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Oktoberfest. Just the name conjures up images of beer, brezn and the best party on the planet.
It is officially the biggest “Volksfest” (fair) in the world with up to seven million people visiting over the 16 days every year. To put that into perspective, Munich only has around 1.2 million inhabitants, so you can imagine how the vibe of the city changes during those magical two weeks.
For a true Münchner Kindl (“child of Munich”, this is what we call people born and bred in Munich) the two weeks during September and the beginning of October are the absolute highlight of the year. I remember my parents taking me and my brother when we were little kids to eat candy floss and sugared, roasted almonds, then riding the boat swings and carousels until we were dizzy. We were so excited, it was like Christmas came early that year (or every year actually).
Then as teenagers you go with a bunch of friends after school to ride the crazy rides and sneak in a beer or two. That’s when the fun really started. In Bavaria you are allowed to drink beer from age 16 so from that age (no sooner of course!) we used to head straight to the beer tents after school every day. Every school traditionally had its favourite tent and you were sure to meet everybody you’ve ever met in your life there. Our tent was Schottenhamel, and this is still my favourite tent 15 years later. You know the music so well that you know the next song before the current one is over. It was during my teenage years (oh the good old 90s) when it came into fashion to wear the “traditional” Bavarian outfits, Lederhosen for guys and Dirndl for girls, to Oktoberfest. Before that only older, more traditional people wore these “Trachten” but nowadays I wouldn’t want to be seen anywhere near the Wiesn (that’s what real Bavarians call Oktoberfest) in normal everyday clothes. Over the years I have shown many friends from different countries around Oktoberfest and there are many complicated and confusing, unofficial rules one has to follow in order to have the best time possible.
So, here are some important preparation and survival tips as well as some Oktobefest etiquette guidelines from a real Münchner Kindl. Part 1 will focus on preparation:
Check the dates
Sounds like a no-brainer but you would be surprised at how many tourists show up after the festival has ended because unlike the name suggests, Oktobefest actually takes place in September and ends at the first weekend of October.
Decide when to go
Most people come to one of the three weekends. The opening weekend is shorter as Oktoberfest opens on the Saturday at 12 o’clock noon so you will miss the Friday night. The middle weekend is traditionally known as the “Italian weekend” as thousands of Italians descended on Munich in their campervans but to be honest, you will meet Italians here every day. The last weekend used to be a bit quieter but nowadays so many people visit that you won’t really notice a difference. I always suggest people come during the week if they can afford to take the time off as it’s much more relaxed and less of a hassle to get into tents and find a table, but just as much fun as at the weekends.
Book WELL in advance!
Flights will be available all year round but they’ll be expensive the longer you leave it. I would suggest booking the flights as soon as possible, ideally around six months in advance to get a good price. A word of caution, Munich only has one airport, Franz-Joseph Strauss, but some budget airlines offer flights to “Munich West airport which is actually Memmingen” and bloody miles away. Accommodation is a totally different matter. I started looking into hostels and hotels in December (10 months in advance) for some friends who wanted to visit and most hostels were booked up already, no kidding. You can still find a bed in a dorm somewhere but it will cost anywhere from €75-100 per night and it will be far from the centre of Munich! Air BnB is a great option but people will try to make money during Oktoberfest and the prices will be high. Or go for the free option and stay with friends or try couchsurfing!
Once you’ve booked your room and transportation make sure to start saving money immediately. Even with accommodation and flights taken care of you will still spend a LOT of money. Oktoberfest is expensive and you really don’t want to pass up that second (or third?) Mass (this is the unit of beer, we’ll come to that later) because you’re broke. To get a rough idea of what things cost:
- A mass will set you back €10 and this is without leaving a big tip
- A giant Brezn (pretzel) in the beer tent will cost around €5
- The rides (yes, there are lots of great rides) cost between €3 and €10
- A portion of Schweinshaxn (roast pork knuckle) costs around €17
So you see, just eating and drinking and going on a ride or two can easily cost you up to €100 per day or even more.
Start practicing drinking (strong) beer!
As Oktoberfest marks the end of the summer in Munich most of us will be well in the swing of things having practiced our drinking skills all summer long in the beer gardens and other smaller festivals around Bavaria. But if you’re not used to it you should start training now, especially as Wiesn Bier is much stronger than normal lager.
Tables in the beer tents can be booked but the system is quite complicated and preference is given to regulars. As a newbie your chances of snatching up a reservation are quite slim and you don’t actually need one to have a good time. I’ve never had a reservation and always managed to get a table.
If you follow all these rules you will be well prepared for your arrival in Munich. Part 2 and part 3 will focus survival rules during the festival and how to dress properly to blend in with the locals.
Have you ever been to Oktoberfest? I would love to hear your stories!
Check out my brand new e-book “Oktoberfest on a Budget: More Beer for your Buck” on Amazon for even more awesome tips on how to enjoy Oktoberfest! Click the cover below 🙂