There’s only one Oktoberfest in the world and this is exactly where I’m about to take you today. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest (people’s festival) and also the biggest beer festival in the world which attracts millions of passionate beer lovers to the beautiful capital of Bavaria, Munich. Traditional German food, Schlager music, dirndl & lederhosen, carnival rides and steins of beer entice people from across the globe who are in search of great beer, entertaining company and all that festival has got to offer. The festival is usually around 16-18 days long and it is definitely something you should experience at least once in your lifetime. It might not be your cup of tea or it might be your new favourite place to go but if you never try, you never know!In this blog post I will tell you a bit more why Munich is the city where beer is an acceptable drink for breakfast, how the festival has grown over the years and the insider’s tips & tricks of how to have the best time at Oktoberfest. So let’s go!Why Oktoberfest is celebrated in Munich and how did it all begin?
Germany, without a doubt, is one of the most famous beer countries and for some of us the fact that a beer festival is held here is not a surprise, however, many still ask how did it start?
Originally, Munich’s festivities began with the wedding of the most famous Bavarian King Ludwig to Princess Therese in 1810. A parade took place to celebrate the occasion and people were invited to join the festivities. The wedding celebration was finished with a horse race and as the celebration turned out to be a lot of fun, locals decided to repeat it at the same time next year. That’s how Oktoberfest was born.In honour of the Princess Therese, the Oktoberfest grounds are now called Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow in English). Locals like to call the festival Wiesn as abbreviation to the location, so if you hear Bavarians repeating that name often – you know where they are heading!
Ultimately, the Oktoberfest was prolonged and its beginning was moved to the end of September to make the most of the better weather and lighter days. The size of the festival also massively grown throughout the years with first beer tents appearing in 1896.
Is Oktoberfest as mad as everyone portrays it to be?
Now there’s two faces of Oktoberfest. Firstly, there is a Monday to Friday face and secondly, there is a weekend and/or an evening face. If you visit Oktoberfest on a weekend, you will most likely bump into a bunch of people who came to the grounds to get hammered or get lucky, or both. Therefore, they will lose their heads and their drinking limits. You will see people as drunk as you can possibly get in some places. That drunk that one visitor this year decided to use his money as a toilet paper. Expensive night out for some…But if you visit Theresienwiese during the week and especially earlier in the day, you will be welcomed by happy people, lots of beer, spectacular-looking tents and a lot of tradition. It’s no secret that people come to Oktoberfest to have fun. Everyone is your friend at Theresienwiese and the more, the merrier is truly a rule out here if you want to have a good time. Make friends outside the tents as well as inside of them so you could all sing to Robbie Williams’ Angels together. They do it every year by the way, Robbie is a Bavarian hero of some sort!That’s what Oktoberfest is all about. It ain’t just about beer but about spending time with your family, friends and work colleagues. It’s about meeting new people and making new friends. It is even more important today than ever before that the city of Munich opens its culture doors to others and everyone gets to be a Bavarian for a day.
The Brewery Parade
Every year Oktoberfest is opened by the brewery parade which first took place in 1887. The event showcases stunningly decorated horse teams of the breweries and the bands that play during the festival inside the tents. The parade takes place on the first Saturday of the festival and is seen as the official start to the festival celebration. About a thousand people take part in the parade, wearing traditional costumes and walking from the centre of Munich to the grounds of Oktoberfest. The parade is led by the Munich’s own Kindl band which is followed by the mayor of Munich who always takes part in the Schottenhammel family carriage since 1950. This is then followed by horse carriages and floats of the breweries with restaurateurs and showmen.The Costume Parade
On the second day of Oktoberfest, there’s a traditional costume parade which is as spectacular as the brewery parade. It first took place in 1835 to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of King Ludwig & Princess Therese. This parade is organized annually since 1950 and has become one of the great highlights of the festival and it is also one of the largest parades of its kind in the world. Around 8000 participants take part in this parade, wearing historic festival costumes.This parade, as well as brewery parade, is also led by the Münchner Kindl, which are then followed by the city’s administration, usually the minister-president and his wife, traditional costume and rifle clubs, bands, flag-wavers and carriages with horses. The majority of groups are from Bavaria, however, other German states as well as other European countries get involved in it too.
