Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich had been on my bucket list for a long time and it finally got scratched off last year!
Oktoberfest is in the same zone as drinking wine in Napa, attending Jazz Fest in New Orleans and learning to make pasta in Italy. These events and activities celebrate the very behavior that defines their culture. I can celebrate Oktoberfest at a dozen places in my home city, but Munich is the original home of Oktoberfest.
Now I say ‘holy Oktoberfest’ in the blog title because it’s a doozie, in the best of ways, but not an event for the faint at heart. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should experience it at one point in their life, but if you do, keep these 10 tips in mind…
Arrive early! Open seats are taken early, so show up in the morning to claim a spot and get ready to get settled in for the day. I suggest showing up as early as 10AM on weekends and 3PM on weekdays.
Ladies, either DO the authentic dirndl or don’t. This is not the place to pick-up a sexy dirndl at the train station for $25. If you’re going to go there, well go there and be authentic with your outfit.
Unless you’re going with a large group (10+) and have a local contact to make a reservation for you months in advance, don’t stress about not having a table reservation. Go to a beer hall, find a table (they will all be crowded) and ask folks if you can squeeze in and join them. Chances are they will say yes and you’ll have new best friends. If you have a large group, enter beer halls in pairs as it will be easier to get through the front door and navigate your way to a table.
You don’t pay to get into Oktoberfest. Imagine a state fair with rides, food vendors and then 14 ‘halls’ that each house a major brewery. Inside these halls, it’s the biggest German party you’ve ever seen. Just walk in, find a table and wait for a server to come by and take your order. Important to note, most of the large beer halls only serve one beer, so your order will be more along the lines of how many beers vs. what kind of beer. Be sure to carry cash with you as they do not accept plastic.
You’re going to see people with cookies around their neck. Don’t eat the cookie (or munch on someone else’s cookie). This is a traditional way of showing affection towards another. The cookies are meant to last years, so trust me, they are made with stuff you don’t want in your body for years.
Write down the address to where you are staying on a piece of paper and keep it in your pocket. I saw a number of travelers that arrived in Munich, got an early start at the festival, and then we’re too drunk to remember how to get home (or remember where they were staying) at the end of the night. If you find yourself in a pinch show a local taxi your little piece of paper. You’ll thank me later.
While in Munich take the time to see something other than beer halls. It’s a fantastic city full of history (good and bad) and beautiful sights. I recommend the Sandeman’s Tours company. They offer a free city orientation tour that is excellent. Local guides offer the tour and give you a solid overview of the city as well as interesting local insights and recommendations. Be sure to tip the guide what you think the tour was worth to you.
Wear flat shoes. You’ll be walking a lot making your way to/from the festival, not to mention that once you’re at the event you’ll be walking around cement floors covered in beer. You’ll also be periodically jumping on the table to sing, dance and have the time of your life. This is clearly not the place for heels.
Avoid taking a bag, purse, extra jackets, etc. At some point in the party you will get swept off your feet to join the dance floor and your belongings will fall to the floor and become yet another casualty of the event.
Take care of yourself. Eat throughout the day, balance beers with periodic waters, and resist the temptation to go on the rides (especially the flying swings) late at night. Trust me
Whatever you do, just go to Oktoberfest. It’s an international gathering centered on good laughs, new friends, and really darn good beer.