When we were in college and the hubs was studying abroad in Nice, he sent me an email saying that he was going to Oktoberfest with a few friends. Hearing from him during this weekend away was unfathomable, as these were the days before smart phones, FaceTime, and Snapchat. Lo and behold, on a Saturday afternoon in September, my dorm room phone rang and it was the hubs — entirely unintelligible, calling me from the phone booth in his hostel, via calling card.
I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I know there was a lot of slurring, a lot of laughing, and later, a lot of pictures of him and a huge group of Americans, Australians, and Germans passing around Burger King crowns in the Spaten tent.
As this was my sophomore year of college and I didn’t envision myself heading to Germany anytime soon, I figured my Oktoberfest days were pretty much behind me. Fast forward 7 years (holy crap), and I was wrong.
That’s right, last week, I returned from a long weekend in Munich — the very last of the year for Germany’s most famous 16-day festival.
Here’s what I learned.
Book your hotel either well in advance… or exactly 14 days beforehand.
The hubs had to be in Munich for a work conference, so why not tack on a weekend of madness? It was all a little bit last minute as we tried to determine which days/nights he’d be shmoozing, and which ones we’d be boozing, so we were on pause for booking anything until, like, two weeks before. Naturally, by this point, beds were moving fast. For awhile, I assumed we’d end up somewhere like this:
Ok, so it’s a modern prison cell… but it is in Germany!
Places on AirBnb that are normally £100/night were capitalizing on the craziness and charging a £250 “festival/conference” rate. The thought of spending over $1,000 USD for three nights in some stranger’s bed did not sound appealing to me in the least, so in one last ditch effort, I googled “luxury apartments in Munich,” and found the very last room here.
For a small apartment with a kitchen and sitting area, we paid the same amount we would have for a place via AirBnb. I was positive there would be a catch… but seriously, there wasn’t. We definitely got really freaking lucky, but I’m guessing that, based on their 14-day cancellation policy, people who had been holding rooms were releasing them at the very last second.
So, if time isn’t on your side, this is something to keep in mind.
See the city by accident.
We opted to keep our tent visits to Sunday (a wise, wise choice), and beerhopped our way around Munich on Saturday. We didn’t do an official tour, but we strolled all along the main streets, sharing pretzels and stopping occasionally for heartier fare. Our favorite traditional meal of the trip was at Der Pschorr with Weissen Bräuhäuser as a close second, and our favorite route home each night was through Marienplatz and past City Hall.
Aside from that? We didn’t actually see much of Munich. It’s a small, majorly walkable city, though, so I would say that Oktoberfest or not, a weekend is all you really need.
Watch where you step.
By the time we landed and it made it to our hotel, it was nearing 11 PM. Because we only had three nights in Munich, we weren’t going to weenie out of one despite a little bit of travel fatigue. We dropped our bags in our perfectly located apartment, just off of Marienplatz, and followed the (way-more-drunk-than us) crowd in search of beer.
As we pushed along, sensory overload took over and I was completely overwhelmed. People were falling off of tables, and bouncing off one another as they tried to enter the beer halls. Suddenly, the hubs dramatically slammed his arm across me and yelled, “WATCH OUT!!!”
…saving me from walking through a pile of puke. I would return the favor on our way to the tents on Sunday (yes, TO the tents) (AT 1 PM), and, because of the horses that take the kegs to and fro, we each did our best to avoid that resulting mess, too. We succeeded, but there were many close calls.
I’m making this sound really fun, right?
1, 2, 3, DRINK.
German is not the most, erm, intuitive language, but luckily, aside from a few dankes, no one seemed to expect us to say too much in Munich’s native tongue… until, that is, we arrived in the tents. As we sat at our first table, chatting and making new friends, we were a little startled when everyone stood up and cheered, “Eins, zwei, drei, G’SUFFA! PROST!” before slamming their steins and chugging their beers.
1, 2, 3, DRINK. CHEERS!
That’s some German we were more than happy to learn.
Brush up on your cheesy wedding songs.
The soundtrack to Oktoberfest is kind of terrible, but in the absolute best way. Each tent has a band raised on a platform in the center, and they play the same exact mix of patriotic Germanic anthems and pop music so that everyone, no matter their language, has the chance to sing along.
Also, I learned that the hubs knows, like, zero words to It’s Raining Men and I’m mildly disappointed in him for this.
Start off classy, then get CA-RAZY.
It worked out perfectly that the hubs had to be there for business, because we ended up nabbing an invite to a private table at the newest tent, Marstall. We sat at long tables, chatting with his colleagues over steins, giant soft pretzel, and lots of… radishes? For some reason, that’s the pre-dinner Bavarian snack of choice, which took a little bit getting used to. We were all a little silly by the end of our reservation (you buy them in three hour shifts, so our group’s tickets were from 3-6 PM), and as the beermaids rushed us out, we realized that the beer had definitely gone to our heads.
From there, the hubs and I made our way to the next tent, and I’m totally blanking on the name. We were meeting up with a group of INSEADers, who were, well, more than a few beers ahead of us. We did our best to catch up, and by the end, we were standing on benches and scream-singing along to Sweet Caroline with the best of ’em.
Yeah, it’s blurry because our photographer wasn’t in the best state, either. But you get the idea.
Have a plan.
Though we never explicitly said it, I assume that if the hubs and I lost one another, we would meet back at our apartment. This guy, on the other hand…
He was pretty much on a tent-wide people finding mission, walking from table to table mumbling, “have you seen these people?!”
It was ineffective to say the least.
Ride the rides
One of the most surprising things, for me, was that outside of the tents is a full-blown carnival. I am not at ALL a fan of rides, but as we were leaving, the hubs and I both decided that one ride on the super silly rollercoaster clearly meant for children was in order.
It was us and a bunch of drunkies, and we screamed dramatically the entire time. I couldn’t nab a pic, but the quick view from the top of the rollercoaster was actually the perfect way to get an idea of just how huge the grounds are for Oktoberfest, plus I was crying laughing by the end.
So, the consensus?
I don’t see myself returning to Oktoberfest. It was an absolute blast, but one that I’m ok declaring as once-in-a-lifetime. Despite my misguided first impressions, it really wasn’t just all frat boys — there actually was a huge range of people there, and tons of families enjoying the carnival. Even so, with autumn being my very favorite time to explore Europe, I don’t know that I’d dedicate one weekend to a return to Oktoberfest.
But, you know, never say never…