Honestly, I went into Oktoberfest with mediocre expectations. I've been to a decent amount of festival type events. A festival all about beer seemed like it might lack variety.
Another worry I had was that it would be very touristy. Oktoberfest is extremely well known across the world. I thought that fact might have caused it to become overrun with tourists and lose it's roots.
Oktoberfest originally started in 1810 as a royal wedding celebration. It has since then transformed into a Volksfest (folk festival) celebrating Bavarian culture. This, of course, includes beer.
I think my favorite fun fact is that the festival has been held at the same grounds for the entire 200+ years of the festival's existence. The grounds, known as Theresienwiese (Theresa's meadows) or simply the Wiesn (fair grounds).
The beer sold at Munich's Oktoberfest is made specifically for the event and must conform to Reinheitsgebot or the "German Purity Law" which limits the ingredients that can be used in brewing. This law originally pertained to all beer made in Germany and was created in part to keep the beer "pure". Oddly enough the "Oktoberfest beer" is also stronger than normal beer. It also must be brewed within the city limits of Munich.
One cool part about this law is drinking beer that has cultural significance and tradition behind it. The downside is that there is almost no variety in the beer you can drink at Oktoberfest. You really are just drinking this one kind of beer despite visiting the many different breweries. This is in contrast to a craft beer festival where you could taste dozens of vastly different styles and flavors of beer.
The festival grounds is over 100 acres. Half the grounds feel like a carnival with rides, games, and food. The other half is where each of the major breweries has a tent for you to drink and eat in.
The word 'tent' doesn't quite do these buildings justice. They are built and taken down every year but that is hard to believe when you see them. Each one is a giant warehouse that fits thousands of people inside with seating for a couple more thousand on the outside.
Each tent is operated by a different brewery in Munich such as Hofbrau, Augustiner, Spatenbrau, and Paulaner. The insides actually don't differ that much. Each one has many long tables and a stage with a band. Music before 6:00pm is limited to acoustic and brass instruments. This is to keep the traditional atmosphere and to be welcoming to the elderly and families during the day time.
Going inside one of the tents can be a little daunting at first. Some tables are for reservation only while others are first come first served. If you come to Oktoberfest with any more than 4 or 5 people. Reserving a table is probably in your best interest. Since it was just Shai, Colin, and I, it was easy to join a non-reservation communal table with just 3 people. You either find a table yourself or a waitress will squeeze you in with another party.
This was actually my favorite part. We made friends with everyone we sat next to. It was a very open and friendly environment. We met all kinds of people from locals to other Europeans and of course other Americans.
This was one of my expectations that ended up not being true. I did not get a sense that I was just surrounded by tourists. The majority of the Oktoberfest population was, in fact, German.
A stereotype that did hold true were the waitresses. They pretty much look exactly like in this photo:
They wear the traditional Bavarian dress and can carry 5 liters of beer in each hand! It was actually quite impressive.
Other than talking to our neighbors, the next most common activity was singing and dancing. The bands play some traditional music but the majority are classic (mostly american) sing-a-long hits that everyone knows including Sweet Caroline, Take Me Home Country Roads, Hey Baby, We Are The Champions, Don't Stop Believin, just to name a few.
Don't Stop Believin
We are the champions
It's common, almost mandatory, to stand on the table to sing, dance, and cheer. Later in the night, no one is left sitting.
Another song, well it's literally a toast, that plays every 30 minutes or so is Ein Prosit. Which translates to "A toast". The full song is just repeating a few lines that go:
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times
One! Two! Three! Drink up!
And yes, there is lots of drinking. People are constantly doing cheers with each other which has a domino effect with everyone else at the table.
While we're on the topic of drinking. Not only is everyone drinking the Oktoberfest beer, everyone is drinking out of liter steins. To clarify the math, a liter is 32oz or just shy of 3 cans of beer.
Food is also plentiful at Oktoberfest. Each tent has a full menu of traditional Bavarian grub. For a cheaper option, you can eat at the stalls outside.
And of course there are plenty of bathrooms. So, yes, it is possible to stay at one tent the entire day of Oktoberfest.
Overall I loved the atmosphere that Oktoberfest cultivates. Everyone is so open and kind and just there to be have fun and be happy. You also get exposed to German culture through the food, drink, people, and music.
So, who wants to go with me next year?
Shout out to Colin and Shai for the unforgettable experience!