Thursday, October 1, 2009

30/09/09: Oktoberfest!

The one and only Oktoberfest in Munich – Germany’s annual beerathon.


When in Munich...

‘What a genius idea!’ declared the Aussies I was travelling with. I was little more apprehensive. Beer? No lovely cocktails? Well when in Munich… Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that takes place every year in Munich. Last weekend I braved the opening weekend and I can confirm that whether or not you are a beer lover this is one festival you shouldn’t miss. The action has already begun but continues till October 4th so you still have time to join in the fun!

Where to stay

I joined some Aussie friends on Friday evening after a never-ending journey from Madrid to Munich. The campsite we stayed at, Thalkirchen, is a 15 minute walk from the nearest metro stop and really cheap if you‘re travelling on a budget. For those who don’t enjoy roughing it there are plenty of hostels and hotels in the Munich area, although they get pretty booked up this time of year.
A good tip is to book through a tour group. This cut out a lot of effort for us and we arrived to ready-erected tents complete with air mattresses. The showers were hot and there were even electrical sockets in the bathrooms. For someone who is wedded to her hair straighteners this campsite gets definite thumbs up from me! Unfortunately my happiness was slightly marred by the fact that I didn’t get a tent near my mates due to my late arrival on Friday evening. Instead I ended up rooming with an English guy who was part of a stag party surrounded by tents containing his friends. Truly, it could only happen to me!

What to wear

Dirndl and lederhosen may sound funny but they are a must! We went for the more traditional costume of full skirt, puffy sleeves and low neckline whilst the guys opted for anything from braces and a hat to the full lederhosen ensemble. But there were a lot of variations on the traditional German dress from the tourists – anything from hot pants to über short skirted versions that could only have come from a sex shop. A word of warning to those ladies who go for the ‘updated’ German dress though – don’t stand on the tables. Please.

Beer wench!

What to do

The central activity of the festival is, predictably, drinking. The tents are open from 10am on weekdays and 9am on weekends. Be aware that purchasing beer can be a major challenge, especially at busy times. You have to be seated before you can be served although if the waitress (beer wench) has served everyone at her tables she may serve people standing in the area. The waitresses (beer wenches) work voluntarily so you must tip them if you want to get served again. A good rule of thumb is to give them €10 per stein and let them keep the change.
Each tent is dedicated to a specific beer but, as you’ll realise pretty quickly, they’re also dedicated to a specific crowd. We spent most of our time in the Hofbräu tent which is (without a doubt) the tourist tent. A sea of tour company t-shirts greet you when you walk in and the majority of accents are British or Australian. Unsurprisingly, this tent gets pretty rowdy in the evenings. In the centre there’s an area called the ‘pig pen’ which is a standing room only. Be wary if you’re a lone female in this area; aside from being grope central, you’ll notice the overhead angel steadily accumulates clothes and underwear thrown up from the crowd as the day wears on.
Bands play all day long and random outbreaks of singing in the tents add to the rowdy atmosphere. We spent a lot of time jumping up from our seats onto the benches to sing along to quality (?) tunes such as Mambo Number Five. Every ten minutes or so the band plays the Oktoberfest toast song which is your cue to get up on your seats and start clinking glasses left, right and centre. Having no clue to what the German in the song meant I was perfectly content singing my own gibberish version especially as the hours passed by… Just remember to say ‘prost’ at the end of each song!

What to eat

Food is served in the tents and festival grounds all day. Two typical snacks you must try are pretzels and gingerbread cookies. You can buy absolutely gigantic pretzels at the festival which go perfectly with beer. Unfortunately once you start you just can’t stop, resulting in a vicious circle of drink – eat salty pretzel – get thirsty – eat another salty pretzel – drink and so on and so forth. Another typical snack is the giant gingerbread cookie, which will often have a phrase iced onto them. My mate went for the ‘Ich Liiiiiebe dich’ iced message and I, unable as always to avoid the tacky, went for ‘Mein superstar’. These can be hung around your neck so you can take bites when hunger strikes. What a genius idea!

Beats a currywurst we say...

No more beer

There’s no doubt about it that two days of non-stop beer drinking requires stamina. As someone who rarely drinks beer, after a couple of steins I was well on my way to drunkenness: so remember to take breaks! Don’t be that person who vomits all over the table.
Within the festival grounds there are lots of fairground rides to take advantage of although some – including the rollercoaster – may be better on an empty stomach! There’s also a huge statue of Bavaria on a hill at one end of the festival grounds where people go to relax or, in some cases, sleep off the alcohol.
Do try as well at some point to leave the festival and see Munich itself. The beautiful English gardens are a lovely escape from the madness and contain everything from nudist sunbathers to surfers on the river! Munich’s Marienplatz is one of the city’s central squares and a great place to grab a coffee and people watch. At 11.00am, 12.00am and 5.00pm you can see the famous Glockenspiel in action as the carved figures move about accompanied by taped music.

So go and enjoy Oktoberfest while you still can. It’s definitely worth it. I’ll finish with one invaluable lesson I learned this weekend at Oktoberfest: Don’t take a camera on a rollercoaster when you’re drunk. It will fall out of your hands… But at least I’m now the proud owner of a dirndl!

Find out more about Oktoberfest from Munich’s Tourist Board.