What’s on tap at Oktoberfest
September 1, 2005
Pack light. Check the weather. Bring water and drink it. And pace yourself.
It’s true that Oktoberfest in Munich is about beer, but that’s only half the story. The 14 football field-size tents MAP — that’s where the beer is — cover half of the fairgrounds. Beer is served in heavy, one-liter mugs. One mug, equivalent to three 12-ouncers, is quite sufficient to catch a buzz.
But the Oktoberfest is also home to dozens of kiddie rides, gut-busting amusement park rides, and hundreds of vendors, like a county fair on steroids. There are crazy parades on most days that lead through Munich to the fest.
And, of course, thousands of men in leather outfits and women in colorful dirndls can be seen every day at the big party, which runs this year from Sept. 17 until Oct. 3.
A camera is a must. As far as money, one can spend as much or as little as he wants. Admission is free, and so is the atmosphere. But the food, beverages and rides are going to cost you. So, of course, will the souvenirs. Going to Oktoberfest, however, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events.
That said, it must be noted that Oktoberfest can be a pain, so let’s get this part out of the way right up front.
It can be crowded, especially on weekends. Those who have a short fuse when it comes to being jostled, squished and shoved might want to plan a weekday visit. And sometimes the beer tents are so crowded that you can’t even get in.
It can be expensive. Beers ran about 7-8 euros each last year. That’s 10 bucks a beer! At least they’re jumbo-size. Rides cost 2-5 euros, and a cheap meal of bratwurst, fries and drinks can run up to 8-9 euros per person.
And while at Oktoberfest, especially on the weekends, one can expect to spend some time waiting. A half-hour wait for that first beer, when you’re salivating for one. A half-hour to get on certain rides. And don’t be surprised to get caught in a human stau — the equivalent of a traffic jam — on the carnival midway, especially on Friday or Saturday night, where you’ll have no choice but to simply wait until the human traffic starts moving again.
To bathe in the Oktoberfest nirvana, it helps to be patient and go with the flow.
Wade into a beer tent and see how people go about getting their beers. Hint: You don’t just walk up to the keg. You order from the waiter or waitress, who brings the beers to your table. There are also tables outside for drinking and relaxing. Tip your waiter or waitress, and you might get faster service for subsequent rounds.
Get a feel for the bands playing, the people singing and dancing on tables and the goofy outfits. They’re happy from beer buzz. Non-stop oompah.
Visitors from dozens of countries will be there, so make friends. Last year, I chatted with a group of South Africans with whom I shared a table, as well as some Brits and Germans.
There’s practically no violence or aggression that Americans might come to expect on a Friday night at their local honky-tonk, though an occasional skirmish does break out as the night gets long. But don’t worry. The beefy bouncers — and there are a lot of them — are very polite but very proficient at wrestling away any troublemakers.
Outside the tents, one can simply stand off to the side and bask in the humanity. It’s more than worth the price of admission, which is free. The people are a hoot.
Take a ride on the Ferris wheel and snap a few pics from the top. Go on some of the crazy rides. If you’ve got the guts, take a spin on the Eurostar (4 euros) and fly around up, down and upside-down like a fighter pilot. I did and lived to tell about it. Just don’t do it on a full belly of carnival junk food or beer.
There’s a large choice of food. Chicken and hens, oxen, sausages, cookies, chocolates and lots more. Vegetarians and the calorie-minded, though, will have to do some looking to fill up.
At night, the place lights up with neon from all the rides, carnival booths and barkers. It’s mesmerizing.
Since admission is free, you can come and go to the Oktoberfest fairgrounds as you please.
The fairgrounds, called Theresienwiese, is a long walk or short train/taxi ride from downtown Munich. If you have a hotel room in town, it’s no problem to go to the fest in the morning, back into town for sightseeing or rest, and then back again to the fest at night.
One word of warning: The beer stops flowing early, at 10:30 nightly, and the festival closes at about 11 p.m., so revelers can get home using public transportation before the trains and buses stop running for the night.
For those who drive or take a train to the city, it is possible to book a hotel room through the Internet or the city of Munich tourist office. I did last year just a few days before going, though it took some searching.
Many of the U.S. bases in Germany and some in Italy offer sleep-on-the-bus day trips through Morale, Welfare and Recreation and other programs. (Consult the Tours & Outdoors page.) But because of the tens of thousands of people and the number of tour buses, make sure you know where to hook up with your transportation at the end of the day.
Know & Go
What and where:Oktoberfest is held at the Theresienwiese in Munich, Germany.
When: Sept. 17 through Oct. 3. Attractions are open from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; the beer stops flowing at 10:30 p.m. On Sundays, hours are 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The Käfer Wiesenschänke tent and the Weinzelt tent stay open until 1 a.m. but stop serving at 12:15 a.m.
How to get there:
By car: Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is in southeast Germany. On the autobahn, A8 from Stuttgart leads into the city, as does A9 coming from the north. From Italy via Innsbruck, go through Garmisch and take A95, or take A93 and A8 to Munich. From Italy via Salzburg, take A8. Parking during Oktoberfest is very limited, and your car will be towed if parked illegally.By train: The Theresienwiese is within walking distance of the Munich main train station, and trains from all over Europe arrive there.On a tour: The United Service Organizations, base outdoor recreation offices and many tour companies offer tours to the fest, as does the Armed Forces Recreation Center in Garmisch.In Munich: The subway is the best way to get to the festival grounds, but it will be crowded. Lines U3, U4, U5 and U6 all stop at the Theresienwiese.Where to stay: In theory, Munich is all booked up for Oktoberfest. In reality, people book rooms a year in advance and then cancel. So, strange as it may seem, sometimes the later you are searching for a hotel, the luckier you get. Check the Munich Web site (www.muenchen.de) or get a Munich phone book and go down the list. At the end of A8 coming from Stuttgart, there is a tourist information center that will try to help you find a room. The Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch is planning daily bus trips to and from the festival.
— Stars and Stripes