Oktoberfest reminded me a lot of the Calgary Stampede. There are parades, the city has a general air of celebration surrounding it, everybody dresses up in fun rural-themed outfits, and there are temporary rides and carnival booths to enjoy. Sure, there’s no rodeo, but there are a lot more beer tents!
There is no entrance free to wander the grounds of Oktoberfest. You can also enter the tents for free. You’ll fork over some cash if you want to buy some food or refreshments, go on a ride, play a carnival game, or buy a funny hat. It’s largely a cash-only site, but there are ATMs available.
Bags and backpacks are not allowed on the festival grounds. I brought a really small purse on our first day – it held two mini-umbrellas, my wallet, a cell phone, and a small point-and-shoot camera. I was asked to open it at the entrance of each tent I went into, which is no big deal. On the other days we were there, though, I left the umbrellas at home and just carried the other stuff in the pockets of my rain jacket.
There are 14 large and 20 small tents at Oktoberfest. Each of them has their own personality. There are large tables inside each of the tents and your best bet is to see if you can find one with some empty space to sit at. There are sections where you can reserve a table, but then you have to reserve the entire table at a specific time and that costs a lot of money. If you’re just a couple of random tourists, like us, you can be strategic and/or just try your luck at finding empty space to park your bums.
Lots of people say that it’s best to go during the week and/or during the day, rather than on the weekends or in the evening. That is good advice. But with that in mind I would say, don’t let that limit you. We ended up at the Oktoberfest grounds on three days, all of them weekends (1 Saturday and 2 Sundays) and were able to find a place to sit down when we wanted.
With one exception: we didn’t even try finding a space on the opening Saturday. A lot of people staked out their claim early in the morning and then had to wait hours until the mayor tapped the opening keg. We watched the Tent Owners and Breweries Parade, grabbed some food from one of the many refreshment stands, and then left. We would have stayed and gone on some rides or explored the fairgrounds further but it was pouring rain, and we had been standing in it for a couple of hours already. But we were happy with what we had already seen, and knew there was plenty of time for us to come back another day.
There are so many tents with indoor and, weather permitting, outdoor seating that you’ll eventually find somewhere to enjoy yourself. Don’t be shy! If you see a table with some room, ask the other occupants if you can join them. The worst thing they can say is “no” or “nein.” (I’m one to talk of course – this is where having my extrovert husband comes in handy). Most people in Germany speak at least a little English, and chances are good you’ll probably end up sitting with another tourist anyway. It’s a warm, friendly atmosphere and everyone is there for the same reason you are. Everyone wants to have fun!
There are several measures in place to make sure that Oktoberfest stays fun and family-friendly without it becoming a drunken nightmare. Each day until 6 pm, only live bands playing folk music are allowed to play in the tents, and they are limited to how loud they are allowed to play. You’ll get kicked out if you’re caught bringing in your own alcohol. There is always lots of food circulating to discourage solely liquid meals. There is a strong security presence. I got the impression that the serving staff don’t put up with a lot of nonsense. Good behaviour is expected if you want to stay in the tent.
If you find yourself entirely crowded out on the main strip, you can go check out the “Oide Weis’n/Historical Oktoberfest” section of the grounds. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the festival in 2010, this special festival area was designed to capture the spirit of what the older, more traditional Oktoberfest would have been like. It proved to be so popular that it has continued to be a regular feature, except in years when the Central Agriculture Festival is running (since it is set up on those grounds). There is a 3 euro admittance fee, but it does have in/out privileges. It features historical rides and attractions, a cotton candy stand, beer tents, an animal tent with a petting zoo, a museum tent, and some children’s programs. The rides in this area are also only 1 Euro each, which is much cheaper than the rides found elsewhere. Neil and I didn’t get the chance to explore Oide Weis’n, but I’m hoping to do so when we go back.
All right, on to the beer tents! Neil and I sat and enjoyed ourselves in 3 of the 14 large tents, and took a quick walk through 7 others.
