Just in time for Dan and my third Oktoberfest, here is my take on the greatest beerfest in all of the world! We will be there the second week and are also attending the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart! Prost!
Dan and I made our triumphant return to Oktoberfest in September 2014! I first went ten years ago in 2004, when I studied abroad in Paris, and Dan and I went together in 2012. We had so much fun that we decided to go every two years. This was our first return visit!
For those unfamiliar with Oktoberfest, it is a 16 day fun-fair held annually in September in Munich Germany, most famous for its celebration of beer!
There is a lot of information about Oktoberfest on the internet, but here are my thoughts on the beer tents, the Old Weisen, the food, the rides, what to wear and visiting Munich during Oktoberfest! Basically, the answers to the questions I had before going!
THE BEER TENTS
The beer tents are the main attraction at Oktoberfest, and there are many beer tents to choose from. Specifically, there are about 12 big beer tents – the stereotypical Oktoberfest tents – each serving beer from one of the six Munich breweries: Löwenbräu, Hofbräuhaus, Augustinerbräu, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Spaten. In addition, there is a wine tent and a myriad of smaller tents, most of which sell wine/champagne and wheat beer (check out the official site for the most recent). Each tent, big and small, has some sort of theme, often based on the food its serves and/or its decor. If you really like to plan (like me!) or have a lot of time, you can research the various tents to see which one you think you will like best, etc., but honestly you will most likely enter the tent that has the shortest line, assuming you don’t have a reservation.
Most of the beer tents are open from 10 – 11 on weekdays and 9 – 11 on weekends. A few of the smaller tents are open later. The beer tents have two sessions – a morning one from 10 – 4 (or so) and an evening from 5 – 11. Everyone is kicked out at 4 so that the tent can clean up for the evening session. I always try to go on a weekday during the day session – as this is when the tents are the least crowded and you are most likely to get a seat.
Assuming you don’t have a reservation, all of the tents have a portion of seats/tables that are not reserved. Meaning anyone can sit at the unreserved seats if you get there early enough. Don’t let more experienced Oktoberfesters tell you otherwise! To get into the tents, simply pick your tent, walk up, security will search your bag (no water allowed) and then walk in to the tent! The unreserved tables are usually clustered around the center of the tent and almost always crowded. Walk up and pick a seat, looking for the label “niche belegt/reservation,” or something similar. Niche is key here. If you can’t find this area, nicely ask one of the waitresses.
Should all of this area be booked up, you can sit at a reserved table until the party with reservation shows up. If someone is sitting at a reserved table with extra seats, ask if you can sit down. Often companies buy the tables and then do not fill them.
And, with regard to reservations, if you want one you have to make a reservation early. People with reservations the prior year get preference and the reservations usually sell out in January/February. However, you do not need a reservation to get into Oktoberfest and entrance is free (despite what some companies may tell you). If you are dead set on trying to reserve a table you should contact the tent directly and be aware that you have to book a table (and pay for a table) of ten people. The cost encompasses two beers per person and a chicken dinner (or the like). There is no extra fee for making the reservation – you just guarantee that each person orders the 2 beer/chicken minimum. In my three trips, I have never made a reservation. I have always gotten to the fairgrounds on the earlier side and staked a seat, once a whole table! I would not recommend buying a table unless you have a lot of people! And then, good luck!
If you are terribly concerned about getting in, but can’t get a reservation, some tour outfitters will sell you a guaranteed seat at their table – usually at a very high cost. You can find them online.
Once seated a waitress dressed in a dirndl will come to take your order. Each waitress is assigned specific tables, so don’t try to call over a random one. In my experience, they are pretty attentive as long as you are not fall-on-the-floor drunk. If they aren’t coming over and you recognize your waitress, feel free to try to flag her down. All of the waitresses speak enough English to take your order (and usually perfect English). A beer is a mass. If you want food, see below. Finally, tip your waitress!! Beers run close to €10 a liter and a little tip goes a long way in getting good service. We tipped a few euros ever so often and got great service!
Below are my comments as to each tent that I have visited! Let me know if you have other thoughts, have visited different tents, or have been to a Spaten tent! I have never been to a Spaten tent it visiting such a tent is my first priority in 2016!
Hacker Pschorr – This is my favorite beer tent. The theme is Himmel der Bayern – or Bavarian Heaven! Love it! There are several tables of reserved seats right in the middle of the tent. The band is good. It plays a mix of traditional music and classic pop favorites – like Country Roads. The waitstaff is always good and the food is decent. Most importantly, the beer is delicious!! There is indoor seating and outdoor seating if the weather is nice. In my opinion, they crowd here is really great. Not too many young US/AUS backpackers, some locals and a really decent vibe. It gets wild, but not too wild. Hacker Pschorr is always on my Oktoberfest list!
