is tucked into one corner behind an additional entrance gate. This is meant as a purely traditional experience that includes its own set of intentionally retro carnival rides, complete with the art designs. The tents here also exclusively play Bavarian folk music while the beer is served in traditional mugs made from clay as opposed to the glass steins located throughout the rest of the festival tents.
In addition to the beer at Oktoberfest, the food is also a prime attraction. Whether it’s the various food stalls across the fairgrounds or the options offered inside the tents; there is no shortage of things to try at Oktoberfest for foodies. This event combines carnival food with traditional regional dishes to suite anyone’s palette. The most popular dish that is offered in nearly every tent is the half chicken; a literal half a chicken that is cooked rotisserie style with each tent using their own combination of seasoning. Sausages are also extremely popular within the festival with a huge variety offered such as bratwurst, weisswurst, currywurst, schweinswürstel, wiener wurst, Nürnberger rostbratwurst, and ox'nbratwürstl just to name a few. The differences between these different options are the meat used inside of them, the seasoning used during cooking, and the liner the sausage is squeezed into. One of the most unique of these options is the ox tail meat ox'nbratwürstl; an uncommon and unique treat within the festival grounds. Large Bavarian style pretzels are also commonly found throughout the fair and is one of the iconic dishes are often associated with both Germany and Oktoberfest. Spaetzle is a great option that can be eaten on its own or used as a side dish, but it is best described as Germany macaroni and cheese using a local style of pasta. Sandwiches are also very common throughout the festival and come in a variety of styles; whether it’s the European breakfast sandwich or a fried pork meat sandwich, there is always something to try. My personal favorite sandwich and one I ate throughout my week at the festival was the assorted cured fish sandwiches, known as Fischbrötchen, that were served at various food stalls. While herring is the most common fish used in these, other varieties include mackerel, cod, and salmon. Deserts are also readily available throughout Oktoberfest for those with a sweet tooth. Whether its Bavaria strudel that is filled with a variety of options such as apple, cherry, or cream cheese; or the vendor that serve everything from bananas to strawberries covered in chocolate; visitors will be sure to find that will fill their craving.
Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the world and among the world’s highest ranked events. It attracts millions of visitors from around the world including several prominent celebrities. This is for good reason; between the scale and atmosphere; there are few events in the world quiet like Oktoberfest. Whether you want to enjoy well crafted beers and create lifelong friendships with complete strangers in the beer tents or spend the day hopping from ride to ride with your children; Oktoberfest will keep you entertained for many days. As a bonus, its location in the heart of Munich allows visitors the opportunity to explore one of Europe’s most scenic and historic cities and marvel at both its architecture and history. I know I will be returning to Oktoberfest in the future as well as attending more amazing events throughout the world in the coming years and I look forward to sharing those stories with my readers. But those are stories for another day. Prost!!!!