The only authority for all things beer…
Disclaimer: Sometimes beer is revolved around politics, much less, a topic of discussion over a few cold ones. So this blog is going to be a little bit of both.
Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair). This festive beer-soaked event is held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, it runs 16-18 days from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds, Theresa’s Fields (Theresienwiese). Oktoberfest started as a big celebration in 1810 when King Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, and the citizens of Bavaria were invited to join the festivities surrounding the wedding.
Most of the non-Germans I know assume that Oktoberfest is only an assembly of beer tents in which people consume beer after beer (and admittedly, there are quite a few people for whom Oktoberfest is exactly that), but the festival is so much more than that. First and foremost, it is a big funfair with loads of amusement rides, haunted houses, and other establishments you typically find at country fairs.
6.5 million liters of beer (or 13.736.947 pints!) are consumed in only 16 days. That might sound like a crazy number, but considering that 6.3 million people visit the beer festival and that beers are served in 1 liter steins, this number doesn’t seem too outrageous anymore. That’s just a little over one stein per person, and we definitely contributed to this number. Another big part of the event is the food! Half a million roast chickens are consumed every year, plus hundreds of thousands of grilled ham hocks, sausages (especially the Bavarian white sausages called weisswurst) steckerlfisch (fish grilled on a stick), piglings and other meat dishes – Oktoberfest is a meat lover’s heaven.
This was an event I was able to finally check off my bucket list before embarking on a two-week long journey across the eastern part of Europe (Czech and Poland) with my buddy. The weather was extremely cooperative the day we went – we initially had concerns with poor weather. We also learned that only half the number of visitors (500,000) compared last year attended the opening weekend of Oktoberfest. While rainy weather was deemed a factor, security fears are thought to be playing a more significant role in the decline. Munich reportedly paid an extra 2.2 million euros ($2.5 million) on security this year. This was the first festival since the terror attacks in Paris, Brussels, and Nice, as well as those in the German towns of Würzburg and Ansbach, and a mass shooting in Munich itself last July.
Putting aside fears, we were glad to freely roam from tent to tent without any wait periods. We were surprised to land some sitting room in each of the tents we checked out. Augustiner-Festhalle, Schottenhamel, Winzerer Fähndl, Löwenbräu-Festhalle, and Hacker-Festhalle were among my favorite beer tents. Sequential order of attendance is blurry, as you expect. Tents are not what you expect, they are proper constructions and their setup begins in early summer, around three months before Oktoberfest starts.
We observed revelers celebrating and having a good time despite despite the fear. As far as I know nothing out of the ordinary happened as German police and security measures were well-planned. This has not been the first time the festival has been held amid fears of an attack. In 2009, terror groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban directed threats at Germany, prompting Munich to ban all flights over the festival’s airspace. For the first time in its entire history – the Oktoberfest area itself was fenced off by a 350-meter security fence, with access allowed only via official entry points. The number of police officers on duty were raised and a number of surveillance cameras were installed throughout the grounds. A ban was also imposed on large backpacks and bags. Driving into the festival grounds were also prohibited, in response to the terror attack in Nice.
Unfortunately, fears of terrorism have deeply impacted the country since the beginning of the refugee crisis last year and the admission into Germany of some one million refugees. The influx sparked debate over Islam’s place within German society, which deepened after the first in a series of Islamist terror attacks. The increased security concerns, seen by some as linked to the growing number of refugees and a perceived incompatibility of the Islamic faith with German values, have allowed far right populist groups to gain a growing foothold. Merkel expressed regret and accepted responsibility for the outcome. “If I could, I would turn back the time by many, many years,” she said, referring to local governments’ struggle in handling the overwhelming influx of refugees.
In any case, I was able to enjoy the many outstanding beers during my visit in Germany after experiencing Oktoberfest especially getting my hands on more of that delicious Rothaus Pils Tannen Zäpfle! I got to visit Andechs, Weltenburger, Schneider Weisse, and the world’s oldest operating brewery, Weihenstephaner. Amazing time and beers at all of them.
Oktoberfest is a must-experience one should at least have once in their lifetime. If you’re planning to visit Oktoberfest, book your accommodation early – in May at the very latest! Hostels and hotels fill up quickly, and prices go up like crazy. The earlier you book, the less you’ll pay (and the more likely you are to get a room in the first place). Table reservations should also be made six months in advance or do what we did – go to the grounds early before noon and check out as many tents as possible before settling on one for the remainder of the day. Another strategy if making trip arrangements closer to September is to make lunch reservations at one of the tents if a table is desired. My friend and I were able to join in on several tables with very welcoming strangers. If you haven’t noticed from experience, most of them become extra friendly as the day goes by especially after some good imbibing, music, food and company.
There are a number of great blogs that provide tips to fully make the most out of your visit such as this one.
For single ladies or group of ladies, be sure to check this out.
Also please be sure to look out for my Berlin post (sometime after I share my experience in Czech and Poland) in the coming weeks.