This year, we started with Hacker-Pschor. We shared a table with some people from Bavaria, Australia and England. We had a really great time!
Hofbräuhaus – Oh, Hofbräuhaus. Such a conundrum! You want to go here for the name, but its so damn touristy! I went here in 2012, and we returned in 2014. Hofbräu is really fun. The music is poppy and begs for the crowd’s participation. The crowd is young, like sub-25 young and heavily American and Australian. Still, its fun because its Hofbräuhaus… Everyone speaks English and the food here is good. They also sell good souvenirs in the tent.
Löwenbräu – This is the iconic tent with the giant roaring lion that you can see from all over the park! Great photo op. This is one of the larger tents, which also has a big outside seating area, meaning that if its nice out, you can probably find a seat outdoors even at the most crowded times. This tent is really fun with great music – not as touristy as Hofbräuhaus but not as fun as Hacker Pschorr (in my opinion). I recommend it to anyone trying to get the stereotypical Oktoberfest experience.
Paulaner – Paulaner is the other iconic tent, the one with the large tower topped with a giant beer mug! Like Löwenbräu’s roaring lion, you can see the tower from all over the park. Another cool photo op. In my opinion, Paulaner is similar to the Löwenbräu tent. It gives you the stereotypical Oktoberfest experience and is really fun. Great music and a fun crowd. The Paulaner tent is also really large, so you are likely to find a seat here.
Augustinerbräu – The Augustiner tent is probably the tent with the oldest and most local crowd. The tent isn’t too crazy, and is often filled with locals (at least during the day). We went here for lunch one days and met a German truck driver stopped by for “a couple of beers” on his lunch break. This tent is not crazy at all, but it was really fun to check out and have a low-key lunch (AKA sober up before starting to drink again).
The Wine Tent – In addition to the beer tents, there is also a wine tent – the Weinzelt. All of the tables in the Weinzelt are reserved, but there is a large bar towards the back of the tent with bar stool seating and a lot of room to stand. The drink or choice here is obviously wine, but they also serve what appeared to be a girly beer (think a lame wheat beer, reminiscent of Blue Moon). But really, who goes to the wine tent to drink a girly beer? Might as well stay home. The wine comes in a small stein-esq glass and the pours are heavy. Take caution.
No pictures. This was late in the day.
The Beer Carousel a/k/a the Wiesn Guglhupf – Ah, the beer carousel! A fantasy of mine since I heard about it! It does exist, but its not as great as I imagined. I had long heard about this magical beer carousel at Oktoberfest, but I could not find it in 2012, for the life of me. So, in 2014, I set out with a map and a plan to hit the tent first thing in the morning. The beer carousel is the smallest tent and it notorious for filling up and closing. (Well – thats a bit of an urban legend). We ended up going in twice with no wait! The first day, on Monday afternoon, we were leaving the day session and decided to walk by the beer carousel to ensure its location for the next morning. To my surprise, there was NO LINE and we walked right in – in the afternoon, and it was raining (it has plastic sides to protect from the weather). Score! We also walked by it again the next morning (Tuesday) and there was no line at 10:30 a.m. (albeit, that is early to start drinking on a Tuesday…). The beer carousel itself is a cute little tent that looks like a bunt cake, it slowly spins around a bar in the center. The bar serves sparkling wine and wheat beer (i.e. breakfast beer, not acceptable at any other time). The tent is also apparently known for its cake, also known as the Guglhupf. Unfortunately, we did not try the cake, but we had a lot of champagne and managed to break several glasses. In sum, the tent was fun, but not a “must see”, and their champagne glasses are really cheap!
THE OLD WEISEN
Woah – the Old Weisen. A new part of Oktoberfest that I had never seen (think it opened in 2010…)! We decided to check out the Old Weisen after the morning session on a Tuesday. It costs €3 to enter the Old Weisen, and it is totally worth it. The Old Weisen is supposed to represent the way Oktoberfest was “back in the day.” It has old school fair rides, old school fair eats and a beer tent serving Augustiner beer. The beer tent in the Old Weisen is much less crowded than the regular tents and has outdoor and indoor seating and not many tourists! Honestly, the crowd was decidedly German and an older crowd, although Dan did manage to make some friends… We started outside, but easily moved indoors as it got dark and chilly out. As I mentioned, the theme is old school. The beers are served in awesome ceramic mugs and the tent is decorated like they used to be (or so we were told). The band is traditional and there is a dance floor where men and women actually dance together. Real dancing, not like in the music videos. This was awesome! We really enjoyed the Old Weisen, but its not quite the Oktoberfest you hear about! I would recommend checking it out if you have extra time, or if you can’t get into any of the other tents!
