Today was a day of much-needed rest for the people of Munich — and their livers. That’s because today – for the first time in over two weeks – there was no Oktoberfest to attend. After 16 straight days of beer, pretzels, sausage, music, lederhosen and dirndls, the world’s greatest festival has come to a close.
Katie and I made it out to the Thereisienwiese grounds on four separate occasions and loved every second of it. Oktoberfest (also known locally as “Wiesn”) is just as we remembered it from our 2010 trip and this year was even better given our company and, of course, our choice of attire:
Becoming more and more German with each passing day (and beer).
I tell everyone that Oktoberfest is essentially the Wisconsin State Fair, but with beer tents. When you’re outside of the tents, you’re surrounded by food vendors, games, rides and merchandise kiosks. The grounds are laid out in the shape of a ladder, with two main streets and several smaller connecting streets (the rungs of the ladder, if you will). The festival itself is free to attend, too. Unlike similar festivals back home, which charge an entry fee, Oktoberfest has no cover charge.
The beer tents themselves aren’t tents at all. They’re actually massive buildings that can hold up to 10,000 (drunk) people. And get this — they aren’t permanent structures. These buildings are constructed every year (they begin in the summer) and torn down as soon as the festival ends. If you go to the grounds in the winter or spring you’ll see nothing but an empty plot of land. I’m not sure of the logic behind that, but it’s how they do it.
The Paulaner beer “tent.”
It’s upon stepping inside of a tent that you feel as if you’re at Oktoberfest. Your eyes are greeted with thousands of happy, loud, friendly, mostly-drunk people standing on top of tables singing along with a 10+ person band playing in the middle of the room. The band is usually playing American and British hits from multiple decades over the past 50 years, making it quite enjoyable for English-speaking attendees. There’s little room to maneuver and the tents can get quite hot. You have to get there super early (by 3 p.m. on the weekdays and 10 a.m. on the weekends) if you want any chance of finding an open table. We actually preferred standing along the outer rails where it was a little cooler, so arriving to the grounds in the evening hours was not a problem.
Welcome to Oktoberfest.
Each of our visits was a little different. For our first trip we took my mom and step-dad during one of their nights in Munich. The four of us crammed into a picnic table outside of the Augustiner tent and feasted on a dinner of roasted chicken, sausage and fries. We washed it down with a couple of shared Maß’s (“mass’s” — the big glasses that hold a liter of beer). Then we walked around the entire fair before stopping for apple strudel and roasted cashews. This was the night that Katie and I debuted our German ensembles.
We returned a couple of days later with our friends Dan and Leah who came to Munich after a few days in Rome. We got to the Fest late that night and, because it was our first chance to really talk with them since welcoming them to Germany, we opted for another outside table — this time at the Schottenhamel tent — so we could enjoy our beers in an environment conducive for conversation. The Schottenhamel tent is the festival’s most famous. It’s where the mayor of Munich famously taps the first keg and gives permission to all of the other tents to start selling beer. This tent held only 50 people back in 1867 — now it holds around 10,000!
The following two visits — on back-to-back nights — had a slightly different feel. By this point Katie’s good friend, also named Katie, had made it to Munich in surprise fashion. (By the way, major props to Katie for going to Oktoberfest on her first night in town despite the jet lag!) The five of us spent both nights in the tents — the Hacker-Festzelt tent on the first night and the Hofbrau tent on the second night — and passed the hours by belting out American songs, meeting fellow lederhosen- and dirndl-wearing locals, and toasting (“prosting”) everyone in sight. We had little issues getting into a tent on Monday night (though the tables were still jam packed), but when we went back on Tuesday night, the entire festival seemed twice as crowded. It took us a good 20-30 minutes of waiting outside of the Hofbrauhaus tent before we were let in. We almost left the festival because every tent had crowds of people waiting outside trying to get in. We learned, though, that if you wait long enough, they eventually let new people in.
Leah, Dan, Katie, Katie and I in the Schottenhamel tent on Monday night.
The two Katies thought it would be fun to try out some of the rides. The first night we rode one of those “Giant Drop” like towers which actually offered a pretty nice view of Munich. It probably would have been even better during the daytime. The following night I got dragged onto one of those Haunted House rides where you sit in a car riding through total darkness while things jump out at you. It’s even more intense with a few beers in your system.
I also discovered the most delicious pork sandwich I’ve ever had — the Schweinesteak. It’s a grilled piece of seasoned pork served on a roll. And it’s delicious. I had one on the first night and two on the second night.
One other thing. I know the alcohol has something to do with it, but the people at Oktoberfest — regardless of where they come from — are all so friendly. It’s pretty amazing that so many people (6.4 million came to Oktoberfest this year) can come to one small plot of land for the sole purpose of drinking and do so in such a relatively peaceful manner. Of course, there are fights here and there, but for the most part it’s very orderly.
I hope that 2012 won’t be the last time Katie and I get to experience Oktoberfest. But having been five times in the past three years will last us for quite a while. And as fun as 2010 was, being able to share it with friends and family made the 2012 version that much better.
As always, more pictures are on our Flickr page.