Okay, I was only there for a day, but I think that’s enough to take in the madness.
Oktoberfest is on every drinker’s bucket list, and on the radar for seemingly every other traveller in and outside of Germany. You can’t seem to avoid the Lederhosen, and definitely not the beer, throughout the latter half of September and most people you talk to will be saying how much they loved it or how much they want to go.
So the world’s largest Volksfest in Munich definitely had a bit of a reputation to live up to. But did it? That’s the question.
Well… of course it did. I can’t lie and say Oktoberfest wasn’t impressive. It’s loud, large and exciting, a distinctively Bavarian fair (in the tents at least). But along with that comes chaos, mess, vomit and more knick-knack stores and classic carnie rides than anyone will ever need.
The Knight Bus
Our ride through Germany started in the early morning. My small group rode with PM2AM, a student organisation that plans day trips from various cities throughout the country. They deliver pretty good value trips (and a terrible breakfast) but night buses full of students aiming to get drunk aren’t the most comfortable rides. If you’re a light sleeper like me, I definitely recommend some ear plugs!
Getting up early/staying awake long enough to get the bus is a bit of a challenge, especially when you have to spend half an hour getting crammed in there. With almost a hundred people trying to get on a single bus as quickly as possible, things get a little squishy and desperate. But it’s all a bit of a laugh really. We complain and moan about uncomfortable seats and long journeys, but how far are you going to get for so little money in any sort of luxury?
The Madness Begins
The first thing we did on the day was, as many have already experienced, freak out at the size of the lines. Everyone is at the big tents as early as seven or eight A.M., praying to some beer god that they get a place at the hallowed and holy tables. It’s even worse than the desperation of people getting on the bus. Security guards and bouncers work overtime trying to stop queue jumpers, somewhat violently at times.
Eventually, we scored a table in the Lowenbrau biergarten and got to drinking! I think it’s even better than being completely inside, to be honest, as you get a nice bit of a sun, live music and the same drinks you get inside without the worst of the crowd.
It’s super weird to start drinking at ten and it’s definitely not something I’m a fan of doing. But that’s the paradox of Oktoberfest, isn’t it? You have to be there early enough or you’re not going to get in at all (well, not without waiting in a damp line for an hour or more), but you don’t want to get there to early because you’ll be done by the early afternoon. There’s some sort of magical balance here that I’m sure the veterans would know, but that we didn’t have enough time to pick up on. Oh well, maybe next time.
The novelty of the maß is what makes Oktoberfest great, not it’s beer, I found. Lowenbrau’s Oktoberfest brew is nice and all-too-easy to down, but it is definitely not the most amazing beer I’ve ever drunk like I was half hoping for. Giant (overpriced) pretzels made my morning more than the amber fluid, however, as did the music and camaraderie of the Bavarian’s and fellow Germans. Even early in the day, people are celebrating with as much gusto as they would show in any massive celebration back home, if not even more gusto.
But too much beer too quickly, and on an empty stomach and very little sleep, is tough on the ol’ noggin’. After we had our fill of the Lowenbrau tent, we slinked off casually to explore the rest of the festival.
The outside of the tents is as much of a neon psycho-scape as any good fair. There’s rides, souvenir shops, statues and decorations; so much colour and visual interest it’s hard to make your brain slow down enough to appreciate it. I didn’t end up hopping on any of the rides, though a haunted house called something like “DAEMONIUM” really caught my eye, simply for the ridiculous over-the-top-ness of it all. It looked like the creators were maybe taking a leaf out of the Warhammer 40,000 book.
My favourite, and least favourite, aspect of the festival was this chaos. It’s as if every Western festival in the world builds up to Oktoberfest, and in it is a part of every party that’s ever existed. It’s hell on Earth for the introvert, but paradise for the boisterous. Go in with a bit of looseness, don’t stress too much about it, and stick close to your friends.
The ragtag squad and I decided to leave the festival grounds shortly after midday to both recharge and explore the surrounds. The high-class housing and park lands around the pit were beautiful and green, a nice little oasis for those who went too hard, too fast. The poor bierleichen. I mean, I was one of them as well, but I chose to put my head down in a restaurant while the others ate. I’m sure no one noticed… right?
After taking my dose of ibuprofen and caffeine, I was back on my feet. The guys and I spent the next few hours simply strolling, chatting and laughing. The atmosphere of the day was a thick one, but there was a lot of joy that could be drawn from it. With excitement and fun in the air, even walking around without a beer in hand was a nice experience.
The area around St. Michael’s Kirche and Frauenkirche (both incredibly impressive in themselves) was another oasis from the Oktoberfest madness. It was hard to even spot any lederhosen in this part of town, so I felt a little silly all dressed up. Never-the-less, our excursion to this part of the town was a much needed breather.
At least two or three people told me to stay as long as possible in the festival itself, as Oktoberfest is only there for a few weeks and Munich is there forever, but I think Oktoberfest is so much more than just a few square miles of tents and cement. It’s a joyous feeling that flows over the whole city. Without the city, of course, there wouldn’t be an Oktoberfest, at least not in its current form.
So my recommendation is: get a bit tipsy, but not drunk. Have your fill of music and laughter in the tents and then go wherever your gut tells you. Don’t feel like you need to sit on your but all day, unless that’s what you’re aiming to do!
We finished off the day with a mad, stressful rush to the bus, jostling through drunk ‘festers and blinded by thousands of multi-coloured globes. This almost psychedelic scene made for an interesting finale to the carnival, and probably would be an interesting scene in a Gaspar Noe film… though thankfully without the violence.
I spent the bus ride back sleeping off the day, still comfy in my lederhosen but cradling an aching stomach. Through fitful dreams and musty air, I headed back home confident in the fact that one checkbox on the bucket list was ticked off. Maybe it wasn’t exactly how I imagined it… but life is always surprising isn’t it?