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4 years, 6 months ago

A Guide to Oktoberfest 2015

Oktoberfest 2015 is the world’s biggest beer festival and another great reason to visit Munich and beautiful Bavaria this autumn.

Munich’s Oktoberfest ceremonially cracks open the first barrel at 12 noon on Saturday 19th September this year. There’s been some talk recently (when we say ‘talk’ we mean ‘whining’) about the two week long celebration of brewed deliciousness, fish-on-sticks and Lederhosen becoming, ‘over-corporate’. Apparently all traditions are dead and you’ll only get into a beer tent if you’ve booked a year in advance and put your first born child down as collateral. Worse still, we’ve even heard it’s ‘no fun anymore’. Oktoberfest is almost exclusively about drinking beer, eating roast meat and singing. Correct us if we’re wrong here, but that sounds pretty much like the definition of ‘fun’. We like Munich and we love Oktoberfest but we’re not going to tell you it doesn’t get busy and there is a certain skill to working it well. Here’s our basic guide to get you started.

What is Oktoberfest?

The first Oktoberfest folk festival was held in Munich in 1810. It’s now the biggest beer festival in the world but keeps close its folk heritage roots with traditional opening weekend parades and ceremonies and excessive Bavarian dress-up. There are other Oktoberfests (Berlin beer tents have longer hours and Stuttgart is very pretty if a little sedate). But for the original and best it has to be Munich between September 19th and October 4th.

Where is Oktoberfest?

Oktoberfest first-timers often labour under the misconception that Munich is consumed by beer tents and leather-shorted revellers 24/7 for two weeks. It’s not. The beer festival itself takes place at Theresienwiese, a 20 minute walk from Marienplatz in the city centre. This vast, dedicated space is home to over 14 major beer tents and a superb funfair as well as abundant other Oktoberfest activity. Entry to the site and all the beer tents is free – you pay for your stay in drink and food. If you’re in any doubt about how to get there, just follow the Lederhosen and Dirndls and you’ll be fine – walking to Theresienwiese is all part of the experience.

How do the beer tents work?

Let’s not be coy, if you’re at Oktoberfest you want to drink beer. The tents are huge (some of them are more like gorgeous, decadent palaces than tents) and they fill up fast. Corporate visitors and large groups do reserve tables months in advance, but every tent has to have a certain number of unreserved tables, so it’s all about timing. Weekends and evenings are busiest and things usually get going from about 3pm onwards. Tents do open in the morning and they’re much quieter, but it takes a very special type of stamina to hang on to a table for a full day. Our advice is be polite and patient, know you’ll probably have to queue and, as long as you aren’t with a huge crowd, you’ll eventually get to make merry in the beer tent of your choice. And if the weather’s nice, most of the tents have outside spaces with unreserved tables.

Is Oktoberfest family-friendly?

It might be best known for beer, but Oktoberfest is a great festival for families. There are loads of kids’ activities organised all over Munich, the parades and Theresienwiese funfair are spectacular. And children are allowed into beer tents during the day (Tuesday afternoons are traditionally for families). After 8pm, it’s over 16s only – some of the tents hold 4000 people, they’re unbelievably loud and lively, so it makes sense.

What’s the food like?

Almost all the beer tents are catered by Munich restaurants and the standard is exceptional even when they’re feeding thousands. Roast chicken is served as standard along with Bavarian specialities like Steckerl Fisch (fish on a stick).

Should you wear traditional dress?

Yes you should. It is part of the tradition and unless you want to stand out in the crowd (not meant in a positive way) you should definitely get yourself a Dirndl or Lederhosen. You can buy all of that in Munich directly as almost all the stores are selling the traditional clothing during the event.

Oktoberfest Etiquette

Beer is served in litre glasses and they’re called ‘mass’. No matter how many ‘mass’ you’ve consumed, don’t dance on any tables – you’ll be asked to leave. If you’ve bagged a table, make sure at least one of your group is always seated or someone else will claim it. Be very polite and friendly to the staff and tip well, you may want to come back. And when they turn off the music and switch on the lights at 10pm, don’t hang about.

Yes, Oktoberfest closes every night at 10 sharp. But that’s not too much of a worry. Munich is second only to Berlin and Frankfurt for bars and clubs so there are always places to keep the party going. And if you follow the crowds, you’ll find them.

And even if you aren’t interested in clubbing, the Bavarian capital is an incredible city when you just want a break from Oktoberfest (and you will). The weather is still pretty in September and Munich’s districts are fascinating to explore on foot – visit the English Garden if you get a chance, it’s four times bigger than Central Park. Try Gärtnerplatzviertel and Marienplatz for shopping. And if you want to get away from everything for the day, the Bavarian mountains, lakes and forests are stunning in autumn.

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