For years Octoberfest has been opened with the exact same procedure. At exactly 12:00 o’clock the lord mayor of Bavaria opens the first beer keg in the Schottenhammel tent. Many visitors come to watch how many strokes the mayor will need until the keg is open and a lot of them even place bets to make it more exciting! When the barrell is finally opened, the exclamation “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”) announces the beginning of the Oktoberfest. The first beer is traditionally given to the minister-president of Bavaria and then the party is on!Beer at Oktoberfest
You would think any type of beer would be served at Oktoberfest, as long as it is German, right? Wrong! Only beer matching strict criterias and brewed within the city of Munich can be served at the festival! Therefore, you will only find six breweries providing you with Oktoberfest beer – Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrau, Paulaner, Spaten and Lowenbrau. Hofbrau & Paulaner are my personal favourites, so if you get to visit Oktoberfest – give them a shot!Now to make the most of Oktoberfest, there’s a few things you have to keep in mind:
- Book your hotel early
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of people out there planning their trip to Oktoberfest, therefore, it is important to book a hotel early. Prices go up very quickly and it gets really expensive closer to Oktoberfest. A regular hotel can go up from €80 euro normal season to €300 Oktoberfest season. Theresienwiese itself is easily accessible by public transport so as long as you book a hotel somewhere in the central part of the city, you will be fine. When to book a hotel? I would say go for as early as you can, at least half a year before the Oktoberfest or 8-9 months in advance if you can.
- Go to one of the parades
If it’s your first time at Oktoberfest, make time to visit either a brewery or a traditional costumer parade. It’s definitely worth seeing & if you like to have a better view, buy exclusive seats online. They cost around €20 per person and ensures you have a good seat in one of the tribunes around the parade area. That way you will see the best of the parade!
- You don’t have to wear traditional clothes but you can
I talked with a few people during my travels who said they enjoyed Oktoberfest more when they dressed up like locals but you don’t have to wear it if you don’t feel comfortable in it or don’t think you can afford the investment as the real deal can cost you a few hundreds of euros. If you decide to go for it, make sure to buy a real deal and not a cheap alternative as it will truly look crap and nothing like any traditional Bavarian clothing.
- Saturday & Sunday are incredibly busy
If you want to experience Oktoberfest inside tents, you will have most chances to easily get in during the week and even more if you come in early. Tents open around 10am so come down as soon as you can! If you come to the grounds in the evening, you will most likely be left outside of the tent or end up queuing most of the night. Who wants that?
- Travelling in a bigger group? Reserve a table in advance!
Don’t buy a table because that’s a trap! Oktoberfest is free to enter as well as its tents. You can, however, buy vouchers that would get you a drink and food inside the tent. If you are travelling in a bigger group, you can book a table. Again, do it early because everyone knows the same trick and they start booking them as early as it is announced. If you are travelling in couples, you most likely will not be able to reserve a table as most tents make bookings of groups 10+ but if you come early enough, you will get a table for 2 without a problem!
- Know your limits
A lot of people come to Oktoberfest and get really drunk. Like absolutely smashed, totally no idea where they are kind of drunk. Remember, Oktoberfest is not a race, pace yourself & enjoy your experience! It’s all about the journey, you know…
- Try local food
I know I say this a lot with all my articles about Germany but it is truly important and a great fun to experience a local cuisine. Almost all of the tents at Oktoberfest will offer roast chicken, roast pork as well as sausages, special enormous Wiesn pretzels as well as fish on a stick. If you are drinking a lot of beer, it is even more important to have food!If you visit Oktoberfest in the morning, every tent serves traditional Oktoberfest breakfast which consists of Obatzda (a cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage). Yummy!
- It ain’t just beer
Oktoberfest is not just about beer and you will find locals leaving their steins and going for amusement rides which is a big part of tradition. Oktoberfest is truly a big funfair with lots of rides, scary rooms and other attractions you should spend some time on too. It’s almost a tradition to go on at least one carousel while you are visiting Oktoberfest, so make sure to do that!Oktoberfest is for everyone
But Oktoberfest is not only about young, wild and free, it also welcomes elderly people and families, therefore, the concept of the “quiet Oktoberfest” was created in 2005. It is agreed that the orchestras play only quiet brass music until 6pm. After that time Schlager pop songs can be played together with electric music. This way the organisers were able to curb the party mentality and keep the traditional beer-ten atmosphere.Have you ever been to Oktoberfest? Share your experience and best memories with me! If you would like to find out more about my travels, please don’t hesitate to follow me on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook !