Oktoberfest 101

Munich title

The day-by-day format worked well for the Prague post, so I’m going to do it again here for the Munich post. As you can probably tell from the title, we pretty much had one mission while in Munich and that was to enjoy Oktoberfest to the fullest. I’ve got some tips and tricks for how to get the most out of it below, along with some easy and meaningful sight-seeing to do if you find yourself in Germany for the world’s biggest beer festival.  All photos were taken on an iPhone.  Most are my own but a couple of the group shots came from one of my tour-mates.

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MONDAY:

We took a five hour bus ride from Prague to Munich via the DB. The ride couldn’t have been easier and was on what seemed to be the German equivalent of the Megabus. Our hotel was just a quarter mile from the bus station in Munich so we were able to walk right over and check in when we arrived. We didn’t want our time in Germany to be all about the beer, so we booked an afternoon walking tour with a company called Munich Walks. Our guide normally led the German tours but was asked to fill in for the English tour that day, so there was a bit of a language barrier. Even so, we learned a ton of interesting history and saw most of the major sites. She even hurried us back to Marienplatz at the end of the tour to see the Glockenspiel chime at 5:00.  Marienplatz is the town square of Munich, flanked on one side by the Old Town Hall and on the other side by the New Town Hall. The New Town Hall features a clock and set of chimes known as the Glockenspiel with figurines that act out some scenes from German history a few times a day.

Our plan for the evening had been to call it an early night at the hotel to recover from our whirlwind trip around Prague and gear up for the rest of our time in Munich. Our curiosity got the best of us though, so after dinner we walked the quarter mile from our hotel to the Oktoberfest grounds to check things out. I honestly don’t know how to describe it except to compare it to a HUGE county fair, but add in drindls, lederhosen, German food, and tons of beer! It’s just one of those things that you have to see for yourself to fully understand. We walked around the massive grounds, checking out the vendors and riding the haunted house ride. It was similar to what you’d find at an American amusement park except that there were live actors in the ride! It was wild! The beer tents were completely packed at this point, so we found a seat at one of the outdoor beer gardens and had our first stein of Oktoberfest beer. I almost had to pinch myself to believe we were really there after a full year of planning.

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TUESDAY:

Tuesday morning we woke up early and went for a run through the English Gardens. The English Gardens are the largest city park in the world (way bigger than NYC’s central park) and by far one of the most beautifully manicured urban spaces I’ve ever seen. There are manmade canals flowing with crystal clear water that is routed in from the Eisbach River. Perhaps the best surprise of the park is found at the southern edge near Prinzregentenstraße.  The current is so strong that it creates a wave where surfers in wet suits are actually able to toss in their boards and ride the wave. We couldn’t help but stop and watch and snap a few photos!

Following our run, we took the 25 minutes train ride out of the city to visit the Dachau concentration camp. It was certainly a somber and humbling experience but something we are both glad that we did. I didn’t take any photos, but the site was a very powerful memorial to those who were killed and also a testimony to the history that led to the crimes of the holocaust.  I highly recommend visiting if you find yourself in that part of the world. In fact, I read that all German students are required to visit a concentration camp so that the tragedies of the past never be forgotten or repeated again in the future. I found it to be an equally powerful  and important lesson for American visitors.

In the evening, we met up with our Oktoberfest tour group the Thirsty Swagmen. Oktoberfest is a little tough to do on your own if you’re just a pair for a number of reasons. First, the hotels in walking distance to the Oktoberfest grounds book up very quickly. Second, the only way to get table reservations in one of the beer tents is to make the reservations a year in advance, and you have to book the entire ten seats at the table (which is very pricey). Finally, Oktoberfest is just a really fun thing to do with a group and since we weren’t bringing friends along on our trip, we thought it would be nice to join a group for that experience. And I 100% recommend the tour group! It was pricey (Oktoberfest is expensive no matter how you do it) but in my opinion we got what we paid for, and then some. For example, the first evening was just scheduled to be a meet and greet in the hotel lobby. Following the meet and greet our leaders surprised us that they already had a table reserved in one of the beer tents and took us right there to find seats. Getting seats at one of the tables in the tents is the key to having a super fun time!

Each tent is owned by a different brewery who serves their own signature beer for Oktoberfest. The first night we went to the Hofbrau Tent (from here on out referred to as the HB). This tent caters more to tourists (making it easier for English speakers to finds seats and order) than locals, but there certainly wasn’t a shortage of friendly Germans in the HB. We joined our new friends, climbing up on the benches, dancing along to the music, prosting with strangers and having a grand old time. We didn’t eat dinner before going to the tent, so we only stayed a couple of hours before grabbing dinner from one of the vendors (pretzels and sausage… of course!) and heading home to call it an early night.

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WEDNESDAY:

The next morning we met our group bright and early to get to the HB tent right when it opened at 10AM. The daytime experience in the beer tents is considerably different from the nighttime. During the day the band plays nearly all traditional German and Polka music, with it picking up into sing-along and dance music around 7PM. I am a mix of proud and ashamed to tell you that Spatular and I spent the entire day in the HB tent. From 10AM-8PM. We were just having the best time, meeting interesting people from all over the world that we didn’t want to leave! One of the highlights for me was getting to know the group of retired Swedish men who joined our table around 5PM. They were fascinated with American culture and asked me so many interesting questions ranging from politics to social life and everything in between. Then when the dance music started at 7 o’clock, they were the first ones standing on the bench belting out the worlds to “Time Of My Life” from Dirty Dancing.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Group 2
THURSDAY:

Back-to-back days at Oktoberfest is A LOT but it was our last day in Germany so we bucked up and made it out the door for our 10AM table reservation, this time in the Schottenhamel tent, which is one of the more traditional German tents. We shared a smaller table with our new friends Jami and Collin, a couple from LA. They were on a three week trip through Europe and had spent the previous two weeks in Italy before coming to Germany for Oktoberfest.   We had an awesome morning swapping stories from our travels and talking about our respective lives on opposite coasts.  (Collin is an LAPD cop, and man did he have some fascinating stories!)  Once our table reservation ended in the early afternoon, we joined about half of the group and walked over to the Augustine tent. The Augustine tents is the most popular with the Germans and widely known to have the best beer. We weren’t able to find a table, but thankfully our German speaking guide Max was able to flag down one of the frauliens and get a round of beers for the group, even though we didn’t have seats. (That is something an English speaker could never pull off at Oktoberfest.) By this point is was late afternoon so Spatular and I decided to take a little break, get something to eat, and go back to the hotel to re-group for a while.

Around 7PM we headed back to Oktoberfest for one final night in the tents. Hoping to find some others from our tour group, we returned to the HB tent, but it was packed and our new friends were nowhere in sight, so we made our way to the standing room portion of the tent where we lucked into a spot at the end of a long high top table. We introduced ourselves to a Bavarian man in his 50’s and his wife. He spoke English… she didn’t… but both were sweet as can be. She prosted (cheersed) with us more times than I can count and I have never met a person so excited to belt out the words to John Denver’s “Country Roads” than that German man. Over the next two hours we danced to the music and met loads more people from all over the world.  Even our busy waitress stopped to chat for awhile.  She told us that her full time job is an HR rep for a company in Munich, but she takes vacation days every year to work at Oktoberfest, because she loves it and the money is so good.

We sang “Sweet Caroline” one final time, then slipped out of our tent just after 10:00 to beat the rush of people leaving at 10:30 when the tents closed. As we walked back into our hotel we found some of our friends in the hotel bar (aka The Pub) so we sat down to have a drink with them. As everyone made their way home for the night, more and more people poured into The Pub and a full on party began. We had a blast spending one last night with our new friends and bidding farewell to Germany in style. Oktoberfest was truly an experience that Spatular and I will never forget, and something we will be raving about for the rest of our lives!

A BIG shout out to our new friends Cori and Jeff, Jami and Collin, Kirby, The Park Rangers, The Australians (Gunta the Monkey), and our awesome guides Serena, Max, and Kenneth who took this experience from great to over the top! The best way I can describe Oktoberfest would be like going to a big party, except that everyone was nice, and everyone wanted to be there. Do it. Like, seriously. Do it.

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Eat:

  • Spätzle – The German version of mac n cheese, topped with friend onions, and by far our favorite thing we ate in Munich.
  • Hendl – Half rotisserie chickens are served by the thousands in the beer tents.  I couldn’t get enough of the super crispy skin!   For lunch in the tent, Spatular and I would split a Hendl and an order of Spätzle.
  • Pretzels – If there is one food that comes to mind when you think of Germany, its got to be pretzels!  We split one a couple times as a mid-day or late-night snack.  They are HUGE so  definitely find a friend to share one.  They are typically served with mustard but our favorite one had cream cheese and  chives sandwiched inside.
  •  Sausage Sandwiches – As you may have guessed, sausage stands are everywhere at Oktoberfest.  I’m a big fan, but Spatular not so much.  Try them and decide for yourself!
  • Shawarma and Falafel  – We were surprised by this, but there were shawarma and falafel shops everywhere outside of the Oktoberfest ground.  We actually at at one called Oliva on three separate occasions.  By the time we got to Munich we were both starting to get sick of the heavy meals common in central Europe and I was majorly craving fresh vegetables.  We found this place the first day and went back  two more times!  I got the falafel wrap and Spatular ordered the chicken Shawarma wrap, which only cost a total of 10 euros for both wraps.  Great value and delicious!

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Drink:

  • The Beer! – Germany is famous for it and its the reason why we go to Oktoberfest!
  • German Riesling – This white wine is quite different from American Rieslings, and definitely worth a try if beer isn’t your thing.

Hotel Senator

Stay:

  • Hotel Senator – Conveniently located a quarter mile from both the main train station and the Oktoberfest grounds.  They serve an excellent breakfast with hot foods, a nice selection of meats and cheeses, fruit, yogurt, the works.  The rooms are basic but nice and clean.  There is a simple hotel bar on the main floor the turns into a poppin’ party spot late night after the tents close.  Despite the proximity to the Oktoberfest grounds, noise really wasn’t a problem.  I absolutely recommend Hotel Senator but if I was in Munich for something other than Oktoberfest, I would try and stay closer to the city center.

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Explore:

  • Walking Tour – There are tons of options for walking tours which are a great way to get acclimated with the city.  This is the link to the tour group that we used.
  • English Gardens – This sprawling park is worth a visit.  Check out the surfers, but also make some time to walk up to the Chinese Beer Garden (something that was recommended, but we weren’t able to squeeze in).
  • Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel – the heart of the city and a good place to start your touring.  If you are in Munich for sight seeing, not Oktoberfest, I would recommend finding accommodations near here.
  • Dachau – 25 minutes outside the city by train, Dachau was the first German concentration camp and definitely worth your time to visit.
  • Viktualienmarkt – a huge outdoor market with a beer garden that we passed through on our tour.  I would have liked to have spent more time here.
  • WWII History – The city is full of fascinating WWII history.  Dig into it!
  • OKTOBERFEST! – Just a quick note, Oktoberfest is in September, not October.  It begins in the middle of the month and ends the first weekend of October, so plan accordingly!

Group 1

Helpful Hints:

  • I cannot recommend enough using a reputable tour group for Oktobefest.  We booked our trip through Thirsty Swagman and were thrilled with our experience.  The company was extremely professional from the my initial inquiries online, all the way until we checked out of the hotel on the last day.  The guides were super fun, yet I could tell they were working their butts off to make sure everyone was having the time of their lives.  Serena especially was a rock star.  I don’t know how she did it, but she was the first one up every day and the last one to go to bed, and I never saw her without a smile on her face.  The people on our tour were also amazing and we made some really good friends with whom we could share this once in a lifetime experience.  It was a blast meeting people of all ages from every corner of the world.  If you are planning a trip to Oktoberfest, definitely check out the Thirsty Swagman group!
  • If you decide to do Oktoberfest on your own here are a few pointers.  If you have a big group and are willing to pay for all 10 seats at a table, I recommend making a table reservation a full year in advance.  Check when the reservations go on sale, and book immediately.  If you don’t make reservations, make sure you get to the tents before noon.  Otherwise you will struggle finding a seat.  You cannot get served beer unless you are sitting at a table, which is why finding seats is so important.  The HB is the only tent with a standing area (where Spatular and I were able to find a spot at a high top table the last night) but none of the other tents have standing room.  The other option is finding a seat at one of the outdoor beer gardens, which is easy but much more laid back than being inside the tents.
  • Unless you want to spend a ton of time waiting in line, go during the week like we did.  From what Oktoberfest alumni told us, the weekend is just too much and lines can be up to two hours.  We never waited in line once.
  • Beer at Oktoberfest is only served in liter steins.  Its a lot of beer.  Its ok to share the beer with your significant other if you are both sipping out of the same stein.  But don’t dump half the beer into another stein and share it that way.  We learned this the hard way, and trust me, the the Germans think you are insane for doing this.  (I don’t understand why, but trust me).  The other option besides sharing if you plan to be in the tent all day is to order Radlars, which are basically shandies.  They are half beer and half sprite or lemonade, and definitely a great way to cut the alcohol intake.
  • Buy your dirndl and lederhosen ahead of time!  I definitely recommending wearing the traditional garb because its half the fun, but it is extremely expensive in Munich.  I bought ours online ahead of time for about half the cost, and the quality was excellent.  This is where I bough Spatular’s lederhosen and this is where I bought my dirndl.
  • Watch out for pick pockets!  This was a concern for us, so we never took more than we needed to Oktoberfest and kept everything in a small cross body bag that I carried.  We were glad too, because on the last night, Spatular felt a woman reach down into his lederhosen, trying to steal his wallet!  Luckily everything was in my purse, so she didn’t get anything but a quick feel of his butt!

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