Oktoberfest: all it’s cracked up to be?
Anyone that knows me knows I love German culture, but Oktoberfest is a different kind of beast, of this much I am now entirely aware. This beast is approximately 420,000 square feet of Munich. It’s a heaving mess of tents, rides, tourists and expensive beer. My first trip to Oktoberfest was the textbook definition of trial and error (more error than not), which has led me to question: is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
On the day
I was hesitant to even make the 2 hour trip from Nuremberg in the first place, because of its reputation as an expensive devaluation of traditional German culture. However, I was instructed by Germans and Brits alike that it wasn’t to be missed. So Saturday morning, I donned my dirndl, grabbed some beers from the supermarket (because I’ll be damned if I’m turning up there sober to start paying €12 a pop for a beer) and headed for the train. Predictably, it was chaos. Drunk, lederhosen-wearing 50-year-olds, singing in the train aisles and ‘prost’-ing with everyone trying to push through to get to the toilets. Everyone was excited and you could feel it in the atmosphere. There was a buzz of anticipation and a stale smell that comes with a travelling tin can full of unwashed traditional clothing.
Munich was awash with dazed students, pretzel wrappers and empty beer bottles at every corner. Finding the fest itself was easy; just follow the hordes. Entrance to Oktoberfest is free which means two things: 1) it is severely over-visited and 2) you pay twice as much for everything once you get inside. We got there at about 2pm, the peak of the day. It was hot, busy, exciting and unlike anything I’ve seen before. The first task of Oktoberfest is choosing the right tent. There are 14 main beer tents, each able to fit between 5,000 and 11,000 people, and each offering a wholly different experience. For a more in-depth rundown of each tent, head over here.
After wandering around in a bemused, sweaty state for about 10 minutes, we settled on the Augustiner tent, at which point we were introduced to who I will know be referring to as The Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper was a six foot five, stocky mass of German impatience and simmering rage. His moustache, his eyebrows and his hairline all sagged in a way that made you instantly aware that this man was not going to be your friend. Fast-forward one whole hour of waiting behind a flimsy bit of tape under The Gatekeeper’s watchful eye, and numerous members of the crowd had tried their luck begging, pleading and haggling to get inside and start drinking. There was no method and no system to who came and who left, apart from obvious favouritism. This guy was on a power trip and we all knew it.
And so, we did something that may have landed us in Oktoberfest jail (probably a thing) if we’d been caught; we made a break for it. His back was turned, and we seized our chance. We, and about 20 others, ducked under the tape and stormed the beer tent. It was mutiny. We had made it. (I do NOT condone this behaviour, and trust me, as a British person with a strong attachment to queuing and waiting my turn, I had palpitations for the next two hours following this).
We made it!
Inside the tent was mayhem, but the good kind. Row upon row of drunken Germans, Italians, Brits, Australians, Spaniards, New Zealanders, Irish…you get the picture. All drinking side by side, listening to the oompah band, slowly getting drunker. It was a beautiful (and bizarre) thing to behold. We spent the rest of the day making friends, drinking in the sun, trying very hard to get the attention of the waitresses and quickly working out how much it was ok to tip (around €2-3 per Maß by the way). The day ended with a late-night train back to Nuremberg, eating wraps with our eyes closed, sat on the floor of the carriage and doing the Macarena whilst it blared from someone’s portable speaker.
In summation: yes, Oktoberfest is an experience like no other. On the plus side, it’s a great way to meet and make friends with people from all walks of life (alcohol is traditionally a great inhibitor). On the other hand, it’s busy, noisy, stressful, expensive and I saw many people overdo it and get ill or into fights. A better alternative to Oktoberfest, I find, is regional beer festivals: half as busy, twice as traditional.
Hindsight is a bitch: My top tips for Oktoberfest, after the fact
- Get there early (between 9am and 10am ideally) to get yourself a place. Yes, I know it’s too early to start drinking. No, that isn’t an excuse.
- Budget for your beer, but remember: the beers brewed here are all special brews, and they have a 6% alcohol content, so they will affect you more than normal beer and you’ll probably need less.
- DO NOT buy food there. It’s very overpriced, and you’re much better stocking up on bread and snacks beforehand.
- Wiesnwatch is a chatbot that you can contact on Facebook Messenger and it will tell you, to the best of its knowledge, where there are free places to sit. A game-changer.
- Avoid visiting during the Italian weekend, which is the second weekend. Italian tourists tend to arrive in the tens of thousands for this weekend, so much so that traffic updates are given in Italian and police are brought over from South Tirol to help manage the masses.
For more Oktoberfest tips, check out this guide.
Anyone have any of their own Oktoberfest anecdotes? Leave a comment!