On our second day at Oktoberfest, a Sunday, we went to the Löwenbräu-Festhalle. This tent seats 5,700 people inside and 2,800 people outside. The lion is animatronic and occasionally drinks from his beer mug, which is kind of hilarious. The tent serves beer by the Löwenbräu Brewery.
The guy photobombing us in the above picture makes me laugh.
We sat down at a table with 2 Aussies (they’re in the checkered shirts in the lower right of the above picture). Once you sit down, a server will come by. You can order from a short list of beer that the tent’s brewery makes (regular, dark, or radler – a mix of beer and lemonade) and a food menu. The food and drink menu will vary based on the tent, but popular items for lunch or dinner just about anywhere include roasted chicken, pork knuckle, bratwurst, macaroni, salad, and maybe some vegetarian items? We didn’t order any food so I can’t quite remember. But you won’t go hungry. There are roaming food vendors with baskets full of pretzels, pastries, and all sorts of other goodies to tide you over while your server is busy with another table.
A piece of advice: tip your server. Let them know when you pass them your cash how much change you would like back (with the difference being their tip). They deserve it. These tents are a zoo, and they are your (mostly) patient, hard working keepers.
Leah drinks a litre of beer. A story in three acts.
Hey, look! I’m halfway.
Nope. Turns out I wasn’t. Now I’m halfway.
Done! I deserve some sort of reward for this. Right?
Every now and then, someone will stand up on their bench and chug their beer to mixed results. If they succeed, they will be celebrated with hearty cheers and applause. If they falter, pieces of pretzels will be flung at them. Regardless of the outcome, security will come over and escort them out of the tent. It’s entertaining, but this is the kind of behaviour the festival tries to discourage in order to keep the place feeling safe. It’s totally understandable! But we still have fun when someone decides to give it a go.
It’s extra exciting when a woman makes the attempt because, as you can guess, it’s mostly young guys trying to impress their friends.
After the Aussies left, a group of Portuguese men joined our table. They were all visiting from Switzerland, where they are working. One of them spoke English. Neil was able to speak French to the rest. They were a lot of fun!
Löwenbräu was a fun, friendly introduction to the beer tents.
And I got my reward for drinking a litre of beer. A flower crown!
We returned to Oktoberfest to celebrate Neil’s birthday, also on a Sunday. We started off with the 5-loop rollercoaster, which is a good way to feel very alive very fast.
We then went to the Armbrustschützenzelt-Festhalle. This translates as “the Crossbowman’s Tent”, in reference to a competition that has been part of Oktoberfest since 1895. This tent seats 5,839 people inside and 1,600 outside. This tent serves beer by the Paulaner brewery.
As you can see, this tent was a little quiet. We finished our beers and decided to go tour the other tents to see where more fun was to be had.
Lots of eagle imagery in here.
I’ll go through 6 of the tents that we toured alphabetically, then end with the final tent that we sat in.
This tent sits 6,000 people inside and 2,500 outside. It serves beer from the Augustiner brewery. Locals favour this tent because it serves Augustiner beer from individually tapped wooden kegs rather than the stainless steel vats used by the other tents. This is considered the friendliest tent at Oktoberfest, and on Tuesdays they host a “kid’s day” with low prices. (For beer? Nah, it’s gotta be for just the food).
A pair of columns with these trumpeters stand outside the tent. This was where Neil and I agreed to meet each other if we ever got separated. (Thankfully we didn’t).
This tent seats 1,000 inside and 1,900 outside. It serves beer from the Paulaner brewery. The tent is known for its gourmet (and expensive) food. While all the other tents at Oktoberfest are only open until 11 pm, this one is open until 1:30 (weeknights) and 3:00 am (weekend nights). However, the limited space means it’s unlikely you’re going to get a seat after 11 pm (unless you are a celebrity or have connections, the official Oktoberfest website notes).
This is the smallest of the big tents at Oktoberfest and, apparently, the tent most frequented by celebrities. That’s probably because the inside is very dark. We took a quick tour and got some video footage, but there wasn’t enough light to take any decent pictures. The outside patio was decorated very prettily, though!
