First-Hand Low-Downs On Enjoying Oktoberfest
This years Oktoberfest (Wiesn, to the locals) starts on 22 September 2018 at the Schottenhammen tent, where the Mayor of Munich will tap the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. The festival will go on until 7th October.
A few of the lean team members have been lucky enough to have experienced this fantastically joyful carnival-like festival, and are able to give first-hand accounts and all that you need to know about this party as independent tourists but also as tourists accompanied by die-hard Oktoberfest locals.
Here’s a low-down from a “plan all details” with table reservations to “just turn up” and sneak in point of view.
When To Go
The festival goes on for 3 weekends. The three weekends of Oktoberfest differ somewhat. It’ll be more local during the week and more international on the weekends with the second weekend known as the Italian weekend, not because it has an Italian theme but more like, thousands of Italians will visit this particular week, as they are the largest group of guests from abroad.
Lederhosen for the guys, Dirndls for the girls; you have to don these traditional outfits to get the Oktoberfest experience. On each individual occasion, we went in cheap neon coloured costume-type Dirndl and Lederhosen bought online to get into the spirit of things, but apparently, that’s scoff on by the locals!
You can really splurge on the real authentic stuff, get cheaper or rent second hand ones or come to terms with not wearing any at all. And that’s okay too…but where’s the fun in that, right?
Whatever you do, just remember that how you tie your Dirndl apron broadcasts your availability status. Dirndl tied on the left mean you are available; right means taken; centre means virgin.
All of the beer served has to be from one of Munich’s six breweries: Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu. The beer must also follow the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) where the recipe can only include barley, malt, yeast and hops.
There are 14 large tents and 20 smaller ones. The big ones can take from 5,000 to 10,000 people!
The different tents will have their own vibe. The locals flock to Augustiner, Hofbräu-Festzelt tent is the place to have a wild time with more tourists than Germans, Löwenbräu-Festhalle is the party mecca for dancing and drinking, love the beer at hip Hacker Pschorr which is very cheerfully decorated and the younger (loud & rowdy) crowd will frequent the Schottenham. Make sure to research for your favourite tent, although sometimes, beggars can’t be choosers as you end up in whichever one you gain entry and stick to it when you find a seat!
If the sun is shining, the beer gardens outside the tents are very festive as well but naturally lack the tent atmosphere. However, you can bring your own food to the gardens but not into the tents.
Tents close around 22.00hrs - 23:30hrs with the last beer being served an hour before closing. Käfers Wiesnschänke and the wine tent are open until 01.00hrs. Don’t wait until tent close before heading to these two tents, as the queue will be long and it will be hard getting in. Plan ahead and go a couple of hours earlier and get in before the hordes arrive.
Entry & Reservations, Or Not
Entry to the Oktoberfest area, all beer-tents and their beer gardens are free. And the tents are the place to be for the true Oktoberfest experience.
Official reservations are next to impossible and/or require a lot of effort. They prioritise German/Munich companies usually treating their customers or staff to a night out and groups that visited the year before. Some tents start to give out reservations as early as February every year. Either you are lucky to have any of these affiliations (which the lucky lean team had) or you can inquire with the tents directly and chance upon being on a “waiting list” for “left over” tables. Bearing in mind this is for a full 8+ group tables.
Table reservations cost around €25 - €60 per person dependent on tents. There are re-sale reservations for sale but they will exorbitant in costs but also beware and make sure they are genuine.
If you are lucky to have reservations, they will be for the am or pm slot. Changeover happens at 16.00hrs. You will get entry-passes in the form of wristbands or card tickets that allow you to enter a tent even if it is officially closed, once you've paid the invoice. Advanced payment will usually be for two Maßand half a roast chicken per person.
An unbelievable tens of thousands show up without reservations with varying levels of success. The challenge here is two-fold. First, you have to gain entry into the tents. Second, try finding a place to seat after entry, as you will need to be seated to be served. The tents start filling up and will officially stop admissions by around noon in the week and by 11.00hrs in the weekends.
A few tips to statistically increase your chances of both feats include; going on weekdays instead of weekends and go very, very early! Queues start forming before 07.00hrs on weekends when the tents open around 10.30hrs!
When inside, if a table has an ‘R’ sign on it, it’s reserved. But it may not be until several hours later, which means you can occupy the table until then, and will have to move once the reserving party arrives, leaving you high and dry again. Hence, occupying R tables should preferably be Plan B.
Tables are communal, so feel free to sit with strangers but always ask if the seats are taken before sitting down. Even though you need to be sitting to order a beer, in some tents, you can order directly from the windows by the kitchen.
SNEAKING in is a gamble worth trying when all else fails. However, bear in mind that the bigger the group you are the lesser chances of “sneaking” into tents after they are filled and closed. Split up into twos for a better chance and meet inside.
Beer & Other Drinks
Brews at Oktoberfest are potent and contains up to 6 percent alcohol after being fermented and lagered for more than 30 days. They are being served in one-liter mugs originally called Steinkrug (stone jug) but are called Maß, pronounced m-ah-s, in Munich. Enough beer are served throughout the festival to fill over three olympic swimming pools!
Prices creep up by some cents each year and this year the big tents charge around €11.50 while the smaller tents around €11. If you are already at Oktoberfest, with price differences of between €0.20 – €0.50, we recommend that you choose your favourite brands and not let beer prices sway where you drink. You will need to be rounding up for a tip anyway, as not tipping means being last on the servers list and waiting forever for your next drink.
Due to the strength of the beers, you won’t need that many Maß before you realize it’s too late. So, pace yourselves as it’s a marathon not a sprint. A local trick is to alternate between beer and water every other order to stay in the game. This is why more tourist than locals require “gelbe banane” or “yellow taxis” i.e. yellow covered trolley stretchers to transport the drunk or sick.
To help in the pacing front, there is something called a Radler - half beer, half lemonade. For those who don’t drink, be prepared to pay the same price (actually a bit more) for bottled water as for the beer (€11/litre) and slightly less (€10/litre) for soft drinks.
Very few tents offer ciders and wines. If you are into wines, consider the wine tent, Kuffler's Weinzelt. They focus on wines and for the beer drinker; you get a single type of wheat beer.
Half a roast chicken and sides (Weisn – Hendl) is the traditional Oktoberfest meal in the beer halls but it’s typical Bavarian fare that is served; Schweinebraten (roast pork), Würstl (sausages), Brezen (pretzels), Knödel (potato or flour dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles) to name a few
Something that has become a real Oktoberfest attraction is the roast ox. A whole ox is slow roasted on a spit. Around 130 oxen are roasted and consumed. The landlord personally selects each animal in advance and are each named. The ox we ate from was Rudi and weighed 1100kg. Get it in a bun or with sides, they all taste exquisite and should not be missed.
There are a lot of foods to choose from and they are cheaper outside the tent than in. Pretzels in tents can cost around €5 and upwards while buying one outside can be as little as €2.
Not Just Beer
The Oide Wiesn is on the southern section the area also the place to be if you want to experience a calmer vibe during the event. This is where you learn about the historical bit of Oktoberfest, also where you find vintage costumes and try out the fun-filled 20th-century rides.
For family and everyone fun, the atmosphere outside beer tents is carnival-like with family-friendly fun-fair attractions like rides (roller coaster, carousels, ferris wheels), games (airgun, balloon popping), haunted houses and souvenir shopping. You almost forget that this whole festival is centered around drinking beer.
There is enough to see and do for a full day or even two, without even venturing into the beer tents yet.
Heads-up On Some Dos & Don’ts
- Just to be in the know, locals call Oktoberfest the Wiesn. It translates to the meadow where the festival takes place - the Theresienwiese.
- Public transport is the only way to go, if you value your time.
- Do not bring big backpacks or bags of more than three litres or size above 20cm x 15cm x 10cm as security is very strict and will not be allowed in.
- Bring cash, as most don’t take card. There are ATMs but they charge huge fees for withdrawals.
- Learn the language
- Don’t use stein - ein maß
- Thank you - Danke
- Please - Bitte
- Cheers! - Prost!
- The proper way to hold a mass is to slide your hand through the handle and lift it that way – one handed.
- Don’t stand on the table and chug Maß. The locals frown upon that. But if you do, with thousands of pairs of eyes on you, you better be able to follow through!
- Queue for the loo before you actually need to go. For gentlemen, peeing in public comes with heavy fines!
- Don’t leave the tents once you’ve found a good place or “accidentally” leave it when looking for the toilet.
- There is no smoking inside the tents but they have designated areas outside.
- Wiesn koks is a harmless mix of a sugar and menthol that's sold at Oktoberfest. Don’t be alarmed as it is a popular and totally legal pick-me-up that looks and is snorted like cocaine and is called cocaine!
- Small hills behind the tents are called “Kotzhügel”, which roughly translates to puking hill. You know where this is going or rather you know where to go if you need to.