It doesn’t get much better than crossing a third item off my bucket list this year – sharing a cold one with friends at the 183rd Munich Oktoberfest. Munich throws the world’s largest beer party each fall over a two-week period and the sheer volume of celebratory beer, food and music makes SEC Saturday game days pale in comparison. Not to mention the monumental orchestration, infrastructure and security necessary to keep 6 million+ tipsy revelers saturated and safe.
In preparation for our visit, we had the good fortune of having a bonafide, German fräulein handle the transportation and reservation details. Technically, our friend Claudia is a “frau” because she’s married; however fräulein sounds more German (to me anyway) and Claudia has such a youthful spirit, she is herein referred to as fräulein!
Munich Oktoberfest History
Locals refer to Oktoberfest as “die Wiesn” because of its location, Theresienwiese, which translates as the “meadows of Therese“. In case you’re wondering, Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen married Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig in October of 1810. The 5-day celebration ended with a horse race on these meadows and marked the 1st Oktoberfest. In subsequent years Munich repeated the celebration, eventually lengthening the duration and moving it to September for more favorable weather. Historically, Oktoberfest always closes the first Sunday in October, a tradition that continues into present day.
Walking from the Bahnhof
We started our day by taking the train from Aschaffenburg into Munich. Upon exiting the bahnhof the “die Wiesn“, or Oktoberfest fields, are an easy 15 minute walk. Finding Oktoberfest from the train station is easy. Simply follow the white arrows painted on the sidewalk leading to the “Land of Oz-Toberfest”.
If your vision is blurry due to a little pre-Oktoberfest tailgating, just follow the multitude dressed in traditional Bavarian dirndls and lederhosen. In case you accidentally left yours at home, there are many shops on either side of the street selling them and other kitschy souvenirs.
While in route, be on the lookout for some of the horse-drawn wagons carrying kegs of beer.
Prior to entering, everyone passes through a security check. There are no backpacks, purses, or bags allowed, so take that into consideration. Additionally, there are no tickets required to enter the grounds and tents; everyone can enjoy the party because it’s free admission.
Other than the assumption I would drink beer in a tent, I had zero preconceived expectations. I was somewhat surprised to see the many carnival rides that lent a “state fair” vibe to the atmosphere. Just like a fair, there is a main drag or midway serving as the primary pedestrian area, with the 14 major beer tents flanking each side.
As we strolled through the midway, we saw the stately hitches or horse teams that carry the wagons full of barreled beer. Each brewery has its own hitch with distinctive decorations including fresh flowers and botanicals. The hitch teams are beautiful but mostly symbolic since the festival employs modern methods to transport and serve the 7.5 million beers consumed.
By mandate, Oktoberfest beer is from one of Munich’s six breweries—Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu. Furthermore, the beer must follow the Reinheitsgebot, a “purity law” enacted back in 1516 to control beer quality standards, stipulating the recipe can only include barley, malt, yeast and hops. After fermentation and lagering, the brews contains up to 6 percent alcohol.
At the festival, Oktoberfest waiters and waitresses serve beer in one-liter mugs filled to the brim. Many carry trays with up to 10 mugs at a time. The record number of steins carried for a male is 25 and 19 for the ladies!
There are 14 big and 21 small tents and most of them are permanent structures with wooden beams supporting an all-weather “tent”. Despite free admission, finding an open table can be a challenge particularly on evenings and weekends.
Reservations are available for groups of 10+ at any of the festhalles and include vouchers for food and drinks. In other words, reservations are “free”; however you must pre-purchase vouchers or tickets to spend in the tents on food or beer. Many of the more popular halls sell out of advanced reservations months in advance, so it’s best to plan ahead. Also note each tent is managed by a contracted food service company, not the brewery itself, and they manage their reservations independently. You can find each tent’s contact information here.
Thankfully Fräulein Claudia reserved us a table in the Löwenbräu-Festhalle for the afternoon. The Löwenbräu, or “lion’s brew”, hall features a 15-foot, roaring lion situated above the doorway drinking beer.
This Oktoberfest hall is the second largest in the Weisn festival. It features a wooden arch ceiling supported by pillars with glamorous 16,500 light bulbs and colorful chandeliers. Seating capacity is 5,700 inside and 2,800 outside.
Obviously this tent serves Löwenbräu Beer, a favorite of Oktoberfest revelers and drinkers worldwide. For the occasion, Löwenbräu brews a special “Wisenbier” or “meadow beer” that has been served at every Oktoberfest festival since 1810. Beer aficionados report Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfest has a nice crisp taste, delicately bitter with fresh hops, and no afterbite. Luckily, with our reservations, we had 20-liters to share amongst us!
As part of our reservation, Claudia pre-ordered us 10 halbe Hendls – spit roasted buttered half chickens- that were very tender and tasty. Besides the roast chicken, another recommendation is Schweinshax’n mit Kartoffelknoedel (Pork hocks and potato dumplings). Actually, any food tastes good after you’ve consumed a liter or two of bier.
Here’s some photos of the kitchen preparing food. Note the spits with hundreds of roasting chickens in the bottom photo.
Additionally, no festival is complete without music and Bert Hansmaier’s Heldensteiner didn’t disappoint. The band plays traditional Bavarian favorites from the stage located in the center of the tent.
Here we are, raising our steins and conveying a hearty “PROST!”, or as we say in the U.S. “CHEERS”…
… and, we had so much fun we’d love to come back next year!