Guide to Munich’s Oktoberfest
I have to admit that I am not averse to the odd party or two.
My drinking career stretches across numerous South American carnivals, countless binges around Eastern Europe, frequent hangovers in the Netherlands, the odd bottle of vodka back in the Soviet Union and even that time I went out clubbing with a bunch of raw Red Army recruits in Central China, but Munich’s infamous Oktoberfest is the world’s best beer swilling, sausage guzzling, standing on tables and singing, debauched, lederhosen wearing, hang-over inducing party in the world. And I am already counting down the days till next year’s party.
In this guide:
A Little History
Located to the north of the Bavarian Alps on the River Isar, Munich (München) is a city that combines proud provincialism with international glamour. Founded in 1158 by Duke Henry the Lion, within a century it had become the seat of the Wittelsbach dynasty, who ruled the duchy, electorate and kingdom of Bavaria until the end of World War I. Their influence is evident in the concentration of grand Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and neo-classical architecture adorning Munich’s streets. Perhaps most importantly, the Wittelsbach’s patronage of the arts and extensive art collections provided the basis for Munich’s world-class museums and galleries.
The city acquired its name München – ‘home of the monks’ – from its numerous monasteries. These have played an important role in the history of Munich, not least by starting the brewing traditions for which the city is renowned world-wide. Successive rulers, detecting a profitable source of tax revenue, actively encouraged beer production as a means both of raising money and keeping the populace happy at the same time. There are currently six breweries in the city: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräuhaus, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten. Beer quality is still based on the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Edict), introduced by the Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV in 1516, that forbids the use of anything other than the core ingredients of barley, hops and water in the brewing process. Drinking a foaming Stein of beer in one of the city’s beer halls is an essential part of the Munich experience.
However, it wasn’t till October 12, 1810, four years after Bavaria had become a kingdom, when crown prince Ludwig of Bavaria (who was to be King Ludwig I) married princess Therese of Saxon-Hildburghausen that today’s orgy of beer drinking really begun to take shape. The official wedding festivities lasted five days and included parades of riflemen, music, eating and drinking. The festivities ended with a horse race held on a green which was situated in those days outside of the city limits and named “Theresienwiese” (Theresa’s green) in honour of the bride. Over the next years the horse race was repeated and the Oktoberfest, also called “Wiesn”, was born.
Each year, the Oktoberfest is attended by around 6 million visitors, who drink around 5 million litres of beer and consume over 200,000 pairs of pork sausages and is the biggest public festival in the world.
In 2000, 6.9 million hungry and thirsty visitors got through:
- Beer: 6,459,100 litres + 170,400 litres of non-alcoholic beer
- Wine: 27,069 litres
- Sparkling wine: 18,819 bottles
- Coffee, tea: 246,003 cups
- Water, lemonade: 639,533 bottles
- Chicken: 681,242 units
- Pork sausages: 235,474 pairs
- Fish: 13,500 kg
- Pork knuckles: 62,490 units
- Oxen: 94 units
The festival takes place in a number of tents set out on a purpose built site close to central Munich. Each one has its own unique style and it’s worth trying one or two, or in my case 14, before you settle in one for a long hard drinking session. The price for a “Wiesn”-Beer this year ranges from 11.70 DM to 12.80 DM – which considering the size of the jugs isn’t too bad. Most of the tents are free to enter. Tradition says that after drinking a beer in each tent you must head off to the fun fair, which takes place around the beer tents, and ride the roller coaster.
Not necessarily one of the biggest tents (it only seats about 4400), but exceedingly popular. A good international crowd with a high ratio of pretty girls. Those on company expenses head to the champagne bar. I stuck to the Spaten-Oktoberfest-beer which was most drinkable and left a pleasant after taste.
Key Event: Getting a Japanese tourist to dance on my table and pretend she was a lap dancer.
Famous for sporting events involving cross bows and roast knuckles of pork the Armbrutstschutzen has seating capacity inside of about 7000 and sells creamy Paulaner beer whilst the Unterbrunner Blasmusik band pumps out beer stompingly good tunes. I popped briefly into this tent as the idea of beered up Teutonics with crossbows frankly fills me with dread.
Like Munich’s traditional beer hall Hofbrauhaus in the city, the brewery’s tent is the number one tourist attraction at the Oktoberfest too. The tent is decorated with hops, and starting at noon, proprietors Gunther and Margot Steinberg have a brass-band playing original Bavarian music and Masskrug (one litre beer mugs) lifting competitions are held. The seating capacity is a staggering 10,000 – and anyone who doesn’t find 10,000 beered up, Teutonic, lederhosen wearing yokels scary hasn’t lived.
Key Event: Leading the locals in a sing-song of, ‘There is only one Michael Owen’ and chanting ‘5-1, 5-1’ until we were, rather unnecessarily, asked to leave by a busty beer wielding wench.
Infamous for being packed to the gills with our American cousins who rush over to the 9000 seater tent in time for some good old rock and roll and a few jars of Hacker-Pschorr beer. We just passed through this tent stopping long enough for a swift half and a smoked sausage.
Traditions have to be kept up and each year the Oktoberfest is officially opened in this tent with the official tapping of the first beer barrel and the traditional shout of “Ozapft is!” (“the barrel has been tapped”). Wild from the minute it opens till the last bleary eyed local staggers off home the tent seats a nominal 10,000 drunken revellers. Music is provided by Otto Schwarzfischer Blaskapelle.
We popped into this tent throughout the festival and it was always heaving and I couldn’t find a table to sit at.
Seating 8200 partisan Bayern Munich fans we gave this place a miss as walking into the lions den singing about Michael Owen and wearing England shirts might just have shortened our lives a bit…
A small tent seating a select 4200 people, famous for its food. We stopped by for a few beers, a wheel sized pretzel and the chance to appear on national television (as this is where the TV cameras always set up). Great atmosphere and full of debauched and drunken Aussies and Kiwis slobbering all over each other.
Key Event: Having a drunken Kiwi pass out on my lap and leaving dodgy looking drool lines on my jeans.
Seating only 2000 people it’s easy to miss this small tent but we stopped off for a swift Paulaner, which wasn’t too bad at all. Rather an exclusive tent – quite how we ended up there is another story, but worth blagging your way in.
Key Event: Getting a rather drunk middle aged woman to take her shirt off for us.
Seating a diminutive 1300 people this small tent sells wine as well as beer. We passed this one by as beer and wine always give me a hangover.
Seating a moderate 8000 people and notorious for sudden outbreaks of football related violence we kept an extremely low profile here whilst listening to the Die Heldensteiner band pump out knee-slapping traditional music.
Key Event: One of our group suddenly turned into a gay icon and spent an hour trying to fight of the attentions of an amorous Bavarian beer monster who flipped between declaring undying love for Chris and screaming at the rest of us for laughing at him.
Serving 8500 people and selling scrummy Hacker-Pschorr beer, this is the place to head over for some yodelling action. We stayed long enough to warm up our yodelling actions, quaff a few jars and grab a sausage sandwich.
Key Event: falling, rather drunkenly, off a table into the cleavage of a busty lederhosen wearing beer girl.
A family orientated tent seating about 10,500 people and serving succulent roast chicken stuffed with parsley. Reinhard Hagitte provides the tunes. Popped in here just for a quick one and nothing memorable happened – though I was very drunk at this stage.
Seating 7000, this tent specialises in everything oxen. To wash down another foamy stein of local brew there is roast oxen, fillet of oxen, oxen burger and even boiled oxen penis in ox blood soup.
Key Event: Being offered the once in a lifetime opportunity to snort mind bending class A chemicals from a drunken Australian’s stomach whilst she sprawled on the table and sung ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The less said about this the better…
As the name suggests this tent specialises in serving fish dishes to 3500 drunken revellers. By the time we arrived here we were so drunk that I don’t even remember finishing my beer.
What to Wear
Despite the smirks of any non-German visitor to Oktoberfest, lederhosen are the things to wear. The word “lederhosen” is German for leather trousers, and is commonly used to indicate a particular type of short trousers coming from Germany or Austria. Lederhosen have a mixture of features, which distinguish them from a pair of leather shorts made elsewhere in the world (e.g. a Dutch sex shop).
These features are a fall front, with either button or zippered fastening, leather braces with a cross bar, legs that have a turn up or cuff on them, lacing on the bottom of the leg, the use of large buttons that are attached with a leather strap, pockets at the front rather than the sides, a single small knife pocket near the bottom of the right leg and the leather used is selected for its durability rather than fashion.
