announces the Mayor of Munich and as if on cue, the streets, taverns, breweries and more importantly, the marquees at Munich start overflowing with frothy golden liquid that is revered more than water in Germany! Yes… Beer it is and we are talking about none other than Oktoberfest – The biggest, brightest and busiest folk festival of Germany! The Oktoberfest celebrations have already begun in Germany on Saturday, 22nd September and people from all the world are heading to the epicentre of this amazing beer fest in Munich. So, what is this festival all about? What are the activities and celebrations that one can take part in, at this festival? What should you wear, what should you drink, which beer tents should you be a part of? We answer all those questions for you, right here! Get to know more about this traditional festival and why it is celebrated with such merriment and enthusiasm every year. Know everything there is to know about ‘Oktoberfest’ and cheer for a festival full of energy, vigour and life!
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is the world’s largest folk festival held annually in Munich, Germany! The extremely popular ‘Volksfest’ attracts almost the entire country of Germany and an average of around 6 million visitors per year to celebrate an ancient festival that brims with culture, fun attractions, activities and of course, beer. Oktoberfest is also the biggest beer festival in the whole world with almost 7 million litres of beer (or even more) being consumed by festival participants each year. Although to its credit, Oktoberfest is not just about beer or drinking beer! The golden liquid is no doubt the glistening highlight of this folk festival but it signifies and delivers a lot more. Apart from beer, the festival is an elaborate showcase of Bavarian culture, several food varieties, colourful parades, adventure rides and enchanting musical performances. The festival aims to celebrate the unique identity, culture and heritage of Bavaria while giving people a chance to rejoice, come together and have fun in good nature and good spirits! Oktoberfest is the quintessential fun quotient of Germany that forms an integral part of its history, heritage and tourism.
As Traditional As It Gets…
One of the most important aspects of Oktoberfest is the traditional costumes donned by locals and sometimes enthusiastic visitors who wish to be a part of Bavarian culture and thereby, the festival. The women wear Dirndl (a traditional Bavarian attire with a full skirt, apron and tight bodice) and men wear Lederhosen (leather breeches either knee-length or even shorter with shirt and jacket). It is truly a delight to watch people mingle about in these colourful costumes and admire the beautiful fashion parade that beautifully portrays the region’s history flashing before our eyes.
All About Beer!
The beer served at the festival comes mainly from 6 Munich breweries viz. Augustiner, Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, and Löwenbräu. The types of beer available at the festival can be categorized into Dunkel Bier (Dark Beer), Helles Bier (Light Beer/Lager), Radler (50% Helles Bier & 50% Lemon Soda/Sprite) also known as ‘Shandy’ in America, Hefeweissen (Wheat Beer) and Russ (Radler but with Wheat Beer instead of Light Beer). With over 40 types and 4000 brands of beer, an authentic Bavarian Beer is held to strict brewing standards that are laid out by the Bavarian Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) of 1516. The rules state that a beer in Bavaria has to be brewed out of limited ingredients (mainly water, hops, barley) and made according to specifications described in the law. This results in a unique and consistent flavour that has made Beer in Bavaria, one of the best alcoholic beverages in the world!
Beer is served in huge 1-litre mugs known as Maß! These are standard drinking glasses at the festival and there are no half-measures available (So, if you want to enjoy beer, make sure you are ready to finish the 1-litre golden liquid all by yourself or have an equally thirsty partner who can finish it for you).
Why is Oktoberfest celebrated?
The history behind one of the most popular and biggest folk festivals in the world is surely an interesting one! The festivities of Oktoberfest originated in October of 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the celebrations and enjoy the various festivities held in honour of the royal wedding at the grounds outside the Munich city gates. These very grounds were later christened to ‘Theresienwiese’ i.e. Theresa’s Meadow in honour of the Crown Princess and later abbreviated to ‘Wiesn’ by the locals. The celebrations lasted for a full 5 days and included activities such as horse races, parades, music shows and shooting displays. The event left such a lasting impact on the people that it was decided to repeat the festivities of 1810 in 1811 again, thus giving birth to the annual tradition of Oktoberfest.
When is it celebrated?
Oktoberfest is usually held for 16-17 days starting from the last week of September to the first week of October (generally ending on the first Sunday in October). The dates for Oktoberfest 2018 are Saturday, 22nd September to Sunday, 7th October. The 2 weeks of Oktoberfest welcome almost millions of visitors from all over the world in Munich, Germany. Since this is one of the busiest periods in terms of tourist traffic, it is advisable to book accommodation and transportation facilities well in advance. With stay and transport taken care of, you can enjoy the festivities of Oktoberfest to the fullest.
Where is the festival held?
