Oktoberfest is the kind of event that has a huge potential for disappointment. It’s a festival most people are vaguely familiar with, but few really know much about. Most people know the biggest celebrations are in Munich, it involves lots of beer drinking and they erroneously think the bulk of the partying occur during the month of October (it’s primarily in September and ends the first week of October.)
Going in poorly armed in understanding, one could be let down and regret coming all the way to Munich. Luckily…those of you who trek to Germany for this party will not be let down. It would be almost impossible to have a lousy time at Oktoberfest.
I had been to Oktoberfest previously. Two years ago. I have war stories from that poorly planned expedition. Some of the highlights included our host evicting us from her apartment at 5am our second night in Munich (nearly every hotel room in the city is booked during this period). A friend breaking his wrist and not realizing it until the next morning. Still to this day we have no idea how he broke his wrist. Wandering around Munich sleepless, homeless and in Lederhosen and of course the varying reactions of people to our condition. One friend, who was making his first trip outside of North America landed the morning after our eviction, unable to raise the group via cell (our phone’s had died). He thought we had ditched him as part of some sort of cruel prank and was not a happy camper until we all rendezvoused hours later. Another friend, waiting for his flight from NYC to Munich was giddy with anticipation after he received a message updating him as to our status. That being that we were homeless, one of our party had broken a bone, we weren’t sure where we were going to sleep and that it was now time to drink. I suppose people deal with adversity in different ways.
This was a much more civilized trip. I landed in Paris after the BA flight I covered in the previous update. Made it back to my apartment for a few hours of sleep and was up bright and early to brave the RER out to CDG. The AF flights to Munich were out of 2D, which is a rather cramped and miserable terminal, although no part of CDG is particularly pleasant.
Air France managed to piss me off yet again on this flight as it seems they never miss an opportunity to provide substandard customer service. As an elite member, I am entitled to assign myself an exit row seat when online checkin begins. As I am a tall drink of water and I value my leg room even on flights as short as CDG-MUC, I made a point of going to the airfrance.fr OLCI as soon as it opened up at T+24. I selected a window seat in the exit row, and assumed all was well. As I made my way towards the jetway to board, the red light and accompanying beep were triggered by a swipe of my boarding pass. I thought perhaps AF was going to upgrade me to business (yea right). Instead, they assigned me a new seat further back, with lousy leg room. I protested to the gate agent that I had specifically selected an exit row in advance and in typical Air France fashion she first lied (claiming there had been an equipment swap when there hadn’t), and then passed the buck (telling me to take it up with a flight attendant on-board). I took my seat, cursing myself for once again falling prey to this lousy airline instead of flying Lufthansa and tried to nod off.
I have to say MUC is one of the finest airports anywhere in the world. It is a pleasure to transit, to depart from, to arrive in and even to overnight at. I had one of my most fun airport experiences at MUC in summer 2010 during a long layover after arriving from CDG and before connecting onwards to JNB. It was the day of the England/Germany World Cup match, the airport setup a several foot tall screen in the courtyard between T1 and T2 to televise the match. Passengers in transit were mostly dressed in German colors and inebriated almost to the man. It was more like watching football at a fun bar than being stuck at an airport. High marks as always for MUC. Within minutes of pulling up to the gate, I was onto the S-Banh via the attached rail link at the airport.
I met my friend at the hotel, I changed into my lederhosen, she donned her dirindl and it was off to the Weisn. We spent the first day at the Hoffbrauhaus tent. We made some new friends and had a fairly good time before stopping by a smaller tent that only served liquor because one of my friends was bartending. More free liquor drinks expedited the evening to an early conclusion.
Day two was spent popping in and out of a variety of tents. I couldn’t remember exactly which tents had been the most fun two years ago, partly because we were being led around by some locals, partly because I never looked at the names and of course partly because the entire trip was an alcohol soaked blur. We worked our way through the highly recommended tents finding mixed results, and very few places to sit. NOTE: If you have a large group it is essential to make reservations well in advance or you will never find a place to sit. They won’t serve you beers unless you have a place at a table. Finally, in the distance I saw “Shutzen Festzelt” on the side of one of the structures. This had been highly recommended, and once we got closer, I recognized it as the tent we had spent most of our time in during my first Oktoberfest. It was by far the most fun tent and we spent the rest of day 2 and all of day 3 drinking there and meeting random people. I think my favorite random interaction came on the bathroom line at that tent. Some very inebriated German guy started speaking to me in German (to be fair I am of German descent, although I don’t speak it at all). I let him know I had no idea what he was saying. He asked where I was from and I told him New York. His response was “Oh! New York! I love New York! Fifth Avenue! Apple Store!” Really? That’s what NYC is known for internationally now? Having a cool Apple store? Oh well, such are the pitfalls of our capitalist ways I suppose.
After three days and nights out in Munich I was pretty ready to get back to Paris and enjoy my next 9 hours of peace. I had come right on the heels of my arrival from the U.S. and I would have barely enough time at home for a good night’s sleep before it was back to CDG for yet another painful Air France flight to attend the wedding of an old friend in Bologna. The things we do for friendship.
One thing is certain, I will be back to Munich and the Weisn next year, and whenever possible thereafter. It is always a great time and Munich is a fantastic city.
Below are some tips for a first timer.
YOUR FIRST OKTOBERFEST:
– If you are a group, reserve tables well in advance (that being said, the bigger the group, the more fun.)
– Don’t be a hero and show up at 10:30am when they open, especially if you’re going to go out at night. Pace yourself.
– On average the steins run 8 euro, and it’s customary to just pay with a 10 and let the servers keep the change. When you see small girls lugging armfuls of steins around you’ll understand why they deserve it.
– Bring cash. There are ATM’s, but they are few and far between. Credit cards may be accepted but it would be a huge headache and I’ve never seen it attempted.
– Sample the awesome drunk food in the tents and at the stands all around the grounds.
– If you don’t drink beer, don’t despair, many tents have liquor bars.
– Weisn-coke, learn to love it. It’s a white powdered mint snuff that frankly looks like cocaine. However, it is totally legal and will clear your sinuses out and wake you up after a few too many steins.
– Do wear lederhosen (men) and dirindl’s (women). You may think it’s odd, but pretty much everyone comes in traditional garb, you won’t look out of place.
– Stay 3-5 days. This is probably the optimal timeframe.
– Make sure to stay in a hotel near an S-Bahn or U-Bahn stop with a direct rail link to the Weisn, this will make your life so much easier.
– Try as many of the tents as you can before settling on which you like best.
– Have fun and come back next year!