This tent seats 3,200 inside and 1,000 outside. It serves beer from the Spaten-Franziskaner Brewery. It is the newest of the big tents at Oktoberfest. Marstall is the old German word for the royal riding school, which is why the decor is themed around carved wooden horses and an indoor carousel.
This was a beautiful tent. The colours felt very romantic.
This accessory vendor struck it big with this table! Look at all those hats!
They also have a giant bottle of champagne or wine on that table. Can I join this party?
The beautiful indoor carousel with a live band.
This tent, also called Hacker Pschorr-Bräurosl or just Bräurosl, seats 6,000 inside and 2,200 outside. It serves beer from the Hacker-Pschorr brewery. The name translates as “Brewer’s Rosemary”, and is named after the daughter of the original brewery owner (Rosi Pschorr). On the first Sunday of the festival it hosts a hugely popular gay and lesbian party, Rosa Weisn. The tent has been managed by the Heide family for 7 generations. The tent features a yodeler, in addition to a live folk band.
The decorations in this tent were also beautiful.
This tent is the largest tent at the festival, seating 6,000 inside and 4,000 outside. It serves beer from the Spaten-Franziskaner Brewery. It began in 1867 as a beer booth with 50 seats! This is the tent where the mayor taps the first keg on opening day, so it could be considered the most important one. The tent is very popular among young people. A portion of the tent is reserved for student fraternities (a certain form called Studentenverbindungen) and so the tent it outfitted in their colours and coat of arms.
Also gorgeously lit and decorated on the inside.
This tent seats 4,442 inside and nobody outside. It serves beer from Löwenbräu. Food is a highlight at this tent, including suckling pig prepared in a traditional Bavarian manner and served with potato salad.
I liked the warm colours used in this tent.
These people had the most amazing charcuterie spread. You can kind of see it in this picture.
This tent seats 8,450 inside and 2,450 outside. It serves beer from Paulaner. Winzerer is Bavarian for “Winebrewers.” Apparently, this is also a hot celebrity spot. “Gemuetlichkeit”which translates as “relaxed, fun feeling” is a feature of the tent.
So, after a tour of all these tents we settled on Hacker-Festzelte for our final watering ground. This tent is also known as Himmel der Bayern, which translates as “Heaven of the Bavarians.” It seats 6,900 inside and 2,400 outside. It serves beer from Hacker-Pschorr.
The interior is beautifully decorated so that there is a blue sky with stars and clouds. The sides of the walls feature buildings and parks from around Munich.
When we first wandered through this tent, it seemed like people in here were having the most fun!
This guy flipped the bird especially for me, lol.
The live band was fantastic! There is a popular song that is played a few times an hour in each beer tent that we went to. I think the song was “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” which translates as “a toast to cheer and good times.” Every time it’s played, everyone sings along and then toasts their neighbours.
Our server looks kind of like a good friend of ours from back home in Vancouver. Can you guess who it is? At one point, Neil offered him a beer and he happily drank a sizeable portion of it!
Look at that food!
The infamous pork knuckle.
We chatted with a friendly Brazilian couple, as well as a pair of American flight attendants from D.C., and a couple of locals.
This was definitely our favourite tent!
Oktoberfest was a blast, and we definitely want to go back. There is so much that we didn’t see, including 4 big tents and all of the 20 small tents!
The 4 big tents we missed were: Hofbräu-Festzelt (the counterpart to the famous Hofbräuhaus in downtown Munich, which we did visit); Weinzelt (the wine tent!); Ochsenbraterei (it offers roasted oxen dishes); and Fischer-Vroni (which specializes in fish dishes).
Of the 20 small tents, I would love to see: Bodo’s Cafezelt (it offers exotic cocktails, prossecco, champagne, coffee, doughnuts, ice cream, pastry, and strudel. This definitely sounds like my kind of tent); the Glockle Wirt (it is decorated with oil paintings as well as antique instruments and cooking utensils, which would be really cool to see); and the Wiesn Guglhupf Café-Dreh-Bar (it’s a slowly moving carousel bar!)
We’re thinking 2018. Anyone interested in joining us? Let us know!