Ever since the beginning of Oktoberfest in 1810, the festival has been held at the fairgrounds known as Theresienwiese which means Theresa’s Meadow. Colloquially, it is also shortened to and more popularly known as ‘Wiesn’. The grounds are located at the centre of Munich and are easily accessible by the Munich public transport network. Buses, trains (S-Bahn & U-Bahn) and trams (Streetcar/Straßenbahn) are considered to be the best modes of transport to reach ‘Wiese’ rather than private vehicles. This is because there is limited parking around the fairgrounds and with such huge crowds it is almost impossible to find a parking space.
Who is it for?
Ideally, this festival of joy and merriment is for everyone! There is no age limit for visitors and people from all walks of life are welcome to have a good time at Oktoberfest. Only those who particularly dislike ‘Beer’ can stay away since there is an overwhelming amount of the golden liquid available across the various tents of this festival. And even if you don’t like beer, there are almost 15 different wines available at the Weinzelt (wine tent) along with different types of Sekt (sparkling wine) and Champagne. The food available at the festival will leave you spoilt for choice; right from giant pretzels to roast chicken and from Bratwurst (sausages) to smoked fish, the options are lip-smacking and many. To satisfy your sweet tooth, you can also indulge in various gingerbread cookies, cakes and delectable pastries. If ‘Bear Grylls’ is your inspiration, you can also try roasted ox on a spit, available at the ‘Ochsenbraterei’ marquee (a local Bavarian favourite)!
How is Oktoberfest celebrated?
The festivities of Oktoberfest take place in a definite pattern each year! There are several programs and activities that are organized across various tents at the Wiesn. Every year, the festivities of Oktoberfest begin with ‘The Tapping’. In this ceremony, the Mayor of Munich inaugurates the festival by tapping the first barrel of beer at Schottenhamel tent around 12 pm. After the tapping, shots are fired through the air marking the beginning of the festival and signalling to all tents and innkeepers that the festival has officially begun. The Tapping is followed by the traditional entry involving Bavarian landlords, Munich breweries, waitresses and beer tent brands on decorated floats and horse-drawn carriages. There are other events such as the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade and Open-Air Oktoberfest Music Concert that form some of the major attractions of this festival.
Beer Tents to Visit:
There are about 17 beer tents making their presence felt at the Oktoberfest this year. Some of the choicest marquees are as follows:
Augustiner Festhalle – A traditional and authentic tent that boasts of beer served from Munich’s oldest brewery that is tapped from classic wooden kegs.
Armbrustschützen-Festzelt – One of the larger beer tents operated by the shooting club, ‘Winzerer Fähndl Schützengilde’ and well-equipped to accommodate around 7500 people. This is also where the German crossbow championships are held every year during Oktoberfest.
Fischer-Vroni – A one-of-a-kind tent that serves delicacies made from fish along with the usual staples of roast chicken, sausages and pretzels. The Bavarian speciality ‘Steckerlfisch (fish on a stick)’ is a particular favourite that features on their menu!
Hacker Festzelt – One of the most popular and largest beer tents of Oktoberfest! Hacker Festzelt is large enough to accommodate around 9300 people and easily rivals the size of a football pitch. The famous white ‘n’ blue ceiling can be opened up depending on the weather.
Hofbräu-Festzelt – Perhaps the largest and the most famous beer tent of all! Hofbräuhaus is not just a popular name in Oktoberfest and Bavaria but this time-worn brewery has gained worldwide recognition over the years. The tent itself is large enough to accommodate around 10,000 people.
Kufflers Weinzelt – For those who love their wine and Oktoberfest! Weinzelt (wine tent) is a treat for all wine-lovers with a variety of almost 15 different wines along with sparkling wine, champagne and several varieties of delicacies. The tent is different from other traditional beer tents wherein the seating is in u-shaped wooden booths instead of beer benches.
Schottenhamel-Festhalle – The Schottenhamel family are one of the oldest families participating in Oktoberfest since the year 1867. Their tent is the oldest and most traditional beer tent where the first beer barrel is tapped by the Mayor of Munich, marking the beginning of Oktoberfest.
Besides these popular tents, there are many other marquees that are worth your time and visit. Some of them are Ochsenbraterei, Löwenbräu-Festzelt, Marstall Festzelt, Pschorr-Bräurosl and Schützen-Festzelt.
Old Oktoberfest (Oide Wiesn)
Festzelt Tradition, Herzkasperlzelt and Volkssängerzelt are tents belonging to the site of Old Oktoberfest (Oide Wiesn). This is a special area towards the southern grounds of the Oktoberfest where you can literally step back in time and enjoy festivities as they were meant to be celebrated during olden days. The tents are classic vintage style, beers are served in ceramic mugs called ‘Keferloher’, folks are dressed in traditional Bavarian attire and the atmosphere is calm, relaxed and more laid-back as compared to the modern Oktoberfest. ‘Oide Wiesn’ was started in 2010 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest that was first celebrated in 1810!