A single pair of lederhosen may have most of these features or just a few, there is no precise definition. The women, however, get to wear big frilly white dresses, called a Bavarian Dirndl which with its plunging necklines and ample opportunity for cleavage turns even the most saggy old wench into Raquel Welsh.
After spending the day drinking foamy steins of larger and guzzling down big greasy pig’s heads and smoky sausages the last thing you really need is to go on a rollercoaster. However, our German friends seem to have a slightly different view of life and have laid on one of Europe’s largest funfairs for your pleasure.
This year the biggest and highest transportable fast-water ride of the world was brought to the Oktoberfest in over 60 train-wagons. Visitors can experience three soakings from a height of 26 metres. Apart from this, the journey goes through the dark caves of a labyrinth and a silver mine with surprises such as explosions, rockfalls and waterfalls. According to my willing testers: ‘Changing directions, centrifugal forces, the view over the Oktoberfest and the mysterious atmosphere in the mine make the fast-water ride one of the real attractions’.
Most of the other rides seemed to be real seat-of-the-pants type hang them upside down and scare the hell out of the type rides. Being a fully paid up member of the coward’s club I left these well alone, and instead headed over to the dodgems where we were able to cause a 42 car pile up due to the Germans typically driving on the wrong side of the track.
Flughafen München Franz Joseph Strauss (Munich International Airport) (MUC)
Tel: (089) 97500 or (975) 21313 (24-hour flight information). Fax: (089) 9755 7906.
The airport is located 28km (17 miles) northeast of the city centre and is Germany’s most important international gateway after Frankfurt. About 200 destinations are served by scheduled and charter flights. Cheap flights to Munich
Major airlines: Lufthansa (tel: (01803) 803 803) is the main German airline. Munich is also served by major international carriers including Air France, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Hapag Lloyd, Iberia, KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines, Thai Airways International and United Airlines.
Approximate flight times to Munich: From London is 1 hour 45 minutes; from New York is 7 hours 45 minutes; from Los Angeles is 14 hours 40 minutes; from Toronto is 8 hours 20 minutes (plus transfer); and from Sydney is 21 hours 55 minutes (plus transfer).
Airport facilities: Facilities include banks, bureaux de change, tourist information, an automated hotel reservation service, 24-hour medical emergency centre, pharmacy, post office, duty-free and other shops, bars, restaurants and executive lounges. Car hire is available from ADAC, Avis, Europcar, Hertz, National and Sixt.
Business facilities: The Municon Business Service Centre, located in the Munich Airport Centre (MAC), Nord Ebene 08 (tel: (089) 9759 3200; fax: (089) 9759 3206), has well-equipped conference rooms. The main Service Centre is in the central area, MAC Ebene 03, and offers credit card phones and fax/copying services.
Arrival/departure tax: DM40 (normally included in the price of the flight ticket)
Transport to the city: Commuter trains S1 and S8 run daily every 20 minutes 0536-0016 (S1) and 0406-0106 (S8) to various stops, including the Hauptbahnhof (journey time – about 40 minutes) and cost DM15.20 (concessions available).
Autobus Oberbayern (tel: (089) 323 040) runs a bus service to the Hauptbahnhof every 20 minutes daily 0755-2055 (journey time – 45 minutes); the cost is DM16. During large exhibitions, another service runs to the München Messe every 30 minutes 0800-1800 (travel time – 45 minutes) and is free with a valid exhibition entry ticket (otherwise DM16). A taxi from the airport to the city centre costs about DM90.
Foreign drivers require proof of insurance and their national driving license; a Green Card is strongly recommended. A country identification sticker must be displayed on the vehicle.
In Munich, Mitfahrzentralen (agencies that link motorists with travelers heading for the same destination) are located at Adalbertstrasse 10 (tel: (089) 19444) and Lämmerstrasse 4 (tel: (089) 19440).
General information on travelling by car in Germany can be obtained from the Allgemeine Deutsche Automobil Club (ADAC) (tel: (0180) 510 1112; fax: (0180) 530 2928).
Emergency breakdown service: ADAC (0180) 222 2222
Routes to the city: The A9 runs south to Munich from Berlin via Würzburg and Nuremberg; the A92 from Passau enters the city from the northeast; the A96 from Lindau is to the west. From the Alps, the main route is the A95. From Salzburg, the A8 heads northwest via Munich towards Ulm and Stuttgart. Motorways from all directions converge on the Mittlerer Ring (middle ring road).
Driving times to Munich: from Salzburg – 1 hour 40 minutes; Zurich – 3 hours 30 minutes; and Frankfurt – 4 hours 10 minutes.
Coach services: Deutsche Touring GmbH (tel: (089) 545 8700) runs international services between Munich and numerous European destinations. Coaches depart from the Hauptbahnhof and Starnberger stations. Tickets can be purchased at the station or on the bus.
Public transport in Munich is excellent. During the Oktoberfest, trams, busses, and the underground run even more frequently. Then all the stations are overcrowded, but there is almost always standing room. As the station Theresienwiese is typically the most crowded one, the underground company of Munich (MVV) asks passengers to use other lines and stations to get to the Oktoberfest.
Public Transport to Oktoberfest
S-Bahn: all the lines from S1 to S8 to Hackerbrucke
S-Bahn: S7 and S27 to Heimeranplatz, then take the U4 or U5
U-Bahn: U3 and U6 to Goetheplatz and Poccistraße
U-Bahn: U4 and U5 to Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhohe
If you’re coming from the airport you can take the underground U8 to get to Hauptbahnhof (main train station). If you’re coming from somewhere else you can take any underground that goes downtown. At Hauptbahnhof you change into an underground U4 or U5. Both stop at the Theresienwiese station. You can also take the U3 or U6 to Goetheplatz or Poccistrasse. Or take the bus #58 from the train station to Goetheplatz, from there to Mozartstrasse and then to the fair ground. Or take any underground to go to Hackerbrucke (that’s one station after the main train station). From there, you cross the bridge and just follow the masses – you’ll be there in 10 minutes. By the way: for bigger groups it’ll pay to get the cheaper group ticket at the ticket machines.
Hotels & Hostels in Munich
There are 37,000 hotel beds in Munich in 340 hotels – 17,000 of them are in the first-class and deluxe categories. The standard of service, cleanliness and hospitality is usually faultless, even in budget hotels, but room rates are among the highest in Germany and increase by about 25% during Oktoberfest and major international trade events. Alternative accommodation includes guesthouses, campsites and youth hostels. The tourist information offices can make hotel reservations for independent and business travellers (tel: (089) 23 33 02 35/6/7) and for tour groups (tel: (089) 23 33 02 31). The Munich Key packages arranged by the tourist office combine accommodation in two- to five-star hotels with a number of other tourist services and discounts. Hotel information can be obtained from the Münchener Hotel Verbund (tel: (089) 30 77 50 50).
You need to book as far in advance as possible – something like a year in advance is ideal. I booked in March and spent the best part of two weeks ringing around every hotel in Bavaria looking for somewhere to stay. Hotel prices climb during this period and finding a budget place can be tricky.
Typical for Munich are “Weißwürste” (white sausages), you get them almost anywhere. They look disgusting and taste rather bland, unless you apply the special sweet mustard that you get with it (then they are delicious). For the Japanese readers: The water they are served in is not a soup.
For the more adventurous among you, go to “Weißes Bräuhaus”. A real Bavarian place with real Bavarian food. Try the “Kalbskopfsülze”, if you want to eat a calf’s head. Very nice atmosphere there, almost like Hofbräuhaus, but less tourists. If you miss your burgers, don’t go to McDonald’s. Try “Ralfs”, Leonrodstrasse, close to Leonrodplatz.
Munich Found has a good restaurant guide.
10 Reasons to Go
1. Beer – need I say more?
2. A truly amazing atmosphere
3. The great funfair
4. Sausage sandwiches
5. Seeing the locals in traditional clothing – especially the women who are all lusty, busty stunners (or so I am told)
7. Ompah bands
8. Table dancing
10. Munich is actually a beautiful city
2009: September 19 – October 4
2010: September 18 – October 3 (200 Year Anniversary)
2011: September 17 – October 3
2012: September 22 – October 7
2013: September 21 – October 6
2014: September 20 – October 5
2015: September 19 – October 4