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Oktoberfest – German Beer Festival

The best beer festival you’ll never remember.

It is an event of world notoriety, and they come from everywhere to crowd the tents, down the one litre (Maß) beers and jostle for space at the urinals. For 17 days in the second half of September, the citizens of Munich and Bavaria link arms with people from all over the world and sway to the drunken rhythms of the oom-pah bands. It’s so unbelievably crowded, and the tents stink of beer, urine and roast chicken; is it really worth it?

Of course it is. This is the place where excessive drunken behaviour is not just acceptable, it’s the norm. Yes, you can be completely intoxicated before lunchtime; yes, you can sing as loudly and as out of tune as you want; yes, all the girls look absolutely beautiful; yes, you look beautiful, too; yes, you can stagger through the streets propositioning anything that moves; yes, you can become best friends with complete strangers who you will never recognise again; and best of all, yes you will probably not remember half the things you did.

All this glorious fun starts in the middle of September, when the Mayor of Munich, normally a severely rotund man wedged into the lederhosen of his youth, taps the first keg. In the following days, beer is served from 10am during the week and from 9am on weekends. There are 14 tents in all, and if you don’t have a place reserved and don’t know any locals, then you will have to get there early to find a place. Even during the week, the tents fill up very quickly.

The big tents include Hofbräu, which can hold over 6,000 people inside, Löwenbrau and Schottenhamel. A Maß beer costs around €7 so be sure you have lots of money with you. Stave off intoxication by ordering roasted chickens, haunches of oxen, strings of sausages and giant pretzels. And if you’re embarrassed about using crowded bathrooms, better get over it.

The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The modern festival, the Wiesn as the locals call it, includes more than just beer drinking. There is the Oktoberfest Costume and Riflemen’s Parade, the Parade of Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries (picture a hundred lederhosen clad milk bottles waddling down the street), and the Böllerschießen, a handheld canon salute.

As the festival remains extremely popular with locals, it helps to know someone from Bavaria or Munich who has a place in one of the tents. But even if you come as a stranger, you will certainly not leave as one. The Oktoberfest, for all its drunken idiocy, is actually a very inclusive and warm event; everyone is drunk, everyone is singing, a lot of people are wearing the traditional Bavarian dress (the men look just ridiculous), and the tents are communal places where people gather close together and relish their collective drunkenness. It’s sweaty, hot, smelly, but by Ludwig it’s a good time.

Cam Jeffery

Cam'sHis first novel, The Bicycle Teacher, is now available under the Janus Books imprint and can be ordered at www.amazon.co.uk