Reservations at Beer Tents
The entrance to Oktoberfest is free, however, in order to enjoy food and drinks at the various beer tents, it is necessary to book your seats in advance (entrance to Old Oktoberfest ‘Oide Wiesn’ is chargeable). Reservation takes places even before the festival begins and the right to accept reservations is given to official Oktoberfest landlords only (owners of the beer tents). Reservations are accepted by email or by way of website online booking, sometimes starting as early as April (sometimes reservations are accepted immediately after the festival ends). Table reservations at beer tents are free of charge however it is mandatory to purchase meal vouchers in order to secure your seat. The vouchers are usually for a designated amount of beverages and food, which can be redeemed at the tent during the festival. Once you are inside the tent and secure your reserved seat, you can always order for more and enjoy the festivities as long as you want! You can also arrive at the Oktoberfest without a reservation and hope for free seats but you have to make sure you visit at the right time, keeping in mind the rush hours and peak timings of the festival. (Oktoberfest tends to be more crowded over the weekends than on weekdays). On weekdays, the festival begins at 10 am and goes upto 10.30 pm (some attractions open till midnight) while on weekends and public holidays, the festival starts as early as 9 am and goes on until 10.30 pm.
Some Common Deutsche (German) Phrases to Remember at Oktoberfest!
Asking for Beer:
Ein Liter Bier, Bitte! – 1 Litre Beer Please!
Ein Maß Helles Bitte! – 1 Maß of Light Beer Please! (or any other beer type that you may want)
Eich Haette Gern Ein Bier – I would like to have a beer
Bitte – Please, Danke – Thank You
Prost! – Cheers!
Ein Prosit Der Gemütlichkeit – A toast to friendship & good times!
G’suffa – Take a big sip
Oans–Zwoa-Drei-Gsuffa – One, two, three, bottoms up!
Sprechen Sie Englisch? – Do you speak English?
Where is the Toilet? – Wo ist die Toilette?
Can you help me? – kannst du mir helfen?
I am lost – ich bin verloren
Can you help me find ________? – Kannst du mir helfen, ________ Zu finden?
Did You Know?
The Lost & Found section at Oktoberfest is one huge treasure chest filled with valuable and everyday items lost over the years at the festival. It is said that over 4000 items go missing every year and ironically, find their way to the ‘Lost & Found’ section of Oktoberfest. These include everyday items such as money, mobile phones, ID cards, glasses, clothes and sometimes unexpected items such as dentures, wedding rings, a clown suit, Segway, fishing rod, a pet grasshopper and once, even a pet Dachshund! How people manage to lose such items is beyond me (although I can take a wild guess!) but once they are lost and unclaimed, these items are delivered to the ‘Lost & Found’ section which is located behind the Schottenhammel tent. It is generally advisable to look for lost items after a few days as it takes time for items to be collected from the huge premises and delivered at the ‘Lost & Found’ section. If lost items are not collected by their respective owners until the end of Oktoberfest, then they are transferred to the Munich Central Lost & Found office, where they are kept for another 6 months. After that, these items are sold off in a public auction!
If it’s too late to catch Oktoberfest this year, don’t sweat it out! There are many places around the world that replicate the celebrations of this festival on a smaller scale and attempt to give you an authentic experience and feel of Oktoberfest. Check out places near your city that may indulge in celebrations that take you to Germany (virtually) and let you experience the traditional ride of Oktoberfest. For e.g. The Indo-German Chamber of Commerce along with Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany organizes ‘Mumbai Oktoberfest’ every year at Mahalaxmi Race Course where visitors can experience ‘Munich in Mumbai’. This year, the festival will be held on 12th, 13th & 14th October, where delicious cuisines and amazing beers will be accompanied by the music of ‘Die Kirchdorfer’ – the official Oktoberfest band that has been playing at the Oktoberfest in Munich since 1994.
Oktoberfest celebrates an ancient tradition of Bavaria but more importantly, it celebrates the passion of the Bavarian folk who love to enjoy their life to the fullest! It is said that festivals are a way to gain insight, understand better and delve deeper into the culture and soul of a place. Oktoberfest accomplishes just that when it opens its doors to the world for 16 days of fun, entertainment, beer, food, knowledge and culture. You may enter not knowing much about Bavaria but you will exit with the lingering aftertaste of beer, a mind full of Bavarian treasures and a heart filled with memories…
So, plan your trip to the largest folk festival in the world but until then,
Prost! to Beer, Friendship, Good Times…
*Information Source – muenchen.de, oktoberfest.de, telegraph.co.uk, theatlantic.com, bigboytravel.com and Mumbai Oktoberfest 2018 (Facebook Page).
*Feature Image Courtesy – Michael Dalder/REUTERS, nationalreview.com