Last year, the girls and I spent a spring day in Munich, mostly enjoying the lively Marienplatz, and hanging about Viktualienmarkt, the wonderful farmers’ market in the city centre. This time, it’s autumn in Munich, which means one thing: Oktoberfest. Or in our case, pre-Oktoberfest. We’re about a week early, which means we have a bit of elbow room compared to the crowds of the coming weeks. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest festival, with more than 6 million visitors popping in.
Bavaria has a unique beer culture. During the 16 days of Oktoberfest, nearly 7 million litres of beer is consumed, served in one-litre glasses (ein Maß), so not for the milksops amongst us. At noon on opening day in mid/late September, the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg with a forceful
(’It’s tapped’, in the Bavarian dialect)
A bit of history, perhaps? Oktoberfest was originally a royal wedding. On 12 October 1810, Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married the lovely Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and invited the entire town to the party: five days of full-on fun and fanfare, heaps of food and drink, sports and music. A role model for royals near and far, I’m sure.
It was such fun, they decided to do it again. And again. And have done ever since, only interrupted by warfare and the like. The 2014 Oktoberfest was the 181st celebration.
Today, locals love to don traditional clothes during the festivities: dirndls for the girls, lederhosen and Tirolerhüte for the boys. Around town, I see adverts for dirndls, some of them very elaborate and no doubt costly. (It reminds me of the Norwegian national costume, bunad, elaborate, hand-sewn dresses, in many cases, worn only once a year.)
Naturally, special beer is brewed for Oktoberfest. Special – and potent. Oktoberfestbier – or Wiesenbier, has 6 % alcohol, as opposed to 5 % in normal German beer. Even that’s a bit on the strong side, in my experience. I remember being 15, out and about Europe without parent guidance for the first time, and having my first encounter with German beer; much too much of it for the novice that I was. Painful. But enough about me.
According to the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), only beer brewed within Munich’s city limits can be sold during Oktoberfest, which means you’ll have beer from one of the Big Six. Our group of international journos have afternoon beer (yes, you read that right) in one, run quickly through a second, and have dinner in a third.
There are 14 beer tents. Some are huge, with seats for 8000 inside and an additional 2-3000 outside, we’re told. There are no entrance fees and you can bring your own food, but not drinks. Oktoberfest means merry-go-rounds and roller coasters and all sorts of fun for the whole family, but children under six aren’t allowed in the beer tents after 8pm.
As the tents aren’t exactly soundproofed, the slap-your-thigh oompa oomph music stops – and the tents close – at 11pm. Only two venues in Munich are allowed to remain open until 1am.
Not ready to go home at 11? You don’t have to. There are several after-venues, and Löwenbrau is the biggest. We’re invited for afternoon tea in the garden, Munich style: heaps of lovely desserts. And beer.
Since I learnt my lesson decades ago, I have a Radler, beer mixed with lemonade. (When I mention this to an Australian friend, he looks at me as if I’ve just sworn in church. Diluting beer with, well anything… pah, pure blasphemy.)
Löwenbrau has been in the beer brewing business for 700 years, but it isn’t the only one in town.
The 16th century Hofbräuhaus is perhaps the best known beer hall, some say in the whole world. It’s smack in the middle of Munich’s city centre. Even in the week before Oktoberfest, it’s packed to the rafters – or rather, to the vaulted painted ceilings. An interesting quirk here is the Maßkrugsafe-Gerüste, beer stein safes, where patrons pay an annual rent, 200 euro, to keep their beer mugs locked in. There are only 424 lockers and the only way to get your hands on one of these coveted little boxes is to inherit it.
Paulaner is in the Nockherberg area, so not quite as central. From 1629, it’s the youngest of the three, but it is the largest. According to beer enthusiasts, Paulaner offers the best brew around, a pale, sweet lager. And that, after all, is the most important thing.
Disclosure: In Munich, I was a guest of InterRail and München Tourismus. As ever, all opinions are mine, all mine.
Just finished lunch Sophie and after viewing the Löwenbrau section in this post… I’m Hungry!
Nice peek inside Autumn in Munich
Very nice desserts at Löwenbrau, Maria 🙂
I had such a good time in Munich, but it was in December. Even then it was busy and lively. I can only imagine what it’s like during Oktoberfest. Loved Hofbräuhaus — the beer, food, and music really put me in a Bavarian spirit.
Never been in Munich in December, but I imagine it must be very atmospheric with all the Christmas markets.
I was there 2 times, both times, I was just overwhelmed! Too big a crowd. But I never fail to eat white bratwurst with honey mustard! Yes!!!!
Yeah, Oktoberfest is probably not for the faint-hearted. It was nice to be there a week early.
I learned a lot from this post. I had no idea that the origins were a royal wedding. Very cool. I’m not a beer drinker so I don’t think I would go out of my way to visit during Oktoberfest but would love to return to the city to have a look around as it’s been 30 years.
I was happy to learn about the origins as well. Good guides are very useful for us curious folks 🙂
Oh…one of these years I just have to visit Germany during October Fest! I will be there next year from Sept 25 – Oct 2. Do you think I’ll be able to partake in the festivities for those couple of days? I sure hope so! Great post!!
Oktoberfest is from 19 September to 4 October in 2015; you’ll be right in the middle of it.
I’ve heard a lot about October great, but the private beer mug locker are a first. So they wash the mugs before they are locked up or do the old drops just add to the taste?
Everyone is responsible for washing their own mugs. Don’t know how thorough everyone is. But then again, they are Germans, very good at order and cleanliness generally, aren’t they…
We were in Munich last year in the summer and loved the city. I can just imagine how lively it is right before and during Oktoberkest. What an interesting history and beginnings and something new I’ve learned. We were at Hofbräuhaus and that was such a wild environment but very fun even with the kids.
Yes, I was surprised to learn Oktoberfest is for kids as well. Very nice.
Fun post! It’s interesting how some traditions are started, and it makes culture even more interesting!
Agreed. Knowing a bit of the backstory always makes it more interesting.
I find the stein safes very quirky and expensive
They must be quite devoted, I think 🙂
It sounds like autumn is the perfect time to visit Munich! We have a large Oktoberfest about an hour from where we live but I’m sure it’s much better to experience it in Germany!
A large German expat population in your neighbourhood, perhaps?
With cooler temperatures, airfares and hotel rates are starting to drop at the end of September; if you wait one or two more months more and travel to Germany in October or November, prices will be even lower.