In a world that often seems divided, whether by country, politics, religion, or otherwise, Munich’s Oktoberfest stands in stark contrast. Every year, millions of patrons from around the world descend on the 16-day annual festival, which has run since 1810 when it originated in celebration of the marriage of King Louis I (then crown prince of Bavaria) to Princess Therese. Today, the festival celebrates Bavarian culture including food, dress, music, and of course, BEER!
A few fun statistics from Oktoberfest 2019 (courtesy of https://www.oktoberfesttours.travel/2019/10/10/oktoberfest-2019-beer-consumption/)
- 6.3 million patrons consumed 7.3 million liters of beer
- Attendees hailed from at least 55 nations
- Lost and Found items included 660 wallets, 420 mobile phones, and a set of dentures (oops!)
A lot of early planning went into making our visit a success. Here are a few tips and a review of our experience:
LODGING: Because Oktoberfest attracts so many visitors, central Munich lodging must be booked well in advance or we would have ended up staying well outside the city. I had booked the Platzl Hotel (https://www.platzl.de/en/) way back in January, to ensure we would have a comfortable room in a great location walkable to the Fest. It wasn’t cheap, but the rooms were comfortable, very near Marienplatz in Munich’s Old Town and the famous Hofbraeuhaus, and I thought it would be a reasonably close walk to the festival grounds. It was, but just barely – more on that below.
LOCATION AND TRANSPORTATION: Here’s a tip from my experience: When figuring out the distance to Oktoberfest from your lodging, note that a simple Google Map routing to Thereisenweise, the name of the park where Oktoberfest is held, will not necessarily tell you how far you are from the grounds: Add at least 1/2 a mile. Due to security, there are only a couple of entrances to the actual festival. It’s easy enough to follow the crowd toward the grounds (I promise, you won’t miss it!), but once you reach the perimeter you may have to walk quite a ways, sometimes away from the grounds through crowd barrier chutes, to enter the park. While our hotel was only 1.4 miles (as “the crow flies”), we walked over 2 miles in addition to a lot of walking within the festival. On our first day, when we also walked to Bavarian Outfitters (see below), I clocked over 11 miles on my Apple watch! After our second evening outing, we caved and got a cab for our tired feet.
CLOTHING: I also pre-reserved rented Trachten (his & hers traditional Bavarian clothing) from Bavarian Outfitters. The pickup location for the clothing was on the southern edge of Old Town, and reminded me of the pop-up Halloween costume stores that seem to multiply each year at home. It was an undecorated, rented space with racks and racks of clothing. I also later realized that there are many similar stores around Munich during the Fest; pre-reserving probably wasn’t necessary as we were just guessing at sizes anyway, and ended up taking something different than we had reserved. The results, however were worth every penny! Whether you reserve ahead or not, do rent or buy the clothing, you won’t be sorry!
ATTEND WITH FRIENDS: Another key to the fun was meeting up with friends in Munich. Oktoberfest is definitely a “more the merrier” type of place, and it seemed the majority of attendees were part of a larger group. One couple joined us for our entire stay in Munich, and we also joined forces with family friends to reserve a whole table at the Marstall tent our first night in town.
BEER TENT RESERVATIONS: Regarding tent table reservations: it’s a little crazy. Many tables are not available to the public; think of it like season tickets for a popular sports team – they only go to people who already have a reservation from prior years. Forget about making a reservation on Friday or Saturday, unless you choose to use a service that charges you extra. And you can’t reserve just a few spots, you need to reserve and pay for the whole table which is 8 – 12 people. While the tents don’t actually charge for the reservation itself, you do need to prepay a minimum spend on the food and drink; in our case for Marstall it was about $50/per person. In our case, I was able to snag a Sunday night reservation thanks to alerts from Weisnkini, which I highly recommend subscribing to if you plan to attend Oktoberfest. I received emails regularly when table reservations became available, and we reserved literally the last table in the Marstall tent for that evening.
Google Translate was invaluable with the reservations. While most of the tents have an English page, the reservation confirmation and “terms and conditions” are all in German – yikes! Here’s my confirmation:
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A TENT RESERVATION: It would be unlikely (and expensive) to get a reservation for more than one night at the Fest. If you plan to attend more than once, as we did, just be prepared to go with the flow. You won’t get a beer if you aren’t seated. Here are the best options without a reservation:
- Go during the daytime – before 4pm
- Avoid weekends, especially weekend evenings
- Look for seating in the outdoor biergartens adjacent to each tent
- Go in small groups or be prepared to split up – there is a much better chance to squeeze into a table with 2 or 4 people than with 8 or 10
- Be patient; a little seat-hawking can be worth while – when you see a group with mostly empty beer glasses, just bide your time nearby as they may be preparing to move on. There’s still plenty of excellent people-watching activity until you get your beer!
- Pop into a tent near the end of the night; within an hour or so of closing, tents start to empty and you will be able to enter and find a spot at a table
YOUTUBE THE SONG, “EIN PROZIT”. So you don’t think they are saying “I’m frozen, I’m frozen…” like I did. #misheardlyrics
DRINK RESPONSIBLY: Or not. It’s up to you. You will be in good company if you choose to overindulge – the medics are kept busy at Oktoberfest! But the beers are large – not only do you want to minimize bathroom trips, (especially for the ladies – lines and ewwww), but you want to be able to make it home in one piece. On our walk back to the hotel, we saw a group gathered around one of their fallen compatriots – just completely passed out on the curb. The police were summoned, determine he was still breathing, and moved on – this is just not an emergency in Munich at Oktoberfest. Another fellow was passed out inside an ATM lobby. Here are a couple of fellow partiers who didn’t quite finish the night:
MAKE FRIENDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD: We met people from France, Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, and Dubai in addition to other Americans. Whether sharing your table, or at adjacent tables, or on the dance floor, find your inner extrovert and enjoy meeting people from all over the world!
If you’re lucky, your friend will enjoy enough beer to buy a chicken hat (press a button, and the legs move to the “chicken dance” song), which will help you make friends!