Munich’s main attraction is the annual Oktoberfest folk festival located on Theresienwiese in the city center. There is something for everyone at Oktoberfest with parades, fairground rides, sideshows and of course the beer tents. Oktoberfest 2015 ran from 19th September to 4th October 2015 with 5.9 million visitors drinking their way through 7.7 million litres of beer.
On the morning of the opening day a parade of decorated horse drawn carts carrying great barrels of beer, beer waitresses and brass bands runs from the Munich city centre to Theresienwiese. Many visitors are inspired by the parade to don traditional dress. For ladies this is the dirndl, a blouse and pinafore and for men a checked shirt and lederhosen (leather shorts). At noon the mayor of Munich taps the first keg and calls out “O’zapft is!” confirming that the tapping was successful and that all tents may begin to serve beer.
Visitors can choose from 14 large tents, which vary in size from 2000-10000 seats. Choose your tent based on which beer from one of the Munich breweries (Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrau, Spatenbrau, Lowenbrau and Paulaner) served in 1 litre steins, there’s also a wine tent for the non-beer drinkers. You could also choose according to the food. All tents serve local Bavarian food such as pretzels, pickles, roast chicken, pork knuckle, traditional sausages with sauerkraut, but some tents specialise in a particular meat or dish such as oxen, fish skewers, roast duck or suckling pig with warm potato salad. Each tent also has specific entertainment from the traditional brass band playing beer hall classics, to yodeling to rock and roll bands. Singing and dancing are encouraged.
You can make a reservation by contacting the individual tents, info and links here. Otherwise, arrive early to secure a table. Tip your beer waitress and she’ll ensure you never have an empty stein. The beer waitresses are nothing short of amazing. Many take a fortnight leave from their regular job to work the two weeks of Oktoberfest. Dressed in a dirndl the girls work up to 15 hours a day, carrying 12 steins (20kg) at a time. The girls work on commission, earning 10% or about EUR1 per stein, plus tips and can earn up to EUR10,000 a festival.
You might want to pace yourself on the drinking unless you want to end up like the poor Oktoberfestee we saw at ten thirty in the morning dancing on the table with a stein in one hand and a half eaten pickle in the other. If you need a break from beer, try a radler, similar to a shandy (don’t worry, it still comes in a stein). Also, try not to be overenthusiastic with your ‘proust’, a broken stein is dangerous and expensive.
Join in the singing and swaying, you can brush up on your Oktoberfest drinking songs here. Even when the band is on a break there’s plenty of entertainment. The most amazing scene unfolded in front of us at Oktoberfest. A beer waitress approached carrying eight plates of chicken and chips on a large tray on her shoulder. As she passed, an Oktoberfestee cheekily grabbed a chip. Quick as a flash she turned, kicked him in the balls and carried on her way. Security guards swooped on the hunched over man and carried him out of the tent.
For those keen to go to the next Oktoberfest, it will run from 17th September to 3rd October 2016, but don’t worry if you miss the festival, Munich’s beer halls serve steins of beer and traditional Bavarian food for a taste of Oktoberfest any time of the year.
While in Munich, take a walk in the Englischer Garten, (English Garden) a sprawling public park in the middle of the city. The park is full of surprises, here you will find a Japanese teahouse, a Chinese tower surrounded by a 7000 seat beer garden, the Schönfeldwiese (Schönfeld meadow) where nude sunbathing is allowed and the “Eisbach” (ice brook) that runs through the park and features a standing wave which is ridden by inner city surfers.
Visit Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) at 11 am to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel chime and re-enact two 16th century stories. For panoramic views of Munich climb the 299 steps of the tower of nearby St Peter’s church. This should work up a good appetite for the Viktualienmarkt (a farmers’ market).
Children of the 1980s can realise their dream of riding Falkor from the The NeverEnding Story as part of a guided tour of Bavarian Film Studios. The studios are in Grunwald, 30mins from central Munich and are open daily.
Munich is home to Nymphenburg Palace, a baroque palace which was the summer residence of the Bavarian royal family. If you prefer castles to palaces, it is an easy trip from Munich to the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany, home to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles – read more here.