Millions of people travel to München, Germany every year in September (not in October as some people believe), to attend the world’s largest folk festival: “Oktoberfest”. This has been in our bucket list for some time, probably since we went to “Oktoberfest” in Leavenworth, WA for the first time in 2006. Since Munich is only 3.5 hours (by car) from Zürich, we were talking about going this year, but we were taking things very easily. I was not even looking for hotel or tickets to reserve a table. It wasn’t until our friends from California, Marina and Nick, contacted us to let us know they were going to be in Munich the first weekend (September 19-21) of the festival and asked if we could get together that the “serious” planning began.
The Origins of Oktoberfest
Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, later King Ludwig I of Bavaria, marries Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on 12th October 1810. The Bavarian royalty invited the citizens of Munich to attend the festivities and celebrate the happy royal event which was held on the fields in front of the city gates. These fields were named Theresienwiese (Therese’s fields) in honor of the crown princess. Locals now have simply abbreviated the name of the grounds to “Wies’n”.
Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event. It was the decision to repeat these horse races in the subsequent years that gave life to the tradition of the Oktoberfest.
Now in the 21st century, the festival is celebrated in September and in 2014 folks celebrated the 181st Oktoberfest. Since Oktoberfest is still held on the Theresienwiese, locals still refers to the event simply as the “Wies’n”, so “Welcome to the Wiesn'” means nothing other than “Welcome to Oktoberfest”.
Why is beer so popular?
Back in the day, people preferred to drink beer because it was safer to drink, as the brewing process killed most of the germs. The beer that is traditionally served during Oktoberfest is brewed on Munich ground and tends to be stronger than the regular Munich lager beer.
Planning We started planning the trip in June, around 3 months in advance, and it was really already late. For us it was hard to find accommodation in a budget. Prices on Airbnb and VRBO skyrocketed. Hotels in the city center were full and we were not able to reserve a table. But we were determined to make it happen and have fun. We were incessantly looking for an apartment. Sending emails here and there and also booked a tentative room in a hotel through Booking.com. We finally got a response for an apartment that fit our budget, but it was 24 minutes from the city center by train. We took it. It was that or nothing.
Alexis and I decided to drive instead of flying or taking the train because of 3 reasons: #1 we wanted to drive through Bavaria on our way back and do some sightseeing, #2 we traveled with the dogs so it was more comfortable to move around in a car than in train and #3 it was cheaper. Alexis doesn’t mind driving, so we always compare prices of train tickets vs. renting a car, and surprisingly, lately renting a car has been the cheapest option for us. Those numbers come down even more when we travel with other people and share the cost of the rental. It’s a win-win situation for everyone and at the end we can save anything from CHF20 to CHF75.
We left Zürich at 4pm. Encountered some traffic but we were listening to “Don Quijote” in an audio book while enjoying the beautiful Swiss landscape so we were entertained. We crossed to Germany via Austria and once in Germany it started to rain with thunderstorms. We arrived to the apartment at 9pm and were starving. The apartment was very nice and fully equipped with everything we needed. We drove to the city center where we had dinner at the Hofbraukeller.
The night before the begin of the festival, the streets were filled with locals and tourists dressed in traditional clothes, some of them clearly started to celebrate early in the day and were wasted. We even saw a guy peeing in front of the police station.
The clothes We wore traditional Lederhosen and Drindl.
Attending the festival without reservations
We woke up at 6:30am and by 7am as I walked the dogs there were people already dressed and taking the bus to head to the Wies’n Platz. We left the apartment at 8:30am and arrived by 9am to the most popular tent, Hofbräu Festhalle. The train and buses were crowded and it was so fun to see all different kind of dresses and hairdos. When we arrived at the tent, there was already a huge line. We got in line and after 1 hour standing there we were told we were in the wrong one. They asked us to go to the back of the building if we wanted to secure a chance to enter. People started stampede-running and once in the back of the building we had another big line to make. After pushing, pulling and screaming we were able to step inside the tent. Now it was important to find a table where to sit. They don’t serve beer or food to you if you are standing. Alexis and Nick asked 2 guys that were sitting if we could sit with them and they said yes. Marina and I along with another couple we met in line (Mitchell from New Zealand and Sarah from London) sat on the table. The guys on the table were Maximilian and Markus, both locals from Munich.
We were seating by 10:30 but beer doesn’t start until 12N. At 11:50 music started and the crowd was singing and clapping in anticipation to the beer. At 11:55 an employee took our orders and by 12:15 with beer on hand we were screaming our first “Prost”.
The Sunday Parade
On Sunday we decided to not drink like the day before so instead of heading to the tents, we went to see the parade. This is a free, family friendly event. Really fun to watch. Just need to get there a bit early to secure a good viewing spot.
Things to do Around Munich
There are many places to see and things to do in Munich and nearby besides going inside a tent. A beautiful oasis and a place to get away from the Oktoberfest craziness is the English Garden. There we had lunch and saw guys surfing in the river before it started to rain.
Another excellent side trip from Munich (we hit it on our way back to Zurich) is the famous Neuschwanstein castle, in Fussen. I have seen the castle in pictures before, and because I’m a freak of castles I always wanted to go and see it in person. The pictures do not do justice to this castle. It is without doubt the most beautiful and magnificent castle I have ever seen. I now can see why people say this was the castle that inspired Walt Disney to build the Cinderella Castle in Disney World. It is really impressive. Unfortunately we didn't get tickets in advance so we couldn't go inside.
This is the most famous castle of Ludwig II, even though it was never finished.
We walked around the castle and took a lot of pictures. Diego and Valentina were part of the hike and they had fun meeting other furry friends along the way.
Bavaria is a beautiful region. The landscape, the castles, the people and of course the beer, really left me wanting more. For that reason I’m sure will be going back next year. This time, we will plan in advance and hopefully we will be able to reserve a table and find accommodation in the city center so we can have a smoother experience and enjoy even more.