I went to Oktoberfest and didn't drink.

I went to Oktoberfest and didn’t drink. You read that right. It’s not that I don’t like to drink or don’t like beer, I actually love beer. I found myself in Munich with a head cold and no friends to speak of. Let’s face it, it’s not that fun to drink alone, especially at an international beer event. I also didn’t feel like it was the safest thing to do.

This was my fifth time in Munich and I was finally going to make it to Oktoberfest. The other times I either just missed it or it was the wrong time of year. This time I planned specifically to go. You have to book your rooms quite far in advance and regardless of when you book they will be close to double the normal price in most cases, even the hostels.  The city gets millions (literally) of extra visitors during this time and everyone takes advantage of it.

Oktoberfest was originally the celebration of a marriage around 1810. The festival is known as the Wiesn. From there it exploded into one of the most touristed festivals in the world. As my German cousin says, “It’s amazing that something from Bavaria became the German cliché, they are very different from the rest of Germany.”

I had planned for two days mostly because that was all I could get or afford for room costs. I also figured that that was about all I could handle anyways, crowd wise and drinking wise. My tolerance for large groups of drunken people is at an all time low. I just don’t like it. I love a good party just as much as the next person, but total out of control drunken people sometimes scare me. Bad ideas can turn into good ideas real fast when you’ve had a lot to drink. So, two days it was. As it turns out I needed much less than this, while most people would probably need more.

I arrived in the afternoon, checked in and headed right to the Wiesn which was a short 10 minute walk from where I was staying. I was staying on what can only be called hostel row near the main train station. There are three hostels right in a row next door to each other. It was a beautiful afternoon and even though I had just gotten off a less than comfortable train ride in which I stood for two hours and had a nasty head cold,  I thought I would go get a preview. I immediately started seeing lederhosen and dirndls. Even though I know it’s part of the tradition, I still couldn’t believe it. It’s part hilarious, part awesome to see. All of a sudden I was part of the masses all headed in the same direction.  The fairgrounds sign appears above all of the heads and you are there, Oktoberfest.

The first thing that happens when you walk in is sensory overload. There are bright colors everywhere, smells from food vendors overwhelming your nose, carnival games, rides and people everywhere. I just let the crowd take me and before I knew it I was seeing the famous beer tents. I think tent is a bit of a misnomer, they might look like a tent from inside, or the roof part at least,  but from the outside they look like regular Bavarian countryside structures, albeit exquisitely decorated. The avenues of the festival are littered with drunken tourists for sure, but plenty of people are just there people watching, myself included. I went into the famous Hofbrauhaus beer tent. I saw a set of stairs and took them, I got a wonderful and full overview of the entire tent. On each end was a balcony like the one I was on. I overlooked thousands of people drinking, singing and dancing in traditional dress. A live band played from a bandstand in the center of the tent. It was absolutely chaotic and grand. Garlands hung from the top of the tent and swept across the entire top. All around the tent were beer and food stations. If you reserve a table you get food, which is good considering how much it is to reserve a table ( somewhere in the arena of 300 Euro depending on which tent and where the table is. It usually seats 10 people). Since it was just the afternoon, about 4pm, the balcony tables were not yet filled which made my viewing experience over the main floor easier. I stayed for a while and realized there was no way I was going to drink alone. I resolved to find something I could eat that didn’t contain meat and walk around to examine more tents. I did this for a while and it was enjoyable. Eventually my train ride caught up with me and I retired, but not before some pommes frites with mayo. Each tent was different and had its own personality. What they all had in common though was the beer, food and lots of indoor and outdoor seating (mostly reserved).

4:00pm, I'm sure these guys had been there for days. 

I left the Wiesn feeling a bit demoralized. I am never bothered or even really think about being alone when I travel. I usually make friends and have a great time. This however was different. This was not a place to be solo, for me.  It is the only time thus far during my travel where I have done something that really isn’t good solo. If I had been in town longer I could have made friends and gone with them, but the reality was that people go to Oktoberfest in big groups or as families and for me it’s hard to make friends with a short amount of time and when I am sober and everyone else is pretty drunk. It just doesn’t work for me. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy myself, I did, but it is clearly a group activity if you are somewhat like me, naturally introverted and a bit cautious in big groups.

The next morning I decided to go for my second round. I thought it would be a whole different crowd because it was the morning as it had just opened. I was right. There were lots of families and tourists and curious people. No one was really drunk yet, and it was much more light hearted in general. I took a walk around the whole place again which was easier since it wasn’t as busy, yet. People stood around and watched the carnival rides drop from five stories high and had coffee and sausage. I think the lederhosen and dirndl were even more interesting during the second visit. Eventually the Ferris wheel called to me and I hopped on for 7 Euro. It went around 7 times! I think that is longer than any Ferris wheel I have ever been on. It was an awesome vantage point for the whole festival and it really gave you an idea of just how big it is and how many people are there.

Note: That really is a bride and groom in the center of the picture! 

I took this leaving the second day.I was amused. 

Partial view from the Ferris Wheel

All in all, I am happy I went. I am happy I saw it, but if I went again, I would make sure to go with friends or make sure I was there long enough to be able to make some. There are plenty of things to do besides drink at Oktoberfest but the beer sure is a highlight, especially if enjoy German beer.

Some things you might not know but should

It starts in September and runs for two weeks ending in October.  This year it is from September 21st to October 6th.  The dates vary slightly depending on the year, but this is the usual time frame. This year was the 180th year. 

It is a lot more like a carnival than you would think. Plenty of stuffed toys to win at games. 

If you are from New England it is like the Big E took steroids and its steroids took steroids…with beer.
Come hungry and thirsty. As much beer as there is at this festival there is just as much food selection, if not more.

Even tourists buy dirndls and lederhosen. Personally I’m not sure it’s worth the expense but if you want the full experience go for it! They are sold at practically every clothing shop during this time.

Lederhosen looks good on almost everyone.

The Ferris wheel gives the best view of the whole Wiesn. Spend the 7 Euro.

Families visit during the morning hours.

By the afternoon most people pass out. (see above picture)

The music can easily spiral into an 80s best of list without anyone realizing it is happening. Traditional to 80s in a blink.

Beer is not served outside the tents.

Reserving a table is very expensive. However, seat vulture-ism is rampant. Keep your eyes open.

A liter of beer was nearly 10 Euro this year.

Oktoberfest has free entry but there is one area, the traditional area, which is almost like a whole other Oktoberfest that you have to pay to get in. I saw it from the Ferris wheel. 

If you want to book for next year check it all out at oktoberfest.de/en/

(There is also a live webcam on this site)


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