Oktoberfest has been a highlight of 2015 for me and a complete surprise. I had no expectations of loving it as much as I did. A Bavarian tradition for over 180 years (Bavaria is a region of southern Germany unique from other regions in culture, dialect and other ways) Oktoberfest is the epitome of a unique, cultural immersion that should be experienced by everyone. And in Munich everyone does! The young, elderly, single and married — foreigners too — flock here once a year for an international celebration that lasts 18 wonderful, glorious, happy and blissful days.
You might recognize Oktoberfest as a drinking festival and it largely is. German breweries erect massive tents holding up to 10,000 people (16 of these tents cover the Wiesn, or “grounds”) and serve their ice-cold brews in 1-liter glass steins for 10 euros apiece. This is actually quite a deal considering if Oktoberfest took place in the United States… well it wouldn’t be nearly as fun. For instance Bavaria is known for it’s hospitality and kindness to travelers (not exactly the same as the rest of Germany) — the tents take great pride in hosting its visitors and the service is second to none. You never need to flag down a server for a fresh beer or plate of food, they are always attentive, proactively offering service without hassle, smiling, happy and gracious — this just would never happen in the USA.
And the food! It is tremendous! From crackling suckling pig, rotisserie chicken that falls off the bone, chilled potato salad which is very different from it’s state-side counterpart, a local dish similar to macaroni and cheese (and of course, better)… I could go on and on. The food at Oktoberfest is unjustly overlooked! It is fabulous, affordable and easily obtained without hassle.
I started out spending three days at Oktoberfest before continuing on with my friends to Berlin. The departure to Berlin felt like a fate worse than death — after two days I had discovered the miracle of Oktoberfest. To depart from heaven to… Berlin? was not appealing. Nevertheless I did — and for two days resented Berlin for it. Only then did my buddy Jeff and I decided to return to Munich, to Oktoberfest — to finish for six more days what we had previously started for two. We skipped our flights back to Istanbul and got on a train to Munich. En route I booked an AirBnB 5 minutes from the Oktoberfest grounds. Perfect.
In order to not write forever on the hundreds of things I love about Oktoberfest (and why I will be returning in 2016) I have decided to distill a list of things I love about Munich & Oktoberfest . If you really want to hear me talk for two hours though just ask me to tell you about it next time I see or talk to you.
- Lederhosen is incredibly comfortable, practical and fun. I purchased authentic lederhosen and wore it every day during my eight day attendance. I did add a bit of American flair though — I added a leather biker vest I had taken with me to Burning Man back in 2014 and cut the sleeves off of my long sleeved, traditional shirts (using them for leg-warmers — an accessory also part of the traditional Oktoberfest garb). Ask me for more details.
- Dirndls. Dirndls are dangerous. They make any woman incredibly attractive. I have no idea why women do not wear these year round. They flatter everything a woman has and downplays anything she doesn’t.
- The Bavarian beer. Only beer brewed in Munich and conforming to the Reinheitsgebot can be served at Ocktoberfest. Paulaner, Lowenbrau, Hofbrau and the rest — I swear it tastes better here than anywhere I had it in the states. In part because of the 1-liter serving size, in part because of how cold and fast it is served. Additionally the ability to prost by smashing the giant steins together (when there is a head on the beer there is no out-splash) makes it fun.
- The aforementioned Bavarian food.
- The fact that it takes place during the day instead of at night. All of the tents close by 10:30 pm affording a reasonable bed time.
- The fact that Oktoberfest is not just a day or weekend celebration but instead lasts 18 days! This gives it a scope and context different from other holiday events such as Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas.
- Free entry.
- Affordable prices for food and beers.
- Did I mention there are carnival rides?
- Music, singing and dancing. I had no idea why drinking songs existed until I visited Oktoberfest in Munich. As the day progresses the music starts up and soon people are standing on the tables, arm in arm, singing the words to pop music and traditional Bavarian songs.
- The kindness and friendliness of the Bavarian people.
- Surprisingly little fighting, boorishness or drunkenness; you probably will have a hard time believing that! Respect, happiness and a mood of celebration (and dirndls!) help quell any antagonism and bad vibes.
- Surprisingly little interference from police, security or authority. Do what you want! Amazing as an American to see how little regulation is required to enforce the rules. The culture at Oktoberfest for the most part is self-policing and karma based. Those tourists who make the journey to the destination have traveled far enough to respect the tradition. Can you imagine the security involved if this was hosted in the United States?
- The after-parties. After the tents close down there is still plenty of fun to be had in the bordering clubs and bars surrounding the wiesn. Jeff and I had fun having fun.
- The people you meet – from all over the world – are happy, friendly and happy to be at Oktoberfest. It creates a hugely positive environment that is contagious. You can’t help but smile, laugh and he happy yourself!
- Each tent has a different personality and culture as well as groups of people that visit it.
- Every day is a different journey, completely different then the day before.
When my time at Oktoberfest finally came to an end after 8 gloriously-unsustainable days, it was time to leave. At some point I developed insomnia, a manic, crazed love of rotisserie chicken in tandem with German beer and a somewhat disturbing hunger for more Oktoberfest. Between the sleep deprivation and need to continue my current employment if I had remained any longer well I might not have survived. That’s why in 2016 I’ll be returning to Oktoberfest in more sustainable fashion. Better accommodations, better sleep, an accessible gym and more productive work environment. Next year I’ll be ready.