At the end of September 2012 I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Munich and experience the crazy world of Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest is an annual 16-day festival celebrating beer in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. There are very strict rules that determine the beer that can be served and all beer must be brewed within the city limits of Munich. And the beer is only sold in a Maß (pronounced mass), a one litre volume glass drinking vessel with a handle.
The festival dates back to 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held in fields that were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honour of the princess. Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest.
Today the Oktoberfest still takes place in Theresienwiese and has become the most famous event in Germany and the world’s largest fair. Just to get an idea of it’s popularity, Munich has a population of 1.3 million people, yet more than 6 million people from around the world attend Oktoberfest every year!
Munich: First Impressions
It was my first time visiting Munich and I have to say, it’s a beautiful city. Before we headed to Oktoberfest we took the time to visit the city and get a feel for the place. What was really impressive was that all the locals were wearing traditional dress, not just those going out to the Oktoberfest but even those going to the supermarket or doing a bit of shopping. They were all very welcoming and left a very good impression upon us.
One of the first places we visited was Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan, a beautiful Catholic church built between 1663 and 1690 in Italian high-Baroque style. After a look at the stunning interior of the church, I headed outside to record the church bells as they struck 11 o’clock.
As we headed further into the historic quarter of the city, we arrived at the city’s main square, Marienplatz. In the Middle Ages markets and tournaments were held in this city square. Today it is very popular with tourists who come to watch the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in the tower of the new city hall. Every day at 11 a.m. it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century.
Munich is small enough to get around by foot but there is a very efficient (and very clean) transport system including metro, buses and a tramway.
We arrived at Theresienwiese just after midday on the Saturday. First impressions are quite overwhelming. As you enter the park you are immediately hit by the noise created by the number of people plus all the theme park rides and attractions. After checking out a few different rides we decided to try and find somewhere to have our first Maß.
There are fourteen beer tents in the park but it’s virtually impossible to get inside. You need to have a table reserved and the weekends are usually fully booked from about a year in advance. There are, however, beer gardens outside the tents where it is (slightly) easier to get in. We headed to the Augustiner Bräu tent and somehow managed to walk around the back of the tent, past the toilets and directly into the garden, thus skipping the 45 minute queue! There was a real lively atmosphere and the place was packed with people from all corners of the globe!
After a delicious Maß and a couple of pretzels, we decided to head back out into the park. The beer garden was ok, but we really wanted to experience the atmosphere inside one of the tents. Luckily, one of our friends had a plan and after a rendez vous with a friend of a friend, we found ourselves with four places for the Paulaner tent (merci Pierre)!!!
We were all completely buzzing at the thought of getting into the tent, and were also extremely grateful for having the chance to experience the real Oktoberfest. We met the group with whom we would spend the evening, a great group of guys living in Munich, and headed inside.
The atmosphere was awesome and the tent was HUGE! There must have been thousands of people inside and everyone seemed to be having a fantastic time.
In the middle of the tent there was a raised stage where the band were positioned. They would regularly play songs throughout the night, many of which were classic Bavarian beer songs! Of course everyone knew the lyrics and duly sung along.
One song called ‘Ein prosit’ (translated as: ‘may it do you good’), a toast to wish good health to one’s drinking companions, was regularly sung throughout the evening in the Paulaner tent and each time it was played everyone stood up on the tables and chairs and begun singing along.
A bit later on in the evening, when we were all very drunk, our Bavarian friends taught us the lyrics so we could join in the sing-a-long. I definitely think at this point we’d all had a few too many!
Needless to say after 6 Maß I was wasted and the following morning had the worse hangover I’ve ever had in my life. I have since promised never to drink that much again! That aside, it was a fantastic experience and we shared a great time with the extremely friendly people of Munich, and others who come to the city for the festival.