By: Jessica Nattrass, MA, 2018
Almost everyone has heard about Oktoberfest, the festival designed for wearing Lederhosen or a Dirndl and drinking buckets of beer. While traditional costumes and beer can be found in abundance, Oktoberfest is much more than that.
Last weekend, a couple of my roommates and I travelled to Munich to experience the madness that is Oktoberfest. We had an interesting journey there, as our “train” reservation turned into a train and bus journey. We caught a train from Florence to Milan and then rode a bus overnight to reach Munich. We were travelling for about 10 hours total, which was not much fun, but it also was the cheapest option.
Once we made it to Munich, we headed straight to Oktoberfest. The fairgrounds located at Theresienwiese are easily reached using public transportation. Both the U4 and U5 lines stop directly at Theresienwiese, where the action was happening. The fairgrounds are also an easy walk from the Hauptbahnhoff (Main Station), which is the closest stop that most other U-Bahn or S-Bahn lines will take you. If all else fails, just follow the crowd.
Oktoberfest began in 1810 when the whole city was invited to celebrate the wedding of the future King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Every year since, Munich has come together in late September to celebrate. This year, an estimated 6.3 million people flooded through the gates of Oktoberfest.
Along with the historic festivities, Oktoberfest has one of the largest carnivals in the world. It sits on a massive area that spans 34.5 hectares, or a little over 85 acres. (Do either of those measurements really mean anything to anybody? Just know that it’s a huge and never-ending maze of fun!) There are beer halls, both big and small, carnival rides, games, and of course food and souvenir stands all throughout the grounds. This year Oktoberfest ran from the 22nd of September until the 7th of October. It was open every day during this timespan from 9 or 10 in the morning until about 10:30pm. The beer halls close a bit earlier than the rest of the grounds, but the rides, games, and stalls stay open until around midnight.
It is definitely better to arrive at the gates earlier in the day to have a better chance of grabbing a table at the beer-halls, especially if you want to get into the bigger, more popular ones. The crowd multiplies after lunch and everything becomes more chaotic. If the crowd becomes too much for you, many other restaurants around the city have an Oktoberfest vibe. You might even stumble upon a bar with live bands playing traditional Bavarian music.
If you prefer to spend your time in a more traditional area, Old Wiesn is the place for you! This “Historic Oktoberfest” area has been open since 2010, and it is loaded with all the best that the 19th century had to offer. There are antique games, rides, and cars – even old tractors! The beer halls in this section are smaller and decorated with garland and greenery. While entering Old Wiesn will cost you €3, it is worth it to spend some time away from the larger crowds and experience some nostalgic fun. It was also fun to see the little museum displays and antique items placed all throughout the area.
If you want to start planning a trip to next year’s Oktoberfest, make sure to visit their official website https://www.oktoberfest.de.en for all the important details. They even have an official app, which is surprisingly helpful. While celebrating at Oktoberfest, don’t forget to visit the rest of Munich. The city itself has a few castles and palaces, not to mention all the great museums. Major locations, like Neuschwanstein castle and Dachau, are excellent ideas for day trips if you plan on spending a few days in Munich.