Oktoberfest: the world’s largest party.
Every year, millions descend upon Munich for a boozy bacchanal with a 200-year history. They throw back millions of litres of beer and munch their way through thousands of pretzels, sausages and roasted chickens. They dress in traditional garb and dance on tables. They ride carnival rides and play games. They wake up with raging hangovers.
For 16 days starting in September, Oktoberfest turns Munich into Europe’s biggest amusement park. Eventually you’ll be bored of beer, heaving bosoms and brass oompah bands, but by the time you’ve fully recovered from the drinkathon, you’ll be ready to do it again next year. Start stocking up on Advil now.
In 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria was married to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. In honour of the happy royal event, a horse race was held on the fields in front of the city gates. Forty thousand Munich citizens flooded the festival grounds to celebrate. The event was a smashing success, and the royal family decided to repeat it the following year. Oktoberfest was born.
The city of Munich took over hosting the festivities in 1819. The fields were renamed Theresienwise (or Wiesn to locals), after the Crown Princess. Over the years, new attractions were added to the event. The horse races were joined by tree climbing, bowling alleys, swings, carnival booths, food stalls, a parade, an agricultural show and Oktoberfest’s famous beer tents.
Horse racing featured prominently in the celebration until 1960, at which point the festival had become world famous and steeped in other, boozier traditions. Today more than 6 million attend Oktoberfest each year and drink nearly 7 litres of beer.
For the full Oktoberfest experience, make your way to one of the festival’s 14 tents. Each one rocks unique décor and a wholly different vibe. Some are more family friendly. Others are frequented by tourists. Some are famous for their food, others for their raucous revelry.
Foodies should make their way to Käfers Wiesn-Schänke, which is owned by one of Munich’s most well-known restaurateurs and famous for its roast duck. Schottenhamel is the oldest and largest tent at Oktoberfest, as well as the site where the mayor ceremonially taps the first keg to kick off the event.
Try Löwenbräu or Augustiner to sip some of Munich’s most famous beers. The international crowd frequents Hofbräu-Festzelt. Winzerer Fähndl is allegedly the FC Bayern team’s favourite. Weinzelt serves mostly wine and champagne to beer-weary guests.
Once inside, you must be seated in order to be served. Settle in and a dirndl-clad waitress will slam a massive mug of golden goodness in front of you. Resist the temptation to steal it as a souvenir. You’ll be fined if you’re caught with one.
What To Wear
There’s no dress code at Oktoberfest. You won’t feel out of place in your regular wardrobe, though you will want to prioritise comfort. You’ll regret spending hours walking, dancing and drinking in a suit.
If you’re brave enough to dress up, many festival goers wear traditional Bavarian clothing. For women, that’s the cleavage-bearing dirndl dress. For men, it’s leather lederhosen with a white or checkered shirt, wool socks and shoes called haferlschuhe. Top it all off with a traditional Bavarian hat, called a tirolerhüte. The look can perhaps best be described as ‘long-lost Von Trapp kid from The Sound Of Music.’
What To Eat & Drink
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. All beer served at Oktoberfest comes from local Munich breweries like Augustiner, Paulaner and Spaten. There are no half measures at Wiesn – beer is only served in one-litre glasses and it’s highly potent. Stay hydrated, pace yourself, and have a hangover cure ready at your hotel.
For a break from the brews, try the beery-lemonade mixture called Radler or a trip to the wine tent. To soak it up the alcohol, sample one of the many traditional foods served at Oktoberfest. Roasted chicken and oversized pretzels are in ample supply. Pig, chicken, lamb, ox, duck and beef can also be found, often in sausage form. This is Germany, after all.
Outside of the carnivorous cuisine, Oktoberfest abounds with colourful gingerbread creations, candies, roasted nuts and sweet baked confections. Keep your eyes peeled for the erotically-shaped treats that grace certain stalls.
What To Do When You’re Not Drinking
Oktoberfest is, rather improbably, meant to be a family event – meaning there’s more to do than guzzle booze until you become one of the ‘beer corpses’ collapsed in a corner.
The Funfair offers an exhilarating mix of high tech and low tech carnival rides. The legendary ferris wheel offers a beautiful view of the Munich skyline. Consider hitting the rollercoaster before there are several litres of beer jostling around in your stomach, for obvious reasons. There are also candyfloss stalls and shooting galleries.
Most tents have live music, courtesy of Bavarian brass party bands. At some point you will wonder if the same few songs are being played on repeat. Stop wondering. They’ll get better the longer you’re in the tent. Thigh slapping and dancing on benches are both encouraged.
Munich itself is full of first-rate attractions, including museums, galleries, shopping, nightlife and the beautiful Englischer Garten. Explore beyond the beer tent to make the most of your trip to the city. Then get back to Oktoberfest and start drinking again.
How do you say “killer hangover” in German?