Ever since the moment I decided I liked beer (which was probably around the time I moved to Columbus, Ohio and experienced the magical sorcery of craft breweries), it’s been a high-reaching dream of mine to attend the real Oktoberfest in München (Munich). What could be better than drinking a beer that’s borderline too heavy to lift up, dancing on tables with hundreds (or thousands) of drunken singing Germans, and stuffing one’s face with warm Nutella-filled crepes and roasted chicken? Nothing.
So I knew it had to be done.
Bavarian Fest season runs from March to the beginning of October, so when Lee and I arrived, the season was already in full swing. We attended Gäubodenvolkfest, a decent-sized Volksfest in the city of Straubing, about an hour drive from Hohenfels. The best way I can describe a German Volksfest is a mixture of a beer and wine festival, traveling amusement park rides, German fair food, and merchandise vendors (think “As Seen On TV” type stuff). If you’re trying to compare it to an American state fair in your head, stop. It just doesn’t compare.
I did not see one piece of trash on the ground. The bathrooms were spotless. People were polite. Children weren’t crying. It didn’t smell. Well, it did smell, but only of heavenly bratwurst, flowers, peanut brittle, and fresh baked goods. And admission is always FREE.
We grabbed a seat in a the Reisinger beer tent for lunch–which was remarkably uncrowded, considering it was a Saturday–and each got a liter of Festbier and some delicious German fare. I got Schweinebraten, a fatty melt-in-your-mouth slab of pork with a super crispy skin swimming in dark beer sauce. Oh, and you can’t forget the Kartoffelknödel! Adorably round potato dumplings that you eat by breaking apart and soaking up meat juice and gravy.
Have I mentioned how much I love German food? I. Love. German. Food.
Lee and I also attended a small Volksfest in Parsberg, a little town just down the street. We went with a couple of our good friends, grabbed a table in the (only) beer tent, and sat and enjoyed each other’s company for the better part of the evening.
With the great successes we had at these two smaller Fests, we originally decided to hold off on THE Oktoberfest this year. Because of the sheer size and popularity of Oktoberfest, people make reservations for beer tents starting in January. You must buy reservations in multiples of 10, and submit a request for tickets in writing. Alright Oktoberfest, I see you.
Now, I should mention that a reservation is not necessary to attend Oktoberfest. You can get in for free, and enjoy all there is to offer outside the tents, but you will have no guaranteed seat in a beer tent. And, if your butt hasn’t secured a seat, you won’t be served a beer. Good news is, the tents keep a large section reservation-free, so it’s very possible to grab a seat. It’s harder to grab more than a few seats that are all adjacent, but it’s still possible.
So, here comes the part about how we ended up with a reservation. A friend of ours won a bid on eBay (it’s okay guys, German eBay isn’t sketchy) for 10 tickets that included 2 liters of beer and half a chicken–per person! And, the price each of us paid was outrageously cheap. I’ll just say that we got extremely lucky, and this was the BEST way to experience Oktoberfest for the first time.
I last-minute bargain shopped for a dirndl at TK Maxx (yes, like TJ Maxx) and scored one for only €25, when they usually run €100 or more.
We all boarded the train on a cold, drizzly Monday morning and enjoyed the 2-hour ride to Munich with a couple of beers served to us by the black-vested train attendant. He asked us what the American phrase for “bottle opener” was. When he tried to pronounce it himself, it sounded more like “bolalapala.” I’ll never forget it.
Once we de-boarded and started walking in the direction we assumed was correct, we turned around to find a big group of Americans following us. I guess they thought we knew what we were doing. Flattering, but overreaching. But all we had to do was look down, and we saw big, white painted arrows with the words “Oktoberfest” showing us which way to go.
Now we could act like we knew how to get there.
Like I mentioned before, it was a drizzly day. It was cold, but not unbearable. The weather turned out to be a huge benefit, because it seemed like nobody wanted to be out in the rain!
I’ve heard that beer tents are packed and virtually impossible to get into when the weather is bad, but I didn’t feel that was the case. Each beer tent can hold thousands of people, so of course it feels like there are a lot of people around you, but seats were opening up all over the place.
We got to the Fest right before lunch and our reservation in the Pschorr-Bräurosl tent wasn’t until dinner time (4:30 pm), so we ventured into the Augustiner-Bräu tent in the hopes of finding a place to park our butts for a while. We walked right in and all 9 of us found adjacent seats right away! Quarters were extremely tight, but after drinking a Maß (liter) of beer all the complaining goes out the window. Plus, the guy sitting behind me was keeping me warm by pressing his back up against mine.
I’ll take a moment to note that Oktoberfest isn’t a great place for shy people. You’re going to sit next to strangers, your personal bubble will be savagely invaded by strangers, and you will have to wildly wave your hands in the air while shouting “ENTSCHULDIGUNG!” to get the attention of your waitress. And it’s totally awesome.
Once 4:30 rolled around, we made our way over to the Pschorr-Bräurosl tent and reveled in glee over when we found or reserved table on the balcony.
The glee factor was multiplied by 100 when we received our chicken. I never would have thought that something as simple as a roasted chicken, sliced in half and plopped on a plate, could taste so good. I don’t know how the Germans pull it off, but somehow they’re able to make the most delicious food by using a only a few basic ingredients. They just cook it, and it automatically tastes amazing. Everything I’ve eaten is at least a 12, on a scale of 1 to 10. It blows my mind every time.
I eventually revived myself from the food coma, and my two girlfriends, myself, and one of the males of our group (he was assigned as security detail, naturally) left the tent to walk around, explore, and ride the ferris wheel for a few Euro. The great thing about having a reservation is that nobody can take your seat once you get up. You can take a break, go enjoy something else for a while, and still come back for another round of beer! We were “stationed” in the tent for about 3 hours, and that was more than enough time to eat, drink, converse, and soak it all in. The party even continued on the 2-hour train ride home, where we made friends with a German woman and her daughter who found our chatty conversation both amusing and endearing.
That night I dreamt of huge Bavarian pretzels, the best beer in the entire world, strawberry-Nutella crepes, and posing for photos with German people I didn’t know (but didn’t care). It was truly an experience of a lifetime, and I have to keep reminding myself that this is, in fact, real. We live here. The experiences that I never thought I could have because I “couldn’t afford to travel” are now my everyday reality. We sat in the company of great friends that we feel privileged to have and soaked in traditions and history that are so rich that you can barely wrap your mind around it. It almost doesn’t give this conclusion justice to say something so simple, but…
We loved Oktoberfest.