Arts and Culture

Oktoberfest Guide: Raise a Stein at Munich's Oktoberfest

Filed Under: Beer, Germany, Munich
'A waitress serves beers during the opening ceremony of the Oktoberfest in Munich September 19, 2009. Millions of beer drinkers from around the world will come to the Bavarian capital Munich for the world's biggest and most famous beer festival, the Oktoberfest. The 176th Oktoberfest lasts from September 19 until October 5. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski (GERMANY SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT)'

Oktoberfest is a beloved annual tradition in Munich dating back to 1810 when Bavarians celebrated Crown Prince Ludwigs marriage with outdoor festivities. The party was a success and has continued every year, growing along the way to become a multiday affair filled with nearly 6 million visitors from Bavaria and beyond who come for the beer, music and festive atmosphere.

Each year, millions of visitors take over Munich for Oktoberfest from mid-September through early October. The festival rollicks on for 16 to 18 days, depending on the calendar year, with singing, dancing and plenty of beer. Oktoberfest, or the Wiesn as its known by locals, takes place in Theresienwiese, a series of large fields filled with 14 beer tents, carnival rides and smaller food and beer stalls teeming with guests each day from 10 a.m. to midnight.

Where to Stay
Local hotel websites list the dates for Oktoberfest for the next 10 years -- a helpful reminder to book your room as early as possible. Many festival attendees make reservations a full year in advance for the best rates and location, however some hotels impose a blackout on reservations after a specific date; after that they offer all Oktoberfest reservations on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Hotel Siebel is an affordable choice with views of the nearby Oktoberfest. Rooms range from singles to quads, each with its own bathroom. Fill your plate at the inclusive breakfast brunch in preparation for a long day of drinking.

The Hotel Uhland is another affordable choice directly in the center of the Oktoberfest action. Multi-bed rooms and group-friendly apartments can accommodate your whole entourage if you can score a reservation early enough. Because the hotel fills up so quickly for the multiday affair, you need to make reservations and pay in advance by bank draft or cashiers check (in euros) for your room, and theres a 3-night minimum on the weekends during the festivities.

Sleep tight without dipping too far into your beer fund by bunking with other revelers in more basic accommodations at any of Munichs nearby hostels. The Hotel Meininger in Munich City Center has singles, doubles and dorm rooms less than a 1/2 mile from the festival grounds, while Wombats has a modern style and private bathrooms in each room. If youre willing to brave the elements, camp out with fellow festival-goers at the Tent, where your options include a thin mat on the floor or bunk beds with friendly, but sparse, surroundings. However, Munichs weather can be unpredictable in October so pack warm clothes if youre sleeping in the great outdoors.

Booze in the Beer Tents
Drinking the tasty brew is Oktoberfests main event and with 14 beer tents and 6 types of beers, its simple to partake in the fun. The tents are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and youre sure to find a crew of jolly beer-swigging revelers jostling for space at a picnic table any time of day. Its a good idea to reserve a table ahead of time, especially for groups larger than 5, because you must be seated to be served. And tip your servers well as that guarantees youll see your server often for refills during your time in the tent.

Each of the beer tents has its own personality and charm, drawing distinct clientele for the beer, music and scene. The Hofbru-Festzelt, related to Munichs long-standing Hofbruhaus, is the largest and most popular tent, and a capacity nearing 10,000 including seating inside, on the balcony and outdoors as well as the standing-room only space in front of the band. The Hippodrom is a favorite with the young and beautiful and also a good spot for celebrity sightings with a large international crowd. The Hacker-Festzelt features traditional bands playing on a revolving stage and paintings depicting classic Bavarian scenery. Hoist a Spaten at the Schottenhamel, the oldest tent and the spot where the mayor of Munich taps the first keg of beer to kick off the festival.

Oktoberfest: Beyond the Brewskis
While the festival certainly revolves around beer, there are many Oktoberfest traditions to enjoy. Dance to the music, including traditional oompah bands and more modern American tunes at the different beer tents.

Oktoberfest is also famous for its parades. The Grand Entry of Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries is the official launch of the event with a parade of carriages carrying the brewery owners, waitresses and the bands that will be performing in the beer tents. The larger Oktoberfest Costume and Riflemens Parade kicks off on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest. With decorative flair and plenty of costumes, the pomp and circumstance harkens back to the early days of Oktoberfest with elaborate floats, carriages, animals, dancers and more parading over 4 miles through the center of the city. Family-friendly fun can be found amongst the carnival rides, including a giant Ferris wheel offering stellar views of Munich.

Festival Food
Youll want to fill your belly with plenty of German delicacies to soak up all of that heavy beer. Put down your 1-liter stein and sample the goods. Pork is the most popular item all around, with roast pork (schweinsbraten), pork knuckles (haxen) and sausages galore often served alongside sauerkraut.

Most of the beer tents serve the classic main dishes with plenty of sausage and roast chicken as well as snacks including pretzels, potato pancakes and potato dumplings. For more unique dishes, head to Ochsenbraterei where the star ingredient is ox meat roasted on an enormous revolving rotisserie and served in a variety of entrees including Bavarian ox roast with red-wine sauce and potatoes or a fillet of ox fried and served with pepper sauce and veggies. The Fischer-Vroni draws in guests with its smoked mackerel and fish dishes prepared on large open grills.

Insiders Tip
If you miss the festival, enjoy some off-season Oktoberfest fun at the sprawling Hofbruhaus, Munichs historic beer hall and outdoor beer garden known for large steins of brew and jolly crowds.

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