The food….hmm, it really runs the gammut. The fair grounds are filled with stalls selling food, from crepes to sandwiches to fries. Over the years, I’ve tried a lot and they are all generally good, especially after a few beers. Most of the food is cheap. Bring cash. In addition to the stands, the tents sell food at the tables. It’s pretty traditional fare, and certain tents specialize in certain foods – fish, pork, ox, dessert, etc. The menus are on the tables and in German. If you ask around, you can probably find an English menu, but its not guaranteed. If you are allergic to something, make sure you know how to say it in German. We ordered food at the Hofbräu Tent. It was surprisingly good! Again, bring cash!
In addition to the food stalls, you will notice a lot of people selling and wearing gingerbread heart-shaped necklaces. These were traditionally favors given by a man to a woman (but not in the Mardi Gras tradition). They are fun to wear and cheap, but are not good to eat. I tried one and it was gross. Further, they must be full of some unknown chemical because I still have mine from 2012 and it looks exactly the same as it did on the day I bought it…
In addition to the beer tents, Oktoberfest has a lot of carnival -type rides. I always ride one or two. This year we rode the ferris wheel. This made for a great vantage point to take pictures. The ferris wheel is also iconic, as its there in the same place every year! To ride the rides, you have to pay a small fee, which varies from ride to ride (usually a few euros). I also enjoy the tall swings – they give a good view of the city. Here we are on some of the rides!
WHAT TO WEAR?!
This was my third trip to Oktoberfest and I have read a lot of online posts entitled “what to wear to oktoberfest.” Let me be the first to tell you, you can wear whatever you want to Oktoberfest! As you read above, Oktoberfest is a giant fun fair, complete with carnival rides, food stalls, games and beer tents! You will be both outside and inside, so my biggest recommendation is to bring something you can layer. For example, I always bring a light sweater/cardigan, scarf and windbreaker jacket (balls up tiny!) in my bag.
Many people just wear normal street clothing – jeans, t-shirt, etc. That is totally fine! However, many Bavarians and tourists will wear lederhosen and dirndls – the traditional clothing of Bavaria! Actually, people wear lederhosen and dirndls a lot in this part of the world, even when its not Oktoberfest. Be warned, its not a costume! Dan and I decided to get in on the action and purchased lederhosen and dirndl to wear (I now own two!). You may hear that the tourists shouldn’t wear them, but Dan and I wore them in 2012 and 2014 and everyone seemed to love it.
Now, if you are going to buy traditional clothing, there are a lot of options and I think you should splurge a bit. Our favorite store is Original Steindl – there are several in Munich’s Altstadt, and they are not open on Sunday! Original Steindl sells complete lederhosen packages for €200. This includes nice suede lederhosen, a checkered shirt (color of your choosing), socks, shoes and a scarf. I think this is a pretty good deal, and Dan loves his lederhosen. He gets compliments whenever he wears it. Original Steindl also sells a variety of dirndls, from traditional to more modern ones. I purchased an original one for €70 in 2012 and a trendy one for €100 in 2014. The dirndl comes with a ribbon to lace up the front. To complete the outfit, you need to purchase a half-blouse to wear under (€10-20) and an apron (€20). I also opted to buy the traditional sweater this year (€60) and some pretzel earrings (€10) – so cute!! Most women wear whatever shoes they please with the dirndl. Ballet flats seem to be quite popular, and that’s what I always wear!
After layering, my second recommendation is not to wear or bring anything that you can’t live without! People are drinking all day. There are crazy carnival rides. Even if you are stone cold sober, there is a good chance you lose/break/permanently stain something at Oktoberfest. Don’t risk it. And don’t bring your passport if you can avoid it. You don’t need it for Oktoberfest. Instead, bring your driver’s license or passport card as a form of identification.
VISITING MUNICH DURING OKTOBERFEST
Visiting Munich during Oktoberfest offers a guaranteed great time and also a unique set of challenges. As an initial matter, this is Munich’s busiest time. Hotel’s are packed and rates are sky high (think like quadruple the price). Restaurants and tours are also equally busy and book up early. As such, if you are planning to visit during Oktoberfest, plan to shell out a lot of money for hotel and make hotel/tour/restaurant reservations as early as possible, and I cannot stress this enough for hotels. We made our hotel reservations a few months before we booked our flight!
In addition, some attractions have limited hours so that the employees can enjoy the festivities. For example, most of the breweries in Munich do not offer tours during Oktoberfest. As long as you keep this in mind, you will have a great time! Just make sure you don’t stroll into town sans any reservations.