A visit to Munich’s annual Oktoberfest is on the bucket list of many beer lovers around the world and this year we were lucky enough to be able to make the pilgrimage. This is the world’s largest beer festival, with more than six million people attending every year and around 13.5 million pints of beer being consumed over the 16 days it is open. Munich’s biggest breweries each create their own special festival beer called Märzen, which at around 6% ABV is somewhat stronger than the usual lager-style beers Bavaria is known for.
We set off early on Saturday morning to Manchester Airport for our first flight of the day to Düsseldorf (direct flights to Munich are extortionately expensive during Oktoberfest), where we enjoyed a couple of hours with a nice wheat beer before heading on to Munich. Once in the city, we quickly dropped our belongings off at our hotel and caught one of Munich’s very efficient local trains for the 20-minute ride to the festival grounds.
Alighting at Hackerbrüсke station, the short walk to the Theresienwiese gave us a good idea of what was to come, as we passed revellers in various stages of horizontalness having presumably been drinking since early morning. It was quite a spectacle with locals and visitors alike sporting lederhosen, dirndls and other local garb. Once we arrived once we arrived the sheer scale of the festival struck us – even though we had heard and read how big it was, it’s impossible to comprehend without seeing it for yourself.
At Oktoberfest there are no bars and no drinking outdoors, so in order to get some beer you have to make your way into one of the 14 large (some of them seating up to 9,000 people at a time) and 21 small tents in order to get a seat and be attended to. With so many tents to choose from, we’d naively assumed that we would have little problem finding five seats. How wrong we were though, as every tent we passed had queues trailing out of the doors, a one-in-one-out system firmly in place.
After a short confabulation, we resolved to abandon the festival grounds for the evening. The new plan was to head into the city centre and come back first thing on Sunday morning. We headed to the Hofbräu beer house, but on finding that to also be full we settled for some of the smaller bars nearby and sampled local beers from breweries such as Ayinger and Tegernsee, traditional Bavarian wheat beers and dark lagers the order of the day. The local food too is exactly what you would expect, with sausages, pretzels and schnitzels abounding. There’s a reason these are so popular though – they’re delicious!
Sunday morning came around and we arose bright and early to make sure we arrived at Oktoberfest in time for the opening at 9 am. We were by no means the first people there, but our plan to get in line early enough to secure seats was successful and within 20 minutes we had taken root in the Löwenbrau tent. The tent was wonderfully decorated in traditional Bavarian style, with long wooden benches and a bandstand in the middle. Less traditional was the 15-foot high animatronic lion statue which sporadically raised a stein to its roaring mouth.
Soon enough, our waitress for the day took our first order and within minutes she returned, impressively carrying nine one-litre steins filled to the brim without spilling a drop. It makes you wonder how much training it must take before the festival, and it really is a sight to behold! The beer itself was very good too – not cask beer of course, but like all proper German beer it was clean and crisp and extremely refreshing, with a nice malty sweetness.
The festival organisers have done a great job of keeping the atmosphere of the festival intact; during the day only brass bands are allowed to play (some tents do have electronic music later in the evening) and the doormen are very quick to spot and deal with any unruly behaviour. Standing and dancing on the benches is allowed and even encouraged, but taking that second step up onto the table will see you out the door before you can say auf wiedersehen.
After spending a few hours in the Löwenbrau tent, we decided to head just next door to Hacker-Pschorr. There were none of the brewery’s distinctive swing-top bottles to be seen today; the beer came instead from a huge hose hanging from the ceiling. Again, this was a really enjoyable, slightly hoppier beer than the last – the perfect tonic for an increasingly warm day. We found a friendly German couple with some spare seats on their table and tried our best to converse in the local language – a couple of beers always helps in that regard!
Eventually though it was time to head back to our hotel and get some rest before the journey home began on Monday morning. The famous purity of German beer meant there were no sore heads and we all agreed that we would definitely return in the future. Our one tip for anyone visiting would definitely be to get there early, especially on the busier days.