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Stripes European Travel, Thursday, September 13, 2007

Attending Oktoberfest is one of those things you should do at least once in your life. Imagine the ridicule your buddies would inflict upon you if you told them you were once stationed in Germany but never made it to the granddaddy of all beer fests.

According to the Munich Tourist Office, Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the world. Last year, it saw more than 6.5 million visitors and served up nearly 7 million liters of beer.

The annual blowout goes back to 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, wed Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. On Oct. 17, five days after the marriage, a large festival was held in front of one of the gates leading to Munich. Each year, the fest grew, adding horse races, an agricultural fair and parades. It became a great tourist attraction and a way for visitors to learn about Bavaria and its people, including its beer; by 1818, beer stalls had become a regular feature.

Despite its name, the festival is held in September, when, according to the festival’s Web site, organizers believe the weather is milder and more reliable. This year, the fest runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 7, and if you are planning to attend, here are a few tips to help you get there and back, and to have a good time while there.

• Get to Munich a day early. If you can get to Munich a day before you head to the Theresienwiese (the area where Oktoberfest takes place), do so. You’ll be able to familiarize yourself with the city’s subway system, walk around the city center and shop for lederhosen or dirndl dresses. The lowest prices for the authentic German get-ups were at the C&A in the downtown Munich walking area not far from the Rathaus.

• Know the subway. Figure out how to get from your hotel or wherever you parked (if you were foolish enough to drive) to the festival grounds by subway. Take the U4 or U5 lines and get off at the Theresienwiese stop. Single-trip tickets are 2.20 euros, but the best deal if you’re traveling with as many as four others and are going for the weekend is the three-day partner ticket for 21 euros. Look for the “3-tage partner-karte innenraum” on any of the ticket machines in the Munich subway or train stations.

If you’re with four others and only staying for one day, buy the “partner-tageskarte innenraum” for 9 euros. Be sure to validate your ticket at one of the little yellow electronic boxes before getting on the subway. And don’t lose the ticket.

• Arrive at the fest early in the morning. You will not be served beer if you don’t have a seat at a table. On the first day of the fest, beer is not served at any of the massive tents until noon, when the ceremonial first keg is tapped, but it is crucial to show up at or before 9 a.m. to secure a spot inside one of the 14 tents.

Last year, my wife and I and another couple got to the world-famous Hofbräu tent at about 9:30 a.m. on Oktoberfest’s opening day. It was packed, and the Hofbräu staff wasn’t letting anyone else in. We ran next door to the Hacker-Festzelt and stood in line — without moving — at a side door for about 30 minutes. At about that time, my wife got fed up and decided to snag a table at the Hofbräu outdoor seating area. Good thing she did. By about 10:30 a.m., there were hardly any open tables left in the Hofbräu outdoor area, which holds 3,000 people.

Yes, you can make inside reservations, but as of now most of the tents are booked solid except for some open dates in the middle of the week. After the opening day, the tents start serving beer at 9 a.m. on weekends and 10 a.m. on weekdays.

• Pace yourself, and remember to eat. When the drinking begins at noon or earlier, pacing yourself is crucial. Drink water between beers. You’ll see Aussies and New Zealanders chugging full liters of beer in seconds. Don’t be tempted to one-up them or you’ll be laughing at the ground before sundown.

Also, be sure to get some food (try the chicken or go with the standard pretzel) in your stomach. It’s also not a bad idea to tip your waitress to ensure a steady supply of food and drink.

• Use the bathroom in shifts. Make sure someone holds your place at the table while you leave to use the restroom. The unfortunate who don’t have seats circle seating areas ready to pounce on any open spot so they can finally get served. When you get back from the bathroom, return the favor for the person who saved your spot.

Know and Go

• Getting there: You can drive to Munich for Oktoberfest, but with the traffic you’ll encounter, potential parking headaches and the drinking you’ll likely engage in, it’s not the best idea.

Taking the train offers much less hassle, and there are plenty of specials available, such as Oktoberfest Party Trains leaving from several stations. Check out www.bahn.de or visit your local train station to find out more.

Another option is to take one of the bus trips offered by on-base Morale, Welfare and Receation departments or the USO. Most are day trips, but some may include an overnight. The trips cost as little as $50, depending on the starting point.

• Lodging: If you plan to spend the night in Munich, it’s not too late to find a place. Call the official hotel booking service of the Munich Tourist Office at (+49) (0) 89-233-96- 555. On short notice last year, the staff there found a hotel room near downtown Munich for the last weekend of the fest.

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