You wouldn’t be accused of one too many if you searched for the logic in calling the world’s biggest beer festival – that starts in September – Oktoberfest.
Like us, the Germans love to drink, so it’s conceivable that they’re so antsy to slug down those steins, they can never quite wait until October. A less remarkable reason is that, as the festival became longer, it was shuffled back into September to take advantage of the warmer weather.
The party, which now lasts for 16 drunken days, began as a wedding toast in 1810, albeit an extravagant one. It was the nuptials of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. With all of Munich invited to the royal bash, held on the fields in front of the city gates, it was one mighty hoodang, capped off with some horse races on a meadow outside town the following day.
Everyone had such a cracking time at the gallops, that it became an annual event with the meadow being named Theresienwiese (Therese’s Meadow) in honour of the Princess.
Held until 1938, the races evolved into a mega-amusement park and a whole new brand of horsing around was conceived. It was an absurd transformation – think Royal Ascot given a Thorpe Park makeover – but a genius one, with beer-lovers from all corners of the globe turning up to toast the town during the two weeks.
Now more than seven million litres of beer, 30,000 litres of wine and about 20,000 bottles of sparkling wine is guzzled each year by the estimated six million people that assemble. Which is why going to Oktoberfest is really like visiting a small village, comparable to the size of Vatican City.
It has its own police force, fire brigade, post office, power station and sewage system, but unlike The Holy See, dealings can get a dollop debaucherous, bordering on sinful.
It all starts with the Brewer’s Parade at 11am on the first day of the festival. A colourful procession begins at Sonnenstrasse, steams its way into the grounds via Schwanthalerstrasse before the big man of Munich taps the first keg of beer in the opening ceremony in the Schottenhamel tent.
If you can’t squeeze your way into the tent to see the mallet-swinging mayor, listen out for the cry of ‘Ozapft ist’s!’ (It’s tapped!). From that point onwards, you’ll become lost in a seemingly ceaseless stream of Bavarian brew, pretzels and chicken legs. Some of you will even attempt to keep it all contained while whizzing around on the rollercoaster or dodgem cars.
While all the above is great fun, the chance to mix with the friendly Germans and other nationalities is what makes Oktoberfest a truly memorable experience. At best, you’ll remember a little bit.
A bit of advice
As well as the obvious – drinking too much potent barley pop and being under the table before you know it – there are a few other things to be mindful of.
Early bird gets the seat
To nab a table or good seat, aim to get there by 8.30am. Beer is served from 10am weekdays and 9am on the weekends.
If you’re going to swipe a beer stein, do it carefully – you’ll be fined €50 if you get caught.
A good tip
If you get on the good side of the beer wench, she’s likely to look out for you when you’re empty, so tip generously.
You snooze, you lose
As tempting as it is to have a kip on the hill, it’s not the best idea. You might wake up minus a wallet or phone.
Have a Bud
Given the size of the festival, it’s as easy to lose your friends as it is your sense of direction, so as naff as a buddy system is, use it.
Caught on camera
If you’re travelling with a tour group, take a photo of your bus. It may help you find it at the end of the day.
Don’t try to keep up
Bavarian beer has 5 per cent alcohol, which is why Germans complain the beer here tastes like water. Don’t try to match them.
Because it’s likely you’re going to be a smidge sloshed most of the time, here’s a guide to what you should try to do while you’re there …
•Eat a whole chicken or pork knuckle
•Go on the famous Olympia Looming or Power Tower ride
•Give your partner or friend a gingerbread heart
•Try some Obatzta (yummy cheese)
•Buy an Oktoberfest T-shirt or wacky hat
•Try some Bavarian snuff
•Swap your beer for a weisse at the wine tent
•Have a stein with a local (cheers is ‘prost’)
•Pretend you’re Lewis Hamilton on the dodgem cars
•Go on the Ferris wheel at night
•Get rowdy in the Hofbräu tent, the biggest beer tent, most popular with Aussies and Kiwis
While you’re there
While you’re in Munich, give yourself a rest from the amber nectar for a day to explore the vibrant city. It has been through some tough times, especially in the last century. World War I nearly starved the city to death, World War II almost annihilated it, and, as the birthplace of the Nazi Party, it suffered it’s fair share of chaos at the hands of Hitler.
A further blow came during the 1972 Olympic Games, when Palestinian terrorists killed 17 people in what has become known as the ‘Munich Massacre’. Nowadays, the city is upbeat and lively and still riding high on the back of its successful involvement in the 2006 World Cup. Filled with art and culture, it has more museums and monuments than any other German city.
The three Pinakotheks museums
A unique trio of museums filled to the rafters with art from different eras – the Alte Pinakothek, the eldest, has work of artists from the Middle Ages to late Baroque in a remarkable neoclassical temple. See www.pinakothek.de
Dachau Concentration Camp
If you’re only going to do one thing, visit the first Nazi concentration camp located about 16 km northwest of Munich. See www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de.
Attracting five million tourists every year, this olympic site – contrary to other cities’ – is still used. Whether you go to see the amazing architecture, tour the Olympic Stadium or catch a concert, it’s well worth a visit. See www.olympiapark-muenchen.de.
Bigger than Hyde Park, it’s not unusual to see naked sunbathing locals here, but it’s a pleasant place to plop for a breather all the same. Also visit the Japanese Teahouse.
The historical main square of the city is dominated by the neo-Gothic New Town Hall, whose mechanical clock, or Glockenspiel, plays every day at 11am, midday and 5pm.
If you don’t want to stay in Munich, consider a stay in St Johann in Tirol, which is only a 90-minute bus ride away in the middle of the Lekental valley. From here you can tour the Bavarian beerhalls or relax in the quaint town or one nearby (Oberndorf, Kirchdorf and Erpfendorf are all within easy reach) and enjoy the fresh mountain air and picturesque backdrop. More adventurous types might like to have a crack at skydiving, paragliding, canyoning or hire a bike and wind around the 200km of well-signed cycle paths. The famous Australian-owned Bunny’s Pub is one not to miss. See www.stjohannintirol.com