Cypress Travel Feature: Oktoberfest
Every fall, nestled close to the Bavarian Mountains in Munich, Germany, one of the largest festivals in the world takes place—Oktoberfest. Despite what the name suggests, it actually begins the third weekend in September and ends the first sunday of October (but never before Oct. 3—the day Germany celebrates its reunification). It is a spectacle of old and young enjoying the beauty, amusement rides, Hendl (roast chicken), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezen (pretzels), and, of course, many masses (liters) of beer. In fact, last year over 2 million gallons were downed in a mere 16 days.
Munich’s official participating brewers are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten. Every tent’s beer is sold in a mass (liter glass—about a quart, almost what we’d call “ein pitcher”—but it’s meant for one person) and specially brewed by Munich’s finest breweries for the occasion. The beer at Oktoberfest is a special brew—and extra strong. One mass is the equivalent of eight shots of Schnapps. Entry is free to the grounds and tents.
The festival originates from the Royal Wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12th, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities, which were held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the joyous royal event. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese ("Theres'a Fields") to honor the Crown Princess, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to "Wiesn". Horse races in the presence of the royal family marked the closing of the event that was celebrated by the entirety of Bavaria. The desire to continue the horse races in subsequent years gave rise to the tradition of Oktoberfest.
Since 1950, each Oktoberfest begins with a parade of extravagantly decorated horses pulling kegs, as well as carriages full of waiters, staff, and tent owners. At noon on the first Saturday, the mayor of Munich taps the first keg of special Oktoberfest brew and yells “O’zapft ist!”—Bavarian for "It’s tapped!"—before 12 ceremonial shots are fired, signaling to tents across the fest that beer can finally be served. The locals anticipatingly line up as early as 6am.
As you wander around the fairgrounds, you’ll see many people wearing the traditional Bavarian attire, also known as Trachten. The staple of a woman’s outfit is a tight fitting Bavarian Dirndl dress with an apron tied around it over a traditionally white Dirndl blouse. Just make sure to tie your bow according to your relationship status: left for single, right for in a relationship, middle for children, and the back usually applies to waitresses or widows. Men dress in the traditional Lederhosen with suspenders, light checkered shirt, and sturdy Bavarian shoes. Oh, and don’t forget the Alpine hat!
About my trip
I embarked on my 6 day journey through Munich with high hopes and a thirst for the famous German beer. As I stepped off the plane, I could already feel the excitement in the air for the ongoing festival. I saw many people in the traditional Bavarian garb, and some even staggering across the terminal heading home. I ventured to the outside area to wait for the rest of my group, and once the group arrived we went straight to our hostel, changed out of travel clothes, and started exploring the city. As we walked out of the subway station at Marienplatz (the central square of Munich) you could smell würstl and hear traditional Bavarian tunes playing. As we looked up, the beautiful, ornate town hall and Glockenspiel loomed over us. Eager to try our first German beer, we each bought a Paulaner at a street cart, and said “Prost!” to our future German adventures.
We ventured farther into the city and explored the shops down the main street. Later we spontaneously went on a walking tour to learn about the rich history of Munich before we settled down for a quick dinner of cheese, würstl, and pretzels.
Our first tent was Löwenbräu-Festhalle (we had a reservation), where we were greeted by a giant plastic lion to set the unique scene. As I entered the tent, people were already singing, dancing, and...wait for it...chugging their beer from a boot. There were even a few brave souls who honored the tradition of standing on the long, communal table and chugging their entire litre of beer in front of thousands of people (talk about pressure). There we enjoyed roast chicken, pretzels, and tasted Löwenbräu’s unique strong, spicy brew; it was delicious. I was prepared for crowds, but your mind doesn’t truly grasp how many people can fill a space. The sight of thousands of people lifting their heavy glasses of beer above their heads while singing and dancing to the traditional “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” (roughly meaning coziness and cheers) is awe-inspiring.
The tents are a place where you can let your ingrained cultural norms and reservations go, and make new friends at the conveniently long, communal tables. I even made friends with some Austrians who were celebrating 20 years of friendship, and my favorite experience was singing (well... attempting) the traditional German songs and “Prost-ing” the group. I found the best way to take in all of the festival is to stop by all the tents so that you can immerse yourself in the different cultures and vibes and have a chance to taste the six different brews. Along with the great beer, the festival offers many other attractions. There are carnival games to test your ball throwing abilities, spooky haunted houses to give you a fright, halls of mirrors to laugh at getting turned around, a flea circus, and a massive swing ride that takes you up and down, while whooshing through the air.
The Ochsenbraterei offers an amazing variety of different oxen specialties.
The Schottenhamel is one of the most important tents of the Wiesn, as everything starts inside this tent.
The Schützen-Festzelt serves warm potato-salad and cold beer.
The Löwenbräu tent with its massive, 4.5 meter tall lion is a favorite meeting place that cannot be missed.
At the Winzerer Fähndl you can meet celebrities at the Wiesn, which is in great part due to the fantastic atmosphere in this cozy tent.
The Oktoberfest crossbow competition in this tent is considered one of the great Wiesn highlights.
Celebrity meeting place and gourmet temple.
For those with no interest in pig's knuckles and the like, Fischer-Vroni is the right place to go.
The Heide family has solidly managed the tent "Braeurosl" for seven generations.