“You went FOUR days in a row to Oktoberfest?!” asked a fellow backpacker, shocked. Yes. Yes I did. I didn’t initially plan to go for that long actually… But somehow in the last eight months of backpacking I made too many promises to meet up with people. And this resulted in four days straight of beer and giant pretzels.
For those who don’t know, Oktoberfest is the largest Volksfest (literally translated to “peoples’ festival”) in the world. It’s a 16-day festival ending the first weekend in October and sees over 6 million annual attendees from all over the world. The first Oktoberfest in 1810 was in celebration of the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, and from there the festival continued to be held annually. Oktoberfest is also known to locals as Wiesn, short for Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”), which is the name of the field it is held on, named after the Princess.
So what happens at Oktoberfest? Beer drinking. Lots and lots of beer drinking. Even more beer than all the frat parties I attended in college. Combined. Seriously though, in 2013 over 16 days, attendees consumed 7.7 million liters of beer.
But though Oktoberfest is famous for being a beer festival, it felt much more like an amusement park when I first entered, as it also had amusement rides, games, a parade, and traditional Bavarian foods such as Bratwurst (sausages), Brezen (pretzels), and Knödel (potato dumplings). To my surprise, it was very much a family event with many activities specifically for kids. It’s not until I reached the inside of the tents that I actually felt I was at the Oktoberfest I’d imagined it to be.
The inside of each tent is lined with rows and rows of tables with wooden benches, and each is packed with men in Lederhosen and women in Dirndls. Each tent has an entirely different feel to it, so depending on which one you attend you may either get a crazy party or a more chilled out atmosphere. Höfbrau attracts the most international crowd and seemed to be packed with Aussies, Kiwis, Americans, and Brits. It was definitely the craziest tent I attended (and also has the beer with the highest percent alcohol, at 6.3%). Augustiner and Paulaner seemed to attract a more relaxed local crowd, and it was nice to try out a few different tents to compare. Regardless of which tent you go to, you will drink a lot of beer and sing a lot of songs…
Every few minutes the orchestra plays a popular song that everyone sings along to, and oftentimes people will even get up on the wooden benches to sing. The most famous song is Ein Prostig (“a cheers”)… I must’ve sung along to that one at least 300 times. It’s been five days now and it’s still stuck in my head!
Then there are times when someone will stand on their wooden bench to chug beer for no reason at all. The crowd may start cheering… or booing if the person can’t finish their drink. Best to be fairly confident you can finish your beer before standing up on the table (or if you can’t chug beer very quickly, be sneaky like me and don’t go up with a full one!)
I loved Oktoberfest, not just for the friends I met up with or the fact that I crossed a top experience off my bucket list. What I most loved about Oktoberfest were the good vibes all around. Everyone I met in the tents was friendly, in a great mood, and excited to meet people from all over the world. Oktoberfest is all about drinking beer, making friends, and having a good time, and I definitely did all three.
Now, please don’t let me see another beer for at least a week. 💀
Tips for Oktoberfest:
- Don’t overestimate yourself. Trust me on this one: four days is just too many in a row for Oktoberfest. Plan to go for just a couple, or leave some days to sight-see in between.
- Eat outside of the tents to get cheaper prices. There are decently priced sandwiches, sausages, and pizza slices among other options at any food stall outside.
- If you don’t have a reservation on opening day, get there early. In order to secure a table, you’ll have to be in by around 10am. After opening day, it gets easier (I went in a group of only three, and we easily found tables around 3pm), but if you’re in a big group, the earlier the better.
- Book accommodation as soon as possible (and expect to pay a lot!) Some hostels I checked even quadruple their prices for Oktoberfest. Alternatively you can Couchsurf like I did for free (just get your requests out early).
- Don’t forget your Lederhosen (guys) or Dirndl (girls). Lots of people attend in regular clothes… but it’s so much more fun to dress up! They can get expensive, but if you search online you can find some cheaper ones.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