It’s leather trousers time! We’re planning our yearly Oktoberfest outing and it’s all about the lederhosen, the crowds, Bavarian hospitality and, of course, the beer.
Oktoberfest, confusingly celebrated mainly in September, is an annual festival like no other. Founded in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (now that must’ve been annoying name to put into a form), the celebration just sort of caught on. By the mid 1800s it was an annual affair and has soldiered on, sometimes literally (the Nazis were big fans), and continued to get bigger and better. Today over 6 million people visit Oktoberfest and nearly 7 million litres of beer are poured.
If you’re planning to be one of them, here are some Oktoberfest (known as Wies’n, if you’re a local) tips from us.
Pitching up in Munich during Oktoberfest is going to a bit of a Mary and Joseph experience if you don’t plan this thing properly. Like all of these things expect everyone in town to whack their prices right up just in time for your arrival. But fear not, there will always be options for all budgets providing you plan ahead.
Options include camping (to give you an idea of budgets, expect to pay north of €50 per night for even camping), in which case give this all-inclusive option a look. Hostels are pricier, and you might well find yourself sharing a room with strangers at a not-so-mere €100 a night. Airbnb is always a solid option if you’re down with that. But obviously, being The Handbook, we’re leaving our tent pegs back in England and settling down to a night at the Munich’s Mandarin Oriental.
The Mandarin Oriental is offering guests their Celebrate Oktoberfest Package, which includes one of the nicest rooms in the city, along with Bavarian gourmet treats, an exclusive vintage bus ride from the hotel to the event, and (and we’ll cover this later on, but it’s good) access to the famous Schützen-Festzelt tent. The package is available throughout the Oktoberfest period from 22 September to 7 October 2018. It’s not cheap, at €880 per night, but when you start to tot up alternative costs it might start to look more economical and certainly better fun.
The dirndl, a traditional German dress, somehow turns even the most modest chest into a Nuts magazine centre-spread. The push-up bra, peasant-dress combo might be one of the racier national dresses on the world scene (look away Saudi Arabia), but the Rolfs and Helmuts in attendance might want to avert their gaze, not least to their frauline’s waist. The apron is, actually, the most revealing garment.
So a quick style guide to the German equivalent of Tinder… Aprons tied with the bow on the left side means that the lady is single (in traffic light party parlance, she’s green), if the bow’s on the right then she’s taken or married. If the bow is tied to the rear then she’s either a waitress or a widow (German funeral wakes could be potentially disastrous places to order drinks) and finally if the bow is tied to her front then she’s claiming to be a virgin. Confused?
None of it matters because, gents, you won’t be getting any. Mainly because the Germans used up all the sexy on the women’s outfits, while men, by contrast, wear lederhosen (leather trousers). Lederhosen are a hideous leather shorts/dungaree combo that have the dubious only attraction of being wipe-clean, but otherwise simply render the wearer looking like a toddler blacksmith.
But rules is rules and you’ll want to show up wearing at least a variation on this strange outfit. And the best place to head is Munich’s Bavarian Outfitters. They’ll kit you out and if you order ahead they’ll even drop your authentic outfit off at your hotel.
The main Oktoberfest site, the Theresienwiese, is filled with tents. You will want to gain entry to one of these tents to to Oktoberfest ‘properly’. Inside awaits beer and long trestle tables of beer drinkers. See also ‘sausage’/wurst.
If you believed that exclusivity and clubbiness were a London thing then think again. Getting into some of the smarter tents can be a real struggle without connections. For the ones considered ‘best’ you might find yourself having to write a hand-written letter (in German) or, worse, faxing (yes, faxing! I had to put in a fax line specifically for this purpose when I was booking) and if you’re successful in bagging a table slot (you tend to book for a period (like evening, or afternoon)) then you’ve got to send a cheque (!) or arrange an international transfer.
Thankfully, many tents are more modern and take bookings online, though it seems that there is a general Luddite feel to the process in all but a couple cases.
But with 14 large and 20 smaller tents to choose from, with a bit of forward planning you should be able to arrange entry to at least one tent. Ideally arrange something of a ‘crawl’ but don’t despair if you have no joy as there are millions of revellers who haven’t got their sh*t together in time either and there will be no shortage of beer, sausages and pickled gherkins away from the main tents.
You’ve found somewhere to stay, you’ve slipped on a dirndl, carefully tying your bow to attract or rappel, and you’ve tickets to a tent. Just checking, do you know anything about beer?
No, me neither. Thankfully a deep knowledge of beer types and varieties isn’t necessary. This isn’t a craft beer shop situation when you’re left doe-in-the-headlamps wondering because your choice is limited to half a dozen breweries.
Oktoberfest beer, traditionally 2% stronger than normal beer, must come from one of six local breweries. Their beer must conform to Bavarian beer purity laws and be brewed within Munich’s city limits to be served at Oktoberfest. The breweries that can produce this are: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu and Staatliches Hofbräu-München.
Final plank in the plan: how to get there. Thankfully Munich has an international airport and its a short easyJet out of Luton, Stansted and Gatwick. Or why not get creative? Driving gives you a trans-European roadtrip into the deal (Dover to Calais with DFDS is remarkably reasonable).
Once you’re there Munich has, as you’d expect from Germany, a very efficient network of busses, metro and trams.
If you can’t get to Oktoberfest, then there’s almost certainly a knock-off version near you. London not only has a massive Canary Wharf festival, expect to see restaurants and bars getting in on the action as September wears on. Meaning you can get a taste of the German magic without half of the effort. But, then, compared with the real thing, what fun would that be?