What is Oktoberfest for a first time visitor? Visions of Litres of the gold stuff, fräuleins as far as the eye can see and brightly colored beer tents with row upon rows of drinking gamed picnic tables!
Well, you’d actually be pretty spot on actually. This year I got to fulfill two fantasies of mine, going to Oktoberfest and doing a European beer tour with my father.
I was due to speak at The Experts Conference in Dusseldorf Germany on a Tuesday. One of the great things about being a traveling SharePoint geek is that when you plan things correctly you can actually have some spare time in any given place you’re going to be. I worked some magic, figured out flight times and schedules and realized I could take my dad over to Munich, enjoy quite some time at Oktoberfest.
So time came around and the Harlans were off to Germany for a small, but at the same time, large taste of the original European beer scene. The flight landed and we were off to a running start, we didn’t have much time after all. We literally sprinted off to our lodgings, which was just outside of Munich (Garching).
One of the first things you will need to do when planning a trip to Oktoberfest is to work out your lodging WAY (and I mean WAY) in advance. For example “Jaegers Hostel” which is one of the more well-known hostel for its non-hostel like conditions is already sold out for the 2011 Oktoberfest at the time of this posting. That’s ten months in advance.
Hostels for Oktoberfest are a tricky situation. On most nights you can get a room as little as 5 bucks a night. Since hostels aren’t regulated and they’re, in most cases, a knock down version of a bed and breakfast they can charge what they want, and they charge a pretty penny for Oktoberfest. You best bet is to find a low key hotel, hostel or B&B outside of town close to a subway line. We stayed at the “Park Residence”.
When you get to the actual festival the first thing you’ll realize if you didn’t do any research into anything other than the beer tents (I’m guilty), is that the festival grounds is a full on town world fair. Farris wheels, snitzel stands, pretzel stands, games and prizes to be won by one and all. It’s actually extremely family friendly.
As for picking a tent, there is some finesse, luck, strategy and research involved. First you need to know what kind of Golden stuff you want to drink. For me, it’s usually not golden at all. Usually a dark red hue or a dark brown is what I gear towards. I really enjoy the Hofbrau dunkle (dunkle=dark). However I knew through my reading up of the Hofbrau house tent, that you can pretty much expect to find all the non-locals there (check out the original Hofbrau house when you’re not at the festival). I wanted the real deal; after all how many times in your life do you get to go to the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest with your dad? So I searched and searched to find the perfect tent. After sifting through all 14 beer tent descriptions I narrowed it down to “Bavarian Heaven” (Hackerzelt). Or the other tent frequented by local Bavarians the “Augustinerzelt” tent, which is right across the street from the Hackerzelt. Here is a list and discription of all the tents.
The second part of this trick is to be as swat team like as possible. You see it’s possible to reserve your table in advance. You can only reserve it after 17:00 hours so before that its first come first serve. My father and I got to the fairgrounds around noon thinking for sure on a weekday at noon there would be plenty of places to choose from. HA! I couldn’t have been more wrong in my speculation. To our advantage however, we were only two and finding seating room, or convincing some inebriated folks to scootch over for us wasn’t that hard. And let me just say, my father found the table, and he picked the greatest Oktoberfest table that ever could have been.
We had the perfect mix of young bucks itching to show their worth, fräuleins trying to be in as close to authentic as possible in their period dress and the veterans who have literally been to 50 years worth of Oktoberfest’s. We were two rows from the center of the tent where all the music was played in a huge gazebo.
We made quick friends with the locals at our tables, the older couple cursed Hitler multiple times declaring Germany was an amazing place before that “idiot” got into power. It has never been the same since. He captivated my father with the story of his Gamsbart, how in his day it was a right of manhood to go up into the hills of Bavaria and hunt the Chamois and create the hat worn accessory. He was blown away after the man gave him a medallion sized he wore on his hat made from the same material he had hunted as a boy.
Beer being distributed like bottles of water on a hot day, pretzels the size of your head (literally) making their way down the aisles, music playing, and chanting going on in the orchestra like drunken symphony. Hours and Hours went by, it doesn’t matter if you don’t drink, take a break for a while, drink water, eat some pretzels or one of the FABULOUS half chickens. Wow, slow roasted brined chicken was probably the most amazing chicken I ever had. Granted it could have been the atmosphere, the mood I was in or hell let’s face it, it might have been all the beer. Regardless, it was by far the most memorable and fun time I ever had drinking a beer.
As always I leave you with some words of wisdom.
– Don’t be afraid to ask. If you don’t read German, don’t stare at the subway map and think somehow you’ll figure it out. You might but by then 5 trains of come and gone. I didn’t do this, I’m not ashamed to just ask.
– Don’t stand on the tables, its ok to stand on the bench just don’t stand on the table ask @joeloleson about that one
– The Munich subway is a strange one. You buy a ticket to your destination via an automated machine. Through loss of translation we thought the ticket was good for a week or a certain time for two people. Later we found out that it is good ONE WAY for two people or round trip for one person. We bought one ticket the entire time we were there and were never asked to see our ticket.
– Munich is my favorite European city by far. Nowhere have I ever been where you can walk the streets, get a doner kabab, listen to a guy play classical piano on the street, and a British guy that plays the didgeridoo. The people are insanely nice and will go out of your way to help you out.
– When in Munich refer to everyone or where you are as “Bavaria”. Some hard core locals denounce being a part of Germany rather a part of the old kingdom of Bavaria. Good thing is no one will scoff at you if you call someone Bavarian even if they consider their self German first.
– Did I mention to plan your trip to Oktoberfest really far in advance?
– Marienplatz is the city center, both via subway and via taxi. Its where it’s all going down.
– There are only 6 types of beer sold at Oktoberfest. They have all been around a very long time and adhere to German Beer Purity Order Reinheitsgebot. It might be wise to try them before you get over there or before you go to the festival to choose which beer you want to have and thus which tent you want to go to.
– If you randomly hear people chanting and clapping and you see heads turning and people standing on benches it is either a one person chugging or a chugging contest. If you choose to do this, you better damn well finish without stopping. If you do stop, you will be booed by a thousand people. It isn’t a pretty sound. Ladies, you are not left out of this practice. If you have it in you go for it, you wont be the only one!
– I almost forgot an important one. Beer only comes in one size Litre and only one type per tent. To order them simply raise the amount of fingers that you want. Its that easy. Don’t try to have a conversation just hold up the fingers and a few mins later you have your beer. And they only take cash.