I’m not the biggest drinker in the world so actually wasn’t that excited about Oktoberfest. I mostly signed up because I had a group of friends going and was able to get there easily via train as I was already in Amsterdam. I thought I would struggle to drink in the morning, wouldn’t be able to keep up with everyone and, at best, would just enjoy catching up with good friends. Oh, how I underestimated this festival!
I had 2 full days in Munich so, on the first day, I wandered around the centre seeing the main sights and purposefully avoiding the festival so I could save it for the next day (Saturday) when all my friends would arrive.
It’s impossible to be in Munich and not know that it is Oktoberfest. Firstly, because 70% of people are walking around in traditional Lederhosen and Dirndl outfits. I felt like I had stepped back into a different era. The outfits were amazing and I was surprised by the quality of many of them – this wasn’t a cheap tacky fancy dress event!
It’s also hard to avoid the festival because of the amount of drunk people you see staggering about or, in way too many cases, throwing up. Just as I was about to cross the road, a taxi stopped in front of me, the car door opened, a head appeared, the guy vomited about 2 litres of sick before disappearing back in the taxi which drove off. This happened at about midday.
I was lucky to be staying with a friend who lived just 10 minutes from the festival which is based just outside the centre of Munich. It is easy to get to either by walking or on public transport.
The festival is crazy busy, especially on the weekends, so I was expecting to be arrive early. I almost had a heart attack when I found out though that we would need to arrive an hour before opening time, meaning setting an alarm for 7am!
I got up in the morning and got into my costume (I cheated a bit with only accessories – I was saving money for travelling). Even if you don’t go all out, dressing up really is a must for this festival.
Although Oktoberfest doesn’t start until 9am, you can get inside and queue up at your beer tent of choice. Each beer tent serves a different beer and you need to know which one you are going for and head straight there so you are in the queue by 8am, especially if you are in a large group.
By the time we got there it was already heaving and we were ushered into a holding area. We waited anxiously for an hour discussing tactics about who in our group would run ahead and where to go to grab a table. When they opened the gates everyone went crazy. Think stampeding herd from the Lion King and you’re halfway there.
Thankfully, some of our group managed to get inside quickly and ran to grab 2 tables that would seat the 13 of us. Only 10 minutes after opening, all the tables were taken and only small groups of 2-4 people were able to find a space by squashing in with other groups. Now I understood why we had got there so early.
The waitresses waste no time coming round with beer. (It’s insane to see as they carry up to 11 litres at a time). As there is only 1 type of beer available in the tent and only 1 size – a stein (1 litre) – buying a drink is quick. Each stein costs 10.60 EURO, although most people give 11 EURO to include a small tip.
You can also order traditional german food like pretzels and sausages which are, not surprisingly, overpriced.
The tents are massive. The one we were in had capacity for 7,000 people. The largest in the festival holds up to 11,000 people.
The atmosphere was amazing. Hundreds of people yelling and egging on anyone who is brave (or stupid) enough to down their drink. You can stand on the bench, whack your steins on the table and start chants – anything goes. But just not standing on the tables. A live band soon came on and played some traditional german songs.
I thought I would struggle to drink that early but it was impossible not to get caught up in the atmosphere. By 9.30am I was already tipsy. By 10am I realised I needed to slow down and pace myself – the beer is 6.5% (!!) – a lesson that a lot of people didn’t learn quick enough.
By 11am there were people passed-out in and outside the tent and, by midday, we had lost over half of our group who went back to the flat to sleep. By 3pm our group of 13 were down to just 3!
We left the beer tent at 2 and had a wander around the festival which is well worth taking a look at. There are tons of food stalls and rides. We headed for a second tent and had to wait about 45 minutes before we could get inside. All the tables were gone but we were happy to stand.
The band in this tent were playing modern english songs and there was a lot more dancing (and the occasional fight).
The festival closes at 11pm but at 10 we left to meet up with some of our group who had slept off the booze and were ready to go to an after party. There are lots about but we went for Substanz which had free entry and a good mix of music to dance to.
We barely made it past midnight, but I was pretty proud of my 15 hour drinking efforts!
The next day was painful. I had to get up early to catch a flight. Bad idea!
Guide to Octoberfest; top tips
Although Saturday is naturally one of the busiest days of the festival, I would say it is well worth catching the festival at the weekend to absorb the atmosphere in it’s fullest. Get there at least 1 hour before opening (so 8am at the earliest) and be ruthless when it comes to grabbing a table. Carry plenty of cash on you for the festival (I drank 5 or 6 steins throughout the day) but don’t risk taking a bag as I saw lots that had been left behind. It is well worth checking out a second tent in the afternoon but only do this once you are happy to give up your seat as you will be standing for the rest of the day.
And, most importantly…pace yourself…