Mid-September to early October
Officially the world’s largest public festival, the Munich Beer Festival, or Oktoberfest, kicks off on the third Saturday in September and keeps pumping day after day for a full-on alcohol- soaked fortnight. Known locally as the “Wies’n”, the name of the sprawling park in which it takes place, the first Oktoberfest was held in the early nineteenth century to celebrate a wedding amongst the local royalty. Like all of the best parties, however, the Oktoberfest has grown to forget how and why it started, and is now an unadulterated celebration of beer, Bavarian life and bacchanalia, attracting seven ; million visitors who guzzle their way through more than four million litres of beer. In case you’re wondering, even at ten pints a day, it would take one person 2465 years to polish off that lot.
Getting your bearings
At the heart of the festival, spread around Wies’n park, are nine enormous beer tents where the boisterous crowds sit at long benches, elbow to elbow, draining one huge litre glass, or “stein”, after another. If you’re up for annihilation, head to the Hofbrau tent at a weekend during the festival, go for the ten- stein challenge and join the thousands of young-bloods braying for beer, naked flesh and projectile vomiting. If you actually want some recollection of your time in Munich, or to encounter some real Germans, pitch up midweek and take in two or three of the other beer tents. Whenever and wherever you go, one thing will stay the same – within two steins you’ll be laughing with your neighbours like long-lost buddies, banging the table in time with the oompah bands and thinking about trying one of those suddenly oh-so-tasty-looking pork-knuckle sandwiches. Just try not to end up as a bierleichen, or beer corpse, as the locals delicately refer to the comatose victims who obviously knocked back far more steins than they could handle.
The first weekend
Regarded as the best, loudest and noisiest time to visit the festival, the first weekend of Oktoberfest sees several traditional parades, and some unparalleled drinking displays. At 11 lam on Saturday, the “Grand Entry of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries” is held, and is a great introduction to the traditions and scale of the event, involving around one thousand participants attired in Bavarian finery (lederhosen, basically), decorated carriages, curvaceous waitresses on horse-drawn floats and booming brass bands from each of the beer tents. The parade starts in the city centre and wends its way to the Wies’n, by which time several thousand thirsty locals and international partiers have joined in hot pursuit. The Lord Mayor officially opens the festival at noon by tapping the first barrel of Oktoberfest beer in the Schottenhamel tent by the park’s entrance. He declares “O’zapft is”, which literally means “It’s
open”, but translates more accurately as “Why doesn’t everybody get as wasted as possible in my town for the next two weeks and don’t worry about the mess because we’ll clear up?”
The mayor’s cry is met by huge cheers from the crowds, and marks the start of the mad dash to the cavernous beer tents to grab a seat before they are all taken; in all tents other than the Hofbrau, you will only be served if seated. As most of the seats on the first day are reserved, you may find yourself in the odd position of being in the middle of the largest beer festival on earth without being able to get your hands on any ale for over an hour. To avoid this, either skip the parade (there’s a similar, but smaller one on Sunday) and grab a seat before noon, or mess around at the fairground for an hour or so until seats start to free up as the first of many casualties are carried out.
To make things as easy as possible, there’s only one type of beer on offer in each major tent at the festival: the breweries own, specially brewed “Oktoberfest-Bier”, usually a delicious pilsner with a hearty 5.7 percent alcohol content. The effects after three steins? Well, according to the official Oktoberfest programme, “after the third glass the drinker is transposed into a state of relaxed conviviality which can only develop and flourish in a Wies’n tent with at least ninety decibels of brass music”. In other words, you’ll be so drunk you’ll be singing at the top of your voice, hugging everyone around you and soon attempting the cancan on the table. And it will only get worse. At around €8 a throw, the beers ain’t cheap, but you get plenty of bang for your buck.