Oktoberfest – Prost!
One fine day in the autumn of 1810, a prince named Ludwig married a princess named Therese in a grassy field in the beautiful German city of Munich. The whole of Bavaria was invited to celebrate and five days later, the royal family marked the end of the occasion with a horse race. That race was repeated in later years, the celebrations repeated over and over and the event eventually moved to the month of September (because it was warmer).
To this day, the annual celebration continues on Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Fields, commonly shortened to ‘Wiesn’) and is now known as Oktoberfest – a 16-day party attracting over 6.4 million people from around the globe.
Here’s a rundown …
Best days and times to go for 2016
On Saturday 17th September, make sure you head for the Schottenhamel tent early to witness the Lord Mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, tap the first keg of beer at 12 o’clock sharp, which will officially launch the festivities. Listen for his shout out, “O’zapft is!” (“It is open!”) and watch the ale start to flow.
Weekends are renowned as the busiest periods as are Bank Holidays, and this year that’s certainly the case with the festival extended until the 3rd of October to allow for more beer drinking time. Hurrah! Often, the second week of the festival can be quieter as can the last day, however don’t bank on it this year, considering the public holiday.
Weekdays are generally quieter, even for morning sessions (although watch the crowd escalate around 3 pm), however most tents normally have a bunch of evening reservations between 4 and 6pm, so be prepared to move on when the time comes. Factors like changeable weather will also affect numbers (you’ll be dodging the beer garden when it’s 1°C), so if you’re in a group of four or more without a reservation and hoping to get into an evening session on a weekend, forget it!
First things first – you can grab a beer every day from 10 am (except opening day) apart from weekends and public holidays when you can get your mo wet from 9 am. Beer service stops at 10.30pm (except for the last day), with food stalls and attractions open a little longer, depending on the day.
The only exception to the standard closing time is at the Weinzelt tent, which is open until 1am. And if you’re ready to “Prost!” it with a few foreigners, head to town for a post-Wiesn party at one of the many Oktoberfest ‘rip-offs’ (Das Wiesnzelt will certainly keep you in the mood).
If you’re after more than a beer fest while in town, there’s a heap of other events worth checking out, including parades on the first Saturday and Sunday mornings (this one features over 9,000 participants in traditional costume), an agricultural festival, a ‘meeting of the carnies’ event in the Hippodrom tent (the mind boggles) and the handheld cannon salute and brass band concert on Sunday the 25th.
Cost and entry
Entry to the festival and all beer tents is free (except for the “Historical Wies’n” display), but you’ll need cash (or vouchers) for food, souvenirs and the beer of course. You’ll probably need at least 50 euro for an evening, which allows for two drinks, a meal and a snack and transport there and back, plus extra for rides and take-home mementos. Bet you spend more than that on beers though (c’mon it’s Oktoberfest). Tipping is appreciated (if you’ve reserved tickets, this will often be included) and waitresses will probably alert you to this ‘service fee’ at the time of purchase, but it should be no more than 15% of your order.
Entry passes (tickets or wristbands) can be pre-purchased via the individual tents as part of a reservation, are valid for that specific tent at a specific time and date for a specific number of people and will allow you entry even if the tent’s closed due to numbers. If you’re travelling solo or in a small group of two or three, a pass is probably not necessary, but you’ll probably have to wait a bit for a spot at a table (especially on the busiest days).
Larger groups should definitely consider it, but be prepared to book early – many tents reserve spots for local businesses and existing customers first. Bookings can be taken anywhere between January and May but are at the discretion of the individual tent. It’s a good idea to suss out all tents, make a preliminary reservation (without paying) and then wait and see which one comes good. However at the end of the day, only full payment will finalise the reservation. If you’re lucky enough to be staying at a 5-star pad, check with your hotel, as many of them reserve tables for their paid guests.
Food and drink
If you’re dining in one of the tents, be prepared for a meal consisting of any type of animal with four legs, fins or feathers, that’s been cooked with a stick through it. The external food stalls, however, feature a smorgasbord of delights from local specialties to ‘international’ cuisine (and everything in between).
Reservation passes don’t include food or drinks, but you can purchases vouchers for these. In fact many tent owners will only reserve tables in exchange for a guaranteed minimum consumption of food and drink. Generally speaking, the minimum they will charge is for two beers and a meal for ten people sharing a table and because you pre-pay, it guarantees the owner income whether you turn up or not. Be wary of con artists though, (yes, they’re everywhere) and don’t get sucked into paying more than around 50 Euro per person.
Weather around this time of year can vary, but being autumn, days will usually be mild, with evenings chilly (even down to freezing point), with heavy rain a possibility. Last year, temperatures ranged from a maximum of 25°C during the day to a frosty 1°C during the festival’s last days, so you will need some warmer (possibly wet weather) gear.
Precautions have been escalated at this year’s event and both police and Oktoberfest security staff are committed to ensuring patron safety.
- Police will be visibly present and active on the ground, during the entire festival.
- Routine security checks will be carried out, if deemed necessary.
- Plain clothed police will regularly patrol the event.
- Private security staff will ensure that troublemakers are removed quickly.
- Regular sniffer dog checks will be done across the venue.
- Roadblocks will prevent unauthorised vehicles from entering the festival.
- Passport checks will be done regularly.
- Restricted access to the event will be upheld if the venue becomes overcrowded.
- The entire festival will now take place in an enclosed area, with six central entrances granting admission via a security check.
- Main entrances will be closed to all those requiring general admission if the festival becomes over-crowded.
And of course as a traveller, you should always stick to standard precautions, including minimising the valuables you’re carrying (leave that expensive camera at home folks) and avoiding sticky situations with those who might be a bit under the weather.
Need more info? Check out the 6th edition of the Oktoberfest Guide Book or download one of the 160+ apps available for your phone.
Then get your beer boots on!