There are women dressed in chest swelling dirndls, I smell fresh vomit and hear the sounds of drowned out folk music in the background. Everyone raises their heavy steins, splashing them together whilst shouting ‘Prost!’ at the top of their lungs. This is Oktoberfest.
This annual beer-soaked festival attracts over six million visitors a year and has now run for an impressive 184 times. Although there are many copycat versions across the world, Munich is home to the original festival. What began as an inclusive event for locals and royalty, became a free-for-all. In recent times, the festival began to see more recognisable faces heading to the city to wet their whistle. Director Roman Polanski, the poet Allen Ginsberg and of course Arnold Schwarzenegger were all captured with a glistening stein in hand in the ’70s, sparking a trend amongst holiday goers.
After visiting myself, I found that the festival was a much bigger monster than I first thought. The Bavarian world was quite unlike my London home and I was often misguided by many rosy-cheeked comedians. By the time I had worked it all out, I had lost much valuable drinking time. So in order for you not to meet the same ill fate as mine, here is The Carouser’s survival guide to the largest beer festival in the world.
All the beer is from one of the six local Munich brewers; Löwenbräu, Augustina, Hacker Pschorr, Höfbrau, Paulaner and Spaten. All of these traditional brewers were founded before the 17th century and have a long history with the festival. All the beers on offer range from 5-6% abv. So, if you’re not a fan of lager, this may not be the place for you. Each beer comes in a frothy phallic stein and costs roughly 10 Euros for one litre. Prost!
Wearing a lederhosen or dirndl is essential to the Oktoberfest experience. This has been the custom for centuries and seems to be the norm in Munich where there are many Bavarian clothes shops. Where a woman places a bow on her dirndl is also important. On the left means she is single, on the right means she isn’t and in the middle means she is a virgin. Good luck with that one…
Oktoberfest festivities begin with a parade on the 16th September. The beer drinking continues every day after until the 3rd October. The gates are open at 10 am (9 am on weekends) till 10.30pm. The weekends are usually the busiest time for tourists while the locals play it safe on a weekday. See full times here.
There are 14 beer tents in total and all completely free to enter. These tents are not the typical tents you might see at a festival but big strong structures and some come with balconies. Some like the Winzerer Fähndl have a beer garden. Most of the tables in the tents seem to be taken very quickly which proves challenging to grab a beer (it’s all table service). Fortunately, there is an option to book ahead to avoid this from happening.
Oktoberfest’s oldest beer tent turned 150 this year. Even though Schottenhamel is one of the oldest, it is also one of the loudest and is commonly known as the “rowdy” tent on the weekends.
The Pschorr-Bräurosl tent is ideal for music lovers. Many music bands and yodelers belt out their favourite Bavarian hits. In the ’70s, the local gay community decided to organise “Gay Days” at Oktoberfest which is still currently being run from this tent. The days land on the first Sunday of the festival and is open to the LGBT community.
The first Oktoberfest began in 1810 and was held to honour a royal wedding. For a whole five days, citizens were invited to party with plenty of food and drink and a little bit of horse racing. Because they had such a good time, they decided to hold one every year. The dates have been shifted due to it being sunnier in September. Oktoberfest has only been cancelled a small number of times, mainly due to war. But otherwise, nothing will stop the biggest piss up in history.