I arrived at the Munich train station excited, but weary about the Oktoberfest. The station was packed with people dressed in traditional clothes and eager to party, and it was already very festive early in the morning. So I got into the spirit fast and I have to say, after two full-on days of craziness at the festival, I’m pleased to report that with a bit of planning, there’s nothing to worry about.
The Oktoberfest village itself isn’t very big. It has 14 tents (including a wine tent) all side by side on either side of a pedestrian road, within stumbling distance of one another and surrounded by about 20 smaller food tents. Strangely, most of the grounds are actually taken up by a funfair with themed rides, including wait for it, a roller coaster. Who’s bright idea was that?
Although I was surprised, it does make for a great atmosphere, ‘cause the place is filled with families any time of the day, bobbing and weaving to avoid legless revelers. Stay out amongst the rides, the lights, the smell of food and the kids, and you could almost forget there were thousands of people in tents nearby, singing Bavarian folk songs and drowning in beer.
Fortunately I was invited to stay with friends which was a relief because hotels are full during Oktoberfest and prices double. Fortunately the same friends, had already booked a table in the Hippodrom tent, a favourite with locals. So I dropped my bags and headed straight into the tent in time for lunch, where the party was in full swing. That was a good thing because in the Hippodrom, you only get the table for three hours. Having booked months in advance, our allotted time was 12 – 3pm. I joined a table with eight other people and giant pretzels, tankards of beer and platters of local Bavarian meat and cheese dishes rained down on me. The band played on the elevated stage above us and by the time all the tables were re-set for the next crowd I was in a happy beer haze.
Many of the people on the table headed home to their kids and carry on their normal lives which was a surprise, but that’s when I realised that the Oktobefest is just as much fun for the locals. They are just smarter about what they do there. They look forward to the week and usually pop in to their favourite tent just for an hour or two every day, like they’re going down to their local (very large) pub.
Yes, there are loads of people falling over, vomiting and and passing out but it’s mostly on the grass bank out of sight behind the tents, so you can steer well clear of all that.
My second day couldn’t have been any more different to the first. I had been eased into it with the fancier, smaller Hippodrom and the wine tent, but day two we headed straight to the Hofbrauhaus. It’s in the middle of all the action and it’s packed with thousands and thousands of crazy drinkers. I made the mistake of coming in the back way, past the infamous grass bank and through the outdoor beer garden at Hofbrauhaus. Making my way to the front I was given a couple of kidney blows by the waitresses who carry armfuls of heavy beer tankards and swing wildly to move people out the way. If I had fallen in front of one of them, they would’ve stomped on my head, just for better traction.
So I was thankful when my friends ushered me in through a side door into a VIP section where we had a table for 20, and then it started again: Pretzels, beer (and a couple of one litre tankards of wine and soda), food platters and another live band. After each tankard we would venture past the huge kitchen where hundreds of chickens were turning in ovens, and into the seething mass to dance on the tables. When we’d had enough we would, thankfully, stroll back past the bouncer back to our table.
So is it as crazy as everyone says? Yes. Is it really that much fun? Yes. Can you actually leave with your dignity intact? Yes, but only if you want to, and if you do, then follow some of these tips:
Make friends with a local.
Go in the week when it’s not unbearably packed.
Pick one of the fancier tents and try to get a table.
Eat more than you drink.
Don’t go for more than 2 or 3 days.