If you haven’t done so yet, it is time for you to plan your attendance to Germany’s Oktoberfest, at least once in your lifetime. It is one of the grandest celebrations that is focused on something to drink – in this case, beer, and plenty of it. There are so many myths, legends and things to know about Oktoberfest, so if you follow the adage, the early birds find more worms, then now is not too early to plan for your trip to Germany for this once a year grand festival. It might be too late for this year as the event kicks off on September 21 but there is always next year. Okay, it’s all about beer, but there’s actually more to it than just glugging endless tall mugs of cold beer. It is also good to plan ahead and book your flight to Germany like an early bird because seats will be hard to come by when the season is already upon you.
Munich is where the action is
Travel to Munich cheaply with budget flights and book early. Munich is where all the action will be when you are planning to join the Oktoberfest. The charming city is the capital of Bavaria and famous for its fantastic architecture, its splendid culture and the yearly celebration of Oktoberfest. Its museums alone are better than those in Berlin. For a time, people think that the palaces that King Ludwig built in extraordinary locations were ostentatious and lavish. Now, these fairytale-like castles are one of the most favourite things to see in Munich. Wait until you have seen the Linderhof, Neuschwanstein, Herrenchiemsee, Nymphenburg and Hohenschwangau. The Neuschwanstein provided the inspiration for Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Make your visit to Munich complete. After you’ve had a grand party by attending the Oktoberfest, immerse yourself in culture and history. Visit Munich’s central city square, the Marienplatz, a junction from which you can visit and explore several beautiful buildings with wonderful architecture. At this plaza, you can check out the Old and New City Halls of Munich, and the 100-year old Glockenspiel carillon. You can also admire the Marian Column or Mariensäule, and its golden statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the column. You should not miss, actually you cannot miss it since it is the point of orientation in the whole city, the Cathedral of Our Lady.
One of the city’s green lungs is the marvelous English Garden, the largest park in Munich and bigger than New York’s Central Park. Another fine example of Bavarian architecture is the Grand Residence Palace, a former residence of the monarchs of Bavaria. It now houses a splendid palace museum.
Despite the many charms of Munich, Oktoberfest is the largest public event in the world and most attended cultural events that brings in millions of tourists to Munich each year. It is a huge contributor to the city government’s coffers.
Things to know about the Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is an annual celebration in Munich that has historical significance. It is celebrated for 16 to 18 days from late September to the first week of October in Munich, in the festival grounds called Theresienweise in honor of the Queen. The origin of the festival shows the love between the royals and their subjects. Some 200 years back it started as a feast to celebrate the marriage of Crown King Ludwig and Queen Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. That was way back on October 12, 1810. The citizens were invited to join in the celebration held in front of the city gates.
2. Celebrations during the early days
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In the early years, the highlight of the event was simply a horse race. Through the years, the festivities surrounding the fest grew extensively. Each year the townsfolk celebrate the King and Queen’s wedding anniversary with a festival. First an agricultural fair was included, where public activities such as sack and wheelbarrow races, goose chases, barrel rolling races and mush eating contests were held. Around the 1870s mechanical rides were introduced and in 1908, the first roller coaster in Germany was unveiled. Eventually, the city government allowed temporary beer stalls to be included. These were replaced in 1896 by beer halls, which, since the start, have been sponsored by breweries located within Munich.
3. Start of Oktoberfest
While the festival retained the name October, the major part of the festival occurs in September. The move was done to take advantage of the good and warmer weather in September.
The start of Oktoberfest is heralded after the city mayor taps the first keg at noon on the first day of the festival and declares “it’s tapped” or in German, “O’zapft is!” Participants in the festival will be drinking beer from large 16-ounce glass steins and consume plenty of spit-roasted chicken, goose or duck, roasted pork, potato dumplings, Blaukohl (apple and red cabbage dish), Bavarian Weißwürste, grilled pork knuckles, roasted ox tails, sauerkraut and pretzels. If you do not like meat, you can enjoy the charcoal-grilled fish on a stick called Steckerlfisch.
4. Authorised participants
There are only six breweries that are permitted to participate in the annual event and all of them are from Munich. Each one of them has a tent that only served their own beer brews. Included are Augustiner Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner Bräu, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, and Hofbräuhaus München.
5. Special brew for the festival
If you are going to Oktoberfest for the first time, you should know that traditionally the beer served at the fest are only those that were brewed in March of the same year, when the weather was still cool enough. The beer is called Märzenbie and has a higher alcohol content. It strictly follows the Reinheitsgebot standard (in place since 1516) in brewing the special beer, using the main four ingredients: hops, malt, yeast and barley.
Today, the brewing process remains the same but the beer is now prepared before the start of the fall season. Do not be alarmed when you see people passing out during the event. The beer served during Oktoberfest is about 6% ABV and much sweeter and stronger than the ordinary German lager. As the temperature is warm, it is easy for people to get dehydrated. It is a normal occurrence and the Germans even have a term for it Bierleichen or “Beer Corpses.”
What to expect
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About six million people attend Oktoberfest each year. In 2013, 6.4 million people descended in Munich for the festival and were served 1.7 million gallons of beer. It is estimated that about 480,000 roasted chickens and some 200,000 pork sausages are also consumed each year.
• A one-litre glass mug called Maß is used to serve the Oktoberfest beer. Each server is expected to carry at the most five of these mugs in each hand. The mugs belong to the breweries but you can find mugs such as those at souvenir shops if you want to bring home some. Through the course of its history, there were records established in carrying these huge mugs. A Guinness World Record was set by Anita Schwarz of Bavaria in November 2008. She was able to carry 19 full steins or Maß, with a combined weight of 90 lbs. or 45 kg. for 40 metres without spilling anything. In a local beer festival prior to the start of Oktoberfest 2014, Oliver Struempfel trumped the competition by carrying 27 full one-litre steins of beer for more than 130 feet. Each one-litre stein full of beer could reach about five pounds in weight.
• Loud music is not permitted during the daytime hours. Blasmusik, the traditional wind music of Bavaria and other German hits could be heard after six in the evening.
• The grand opening starts with the traditional Costume and Riflemen’s Parade at 10 in the morning, followed by a procession of breweries, landlords and showmen at 11. They are all headed to the Theresienwiese, the festival grounds. Brass bands are led by the Lord Mayor of the city and a pretty Münchner Kindl on horseback.
• There are a total of 14 beer tents belonging to the breweries and other businesses. Some of them are very notable for their offerings. The largest tent, which holds more than 6,000 seats inside, 3,000 outside and 1,000 standing tables is the Hofbräu-Festzelt where the Hofbräuhaus brews are served. Meanwhile, the opening ceremonies are done at the Schottenhamel, Another large tent, with a 37-metre tower is the Löwenbräu-Festzelt and the most colourful is the Hippodrom (will be replaced by the Marstall tent in 2014). Augustinerbräu, believed to be the best beer brewed for the Oktoberfest is served at the Augustiner-Festhalle.
But before you even raise your Maß, why don’t you try practicing how to say “Cheers” in different languages. We’re sure that you will be mingling with people from different countries during Oktoberfest since a table in a tent usually seats 10 people.