The Munich Oktoberfest justly lays claim to being the largest of its kind in the world and the figures seem to back this up – last year more than six million people attended, between them consuming 6.7 million litres of beer and eating more than 114 oxen. The festival - which spans just over two weeks - is held annually in a meadow just outside Munich’s city centre. In addition to eating, drinking and dancing, visitors can enjoy colourful parades, a variety of fairground rides – and for those not themselves in traditional Bavarian gear, admire those that are, especially the more finely honed examples.
Its fame and popularity means that the Oktoberfest is a huge crowd-puller and as a rule accommodation and transport have to be booked well in advance. That said, it is still possible to plan a trip quite close to the time. Here’s a guide to how the Oktoberfest started, what exactly it entails and how best to plan a visit.
Just when does the Oktoberfest take place?
Although the festival concludes in October, most of it takes place in September. This year’s dates are September 20-October 5.
How did it start?
The original Oktoberfest in October 1810 was held in honour of the wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, For five full days, the burghers of Munich were invited to eat, drink and be merry, and enjoy parades involving kettle drums and music, shooting displays and a horse race around a meadow on the edge of town. Such a good time was had by all that it was decided to stage the race (and the accompanying indulgence) again the following year, and then the next and the next. There has been the occasional pause in proceedings (usually at times of war), but this year will mark the 181st time the Oktoberfest is being held.
Where is it held?
The main Oktoberfest is held on the original meadow, named, in honour of Ludwig’s bride, the Theresienwiese (shortened to the “Wiesn”), a short tram ride from the centre of Munich.
The grand parade
The opening day of the festival is marked by a colourful parade of carriages, floats and people in a variety of costumes winding its way through the streets of Munich.
Is it really held in tents?
The structure erected to keep Ludwig and Therese out of the sun in 1810 may well have been a tent, but the vast ones used today are much more solid affairs with colourful façades, long wooden tables and benches, and frequently on more than one level. Some can hold up to 10,000 visitors.
Best time to go?
General hours are 10.00am to 10.30pm (from 9am on Saturdays and Sundays). It is pretty packed at weekends; many locals prefer to pop in during the week.
Do I have to dress up?
Lederhosen for men and Dirndl (traditional Bavarian dress with full skirt, apron and tight bodice) for women are compulsory. Not really – but it’s nice to see so many Bavarians making the effort. If you want to join in, there are several shops in town specialising in such gear.
Lederhosen and Dirndl are not compulsory
Isn’t it full of drunken Australians and Brits?
No. While there is undoubtedly an Antipodean contingent (and indeed plenty of Britons), most tend to be found at the Hofbräu tent. The overwhelming majority of visitors are from Bavaria itself, or other parts of Germany.
So which tent should I aim for?
To get a more rounded feel of the event, try some of the other tents (there are 14 in total): try the the Hackerbräu (decked out in Bavarian blue and white) and the Winzerer Fähndl (complete with beer garden). The Augustiner Festhalle is more moderately paced and popular with families, particularly on Tuesdays. The largest tent is the 10,000-seater Schottenhamel, where the first beer of the season is poured to rapturous applause and cheering. The smallest is the Glöckle Wirt, has room for just 98 people, and its walls are lined with traditional instruments, cooking utensils and paintings.
Do I need to book a place in a tent?
It is advisable, particularly at the more popular ones - and best to apply to them directly (oktoberfest.de/en/navitem/Beer+Tents/). Failing that turn up in good time and stake a claim at one of the unclaimed wooden benches to be found in most of them.
The only beer served comes from Munich breweries
The only beer served comes from Munich breweries such as the Augustiner, Paulaner and Spaten. The most popular variation is the lager-like Helles. And there are no half measures: beer is served in one-litre glasses, several of which are typically carried at one time by buxom barmaids. The cost of a litre (ein Maß) will this year for the first time in some of the tents rise above the €10 (£8) mark – but you don’t need that many. If you want to pace yourself, ask for a Radler (beer with lemonade).
And to soak it up?
Typically, half a roasted chicken with a giant-sized pretzel. Additionally, Bratwurst (sausages), knuckles of pork, freshly smoked fish and lots of colourful gingerbread creations. Earlybirds may like to try an authenic Bavarian breakfast – Weisswurst (veal sausages served with a sweet mustard).
What if I don’t like beer?
If you don’t like drinking beer the Oktoberfest is perhaps not the ideal place for you. That said, the Weinzelt (wine tent) is where you can choose from more than 15 different wines (and there are some excellent ones in Germany, especially from Franconia) in addition to different types of Sekt (sparkling wine) and champagne. Bodo’s Cafe tent is where you can find all manner of cakes and pastries (including strudel) to go with your coffee or, if it’s that time of day, cocktail.
Is there anything apart from eating and drinking?
Believe it or not, the Oktoberfest is also aimed at families – with lots of fairground attractions such as merry-go-rounds, the Olympia Loop ride, a Star Flyer, candyfloss stalls and shooting galleries. Most tents offer traditional Bavarian music (accompanying thigh-slapping is voluntary) and some, such as Bodo’s (see above) offer live band entertainment. Of course Munich itself has a welter of attractions – first-rate museums and galleries, a beautiful town hall, a skyline full of spires and domes, great shopping and nightlife, the beautiful Englischer Garten – oh, and, of course, in Bayern Munich, the football club from which came half of Germany’s winning World Cup team.
Fairground attractions are big at Oktoberfest
Sprechen Sie Bayerisch?
Bavarian (or Bayerisch) is a language all unto itself. But here are a couple of terms you might find useful: O’zapft is! (“It is tapped” – the phrase uttered by Munich’s mayor to mark the opening of the first beer barrel and the commencement of the drinking), Oans–zwoa-drei-gsuffa (“One, two, three, bottoms up!”) and I mog di (“I like/love you”). For more, see: oktoberfest.de/en/lexikon/
Is there anything special about Oktoberfest 2014?
Although there will still be 14 tents, there will be two newcomers: the Marstall (successor to the Hippodrom), which will have a horsey theme, and the Kalbsbraterei, the place for excellent calf dishes. In the fairground, the “Encounter” ride will transport visitors into the worlds of science-fiction and suspense while the “Big Bamboo” zone will have a Caribbean feel.