I just got back from my first trip to the official Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. It was a whirlwind of a trip especially coordinating it with 10 friends, but it was absolutely worth it. Our weekend was filled with delicious beer and food, festive outfits, beautiful architecture, and countless opportunities to learn about German culture.
Why is there an Oktoberfest? It all started in the early 1800’s for a royal wedding. A crowned prince married his sweetheart and invited all the locals to the wedding. The wedding was so extravagant with horse racing that the locals wanted to celebrate the anniversary, and a tradition was born. Beer tents and lederhosen came along the way. Oktoberfest is now an international attraction and the largest festival in the world.
German beer is brewed under slightly different guidelines than American beer. They are restricted to only using water, hops, and malt. Some say this will help reduce a hangover should you imbibe too much, but after talking to experienced German beer drinkers, they say this is not the case!
Planning a Trip
If you’re considering going, try to get tickets for one of the 14 tents. The tents sell out early, so you may need to make a reservation almost a year in advance. Tickets include admission and some food and beer with a server. Each tent has a different décor and live music. While you don’t need to get into a tent to experience all the fun, the tents are monitored for capacity. So, on very crowded days it’s slightly more manageable. My group was not lucky enough to score tickets, so we were instructed to get there early.
Oktoberfest is like a state fair
Everyone wears the traditional German outfits—lederhosen for men and dirndls for women. You will stand out if you don’t wear a festive outfit, so be sure to splurge on the outfit. You can either buy them in advance (online or at a German clothing store), or you can buy them once you arrive in Munich.
If I were to do anything differently, it would be to get a ticket and not go on a Saturday. About 7 million people fluctuate in and out of Munich during the four weeks of Oktoberfest, and weekends are their busiest times. Early on Saturday afternoon, it was like the running of the bulls just to get into the outside beer garden. We were fortunate to find a place to sit sharing a picnic table with some Italians who didn’t speak English but enjoyed toasting us, “Prost!”
Oktoberfest is known for people drinking large amounts of beer from steins the size of your head, dancing on tables and acting all silly but the craziest thing I observed was people snorting white powder out in the open. They would snort lines on a picnic table or from the side of their hand. Turns out it's not real cocaine, it's called Wiesn koks (Oktoberfest cocaine) and it's completely legal because it's made of sugar and menthol. Apparently quite the rush then clearing of the sinuses!
More in Munich (and Europe!)
There’s no need to stay more than one or two days. A few of us went on a bike tour of Munich the next morning, which I highly recommend. They have a beautiful central park, man-made canals where people surf on the river, and the second largest beer garden in the world where you can eat lunch, listen to live music, and buy an empty stein for a fraction of the price in Oktoberfest (2 Euros!).
Take advantage of Europe’s efficient trains while you're there to explore other nearby cities. I ended up going to the delightful cities of Salzburg, Berlin, Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Brussels. You won't be alone; everywhere I went I ran into people who had just been to Oktoberfest!