Almost everyone has heard the name and it’s a festival now celebrated in cities all over the world, however, the uninitiated can be forgiven for thinking Oktoberfest starts in the month of October – the name might be slightly misleading, after all.
In fact, the original, authentic Oktoberfest (called die Wiesn by the locals) begins in the German city of Munich on Saturday, September 20th and after two beer-soaked weeks, wraps up on Sunday, October 5th.
Since the inaugural event in 1810, held to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Crown Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, Oktoberfest has weaved itself into the fabric of Bavarian culture. While it has grown to become one of the largest festivals in the world, it stays true to its roots and is held every year at the Theresienwiese south west of Munich’s city centre.
The Schottenhamel tent, one of Oktoberfest’s 14 large beer tents, is where the festival kicks off at noon on September 20th. The mayor of Munich has the honour of tapping the first beer keg and only once the liquid gold is flowing, visitors can raise their steins and drink their first Maß – one litre of Oktoberfest beer, with many more surely to follow.
If you do your homework, you’ll discover that no two tents are the same. Each has their own unique atmosphere, food, beer, and provides visitors with a different experience. The Hippodrom, thanks to its stylish sekt (German sparkling wine) bar, is the trendiest of the beer tents. It also has an extensive menu including classics like grilled crispy pork leg served with Bavarian cabbage and potato dumplings, as well as the Emperor’s Wiener Schnitzel, a Hippodrom delicacy.
It’s no secret that Käfer’s Wies’n-Schänke, seating 3,000 drinkers, is one of the most popular tents but did you know it also serves the best roasted duck at Oktoberfest? Unlike other tents that close at 11:30pm, Käfer’s closes at 1am, although you’ll need either good luck or good connections to get past the bouncer after 11pm.
The jewel in the crown of Oktoberfest, and the reason why everyone is there, is the beer. The Bavarian region in Germany is said to have some of the best beer in the world and this is partially thanks to the Reinheitsgebot – a 16th century law concerning the production of beer in Germany and sometimes called the Bavarian Purity Law.
The original text of the Reinheitsgebot decreed that only water, barley, and hops could be used to brew beer. While the Reinheitsgebot is no longer in effect, traditions run deep and many breweries still claim to uphold its principles.
Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier, a pale golden lager with a clear aroma of yeast and hops, is available at several beer tents but you’ll pay the most – 10.05 Euros (EUR) for a Maß – at Armbrustschützen-Festzelt. At tents like Ammer and Vinzenz Murr Metzgerstubn, a Maß will cost as little as 9.80 EUR.
One of the most important things to remember is to get to Oktoberfest early on the