Munich: Get the most out of the last weekend of Oktoberfest
Stars and Stripes October 3, 2012
It’s a national trend: Cities across America roll out beer kegs and pull on old-timey getups never worn by their forefathers to celebrate a German holiday they know little about, save for its possible connections to liver damage and shotgun weddings.
But alas, this is Europe; there is no need to settle for such star-spangled knockoffs. One beer-swilling, sausage-scarfing weekend remains before the world’s original alcohol-themed costume party descends into its 179th yearlong hangover.
That’s right: Munich’s Oktoberfest ends late Sunday, by which time it’s expected partiers will have consumed some 6 million liters of high-test brew.
It might be hard to believe, but there’s much more to the time-honored fest than inebriation. While boozing snags most of the attention, about half of Oktoberfest’s DNA is good-old county fair. Think carnival rides, midway games and food so unhealthy your heart stops a few beats if you just catch a whiff.
And on the festival’s last day, get ready for a traditional gun salute at noon on the west end of the Theresienwiese, where Oktoberfest is held.
But let’s be honest: Most people don’t go to Oktoberfest for the carnival rides or gunplay; they’re there to party. The festival’s essence lives inside Oktoberfest’s 14 tents, each a bash unto itself with its own groove, its own brew and its own specialties beyond the beer.
In the Ochsenbraterei tent, it’s plates full of ox. In Fischer Vroni, it’s fish on a stick. And at the Hofbräu Festhalle, the specialty appears to be English, as this 6,896-seat tent is where most of the Australian, British and American tourists wind up.
No doubt, getting those seats wasn’t easy, but finding a proper place to plop down is a requirement to getting the full-on festival experience. Waiters and waitresses won’t serve you unless you’re seated. And once the seats are full, it can be a long wait before more open.
Here are some tips to help you win at Oktoberfest:
• Serving hours are 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The tents close at 11:30 p.m. daily, with the exception of the Käfer Wiesn-Schänke and the Weinzelt, which are open until 1 a.m. and serve until 12:15 a.m.
• Though beer guzzling starts midmorning, the benches fill up long before that. Reservations aren’t necessary, but get in line before 8 a.m. if you don’t have one.
• If waking up early or waiting in line aren’t your style, try for one of the smaller beer gardens scattered around the tents. Even these fill up, but as the beer gardens’ atmosphere aren’t nearly as high-energy, seats tend to empty with higher frequency.
• A Maß – or one-liter mug – of beer costs from 9.10 euros to 9.50 euros. Take plenty of cash; most places won’t accept credit cards.
• There is no parking at the fest area, and you will be towed if you are parked illegally. But if you drive to Munich, it shouldn’t be hard to find parking in a public garage at or near your hotel. Walk from there or take public transportation.
• If driving seems like a bad idea, take the train or check with your local travel or outdoor recreation office for travel deals. The German rail system has special Oktoberfest trains Saturday, details at: http://tiny.cc/aerclw.
• The Theresienwiese is served by the U3, U4, U5 and U6 subway lines, S-1 and S-8 S-bahn lines, and streetcar lines 18 and 19.
• Inexpensive hotels can be difficult to find, and many might require a three-night booking. Before you go, check out travel websites such as Booking.com or head to the city’s website, munich.de, for accommodation referrals.
• Oktoberfest beer is stronger than standard German beer, which itself is typically stronger than many American beers.
• According to a handy pamphlet put out by the U.S. consulate in Munich, “Taking beer mugs from the Oktoberfest tents is considered a criminal offense.” The consulate recommends that those who want souvenirs buy them at a souvenir stand.
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mattmillham