After 3 fantastic yet short days in Prague, we packed up our things and headed back to the train station to catch an early train to the next stop on our trip – Munich. When Mike and I first started planning our Germany trip months and months prior, we knew that Oktoberfest was a big bucket list item for both of us, so we planned our trip around Saturday, September 20 – the first day of the famous festival. After a cramped train ride (with Mike sitting next to an old Czech man who wouldn’t stop talking) we finally arrived in Munich 6 hours later.
We quickly dropped off our things at our new Airbnb apartment, ideally located just 3 short blocks from the fest grounds, and headed out for our main to-do of the day – finding a dirndl and lederhosen. There were stores everywhere selling these traditional outfits, but having just arrived in Munich and not really having a lay of the land yet, it was a bit nerve-wracking trying to figure out where to go. We started at a higher end department store right across from the Hauptbahnhof (central station) called Karstadt, but they were definitely some of the most expensive options so we decided to look elsewhere. Mike found his lederhosen at a small pop-up-type shop just a couple blocks from our apartment and I ended up finding my dirndl at C&A, another department store near the train station that was a step or two down in terms of price from Karstadt. Even at the lower end shops you’re still going to end up spending quite a bit on this apparel, but it was so fun wearing it at the festival that the price tag was totally worth it!
As soon as we decided that 2014 was the year for Germany and Oktoberfest, I started looking into how exactly you get a table in the tents. After quite a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that unless you live in Germany or know someone that does, it is almost impossible to secure reserved seats. We got extremely lucky and found out that a couple of our friends had previously attended Oktoberfest with a group from Chicago that has been going for years and years, and they had the table reservation thing completely worked out. In order to secure a table at the Oktoberfest tents, you basically have to buy 2 beer tickets and 1 half-chicken ticket for everyone at the 10-person table – so you’re not actually paying for the table itself, just guaranteeing that a certain amount will be spent. We met up with our group on Friday night for dinner, got our beer and chicken tickets for the two tents we’d be going to on Saturday, and turned in early in anticipation of the big day ahead.
Because we had a reserved table we didn’t need to be up quite as early as those who had to fight for the open seating areas. If you don’t have a reserved table there are plenty of open seating options, but those fill up quickly, especially on opening day, and they tend to get a bit rowdier. If you’re going on a Sunday or a weekday it is not quite as busy and waiting in line at 7am is not necessary. We met up with our group around 9am and made our way through the rain to our first tent of the day, and also the location of the opening ceremony, Schottenhamel. Even with reserved seating we learned that you should still arrive somewhat early because people will actually move the taped-on sign labeling your table and swap it for theirs if your table is in a better location.
On opening day they don’t begin serving beer anywhere until the first barrel has been tapped by the mayor of Munich in the Schottenhamel tent at noon. Once the mayor has successfully tapped the barrel, canons are fired letting all the other tents know that beer can now be served. Another reason to arrive early – to get in good with your server. Everyone has been sitting in the tent for a least a couple hours now, waiting for that first Maß of fest beer, and as soon as the barrel is tapped everyone wants their beer ASAP! We had a few Germans at our table that gave our server a nice tip from the table up front and let him know we were very eager for our first beers – and we were more than excited when we were the first people in our section to be served. They work fast but there are just so many people – the people at the table behind us didn’t get their first beers until we were ready for seconds!
Now that I’ve covered some of the technical details of preparing for Oktoberfest, let’s get to the fun part – the actual fest. Before arriving at the fest grounds that Saturday I never knew that Oktoberfest was anything more than a giant beer festival. What I quickly learned was that it’s also the largest, most impressive carnival I’ve ever seen! Theresienwiese is the open space in Munich that is home to Oktoberfest, and for most of the year the space is completely empty. Everything is rebuilt each year just in time for opening day. Super impressive. We spent some time walking around here on Monday and had a great time. Helpful hint – don’t waste your money on the heart-shaped cookies with the intention of eating them…(they’re not very good).
Walking into the Schottenhamel Festzelt for the first time was incredibly exciting. The tents are huge, beautiful, and bursting with people. Our reserved table in Scottenhamel was up in the balcony area so we weren’t in the middle of it all, so we killed some time before the first barrel was tapped by walking around and taking it all in. Because of the opening ceremony, Schottenhamel tends to get a few famous faces and all the Germans were going crazy over the entrance of pop star Heino. We had no clue who he was, but I still had to get a picture!
When we arrived at our table we were greeted by boards filled with some of the best beer snacks I could ever ask for; we may have snuck a bite or two before our first beers arrived. We also indulged in several giant pretzels, another perfect salty snack to go along with the fest beer – they look big, but trust me – you’ll want your own!
Once most people made their way through their first beer and started on their second, everything seemed to get a bit more lively. The band was in full swing playing German songs that we would all come to know and sing along with by the end of the night. More beer meant more food was necessary so we sent in the tickets for our chicken. This Oktoberfest chicken is the stuff of dreams people. Salty, perfectly browned skin with juicy meat underneath – I have never tasted a half chicken that I enjoyed so much, and this was only after 1 beer, so I maintain that I wasn’t swayed by the alcohol!
After a couple hours at Schottenhamel we were hot and all feeling a bit claustrophobic up in the balcony, so we headed out to Augustiner beer garden for a break in between fest tents. Augustiner-Keller is a short walk away from the Theresienwiese and is a huge, open beer garden that was the perfect spot to enjoy more beer and pretzels while taking a break from the crowds, just make sure to watch out for the chestnuts!
As the afternoon rolled into the evening it was time to head back to the fest grounds and claim our spots for the night in the largest beer tent at Oktoberfest – Hofbräu-Festzelt. As we waited in line to get into the tent, it was apparent that there were a LOT of people that could not handle their beer. Slow and steady wins the race, not speedy and sloppy…don’t end up like this guy….
Once we made it into the tent we found that it was a bit of a different atmosphere than the morning’s festivities. There were a lot of people that probably should be passed out like the guy in the above photo, but somehow they were carrying on. It was entertaining to walk through the chaos for a short period of time, several people thought that I was some kind of professional photographer and asked me to take pictures of them with my camera, but some people were in such bad shape that it just wasn’t fun to see or to try and navigate through. Back in the confines of our reserved (read: less of a shit show) section we had our beers, ate our half chickens, and jammed out to half of the dirty dancing soundtrack before deciding it was time to call it a night.
Our Oktoberfest experience was a lot of fun and I’m so happy that we were able to check this crazy fest off our bucket lists! If we return to Oktoberfest in the future we probably won’t choose opening weekend again, it was great to do once but overall it was a bit crazy for a repeat visit. Whenever you choose to go, I’m positive that you will have an unforgettable time, we definitely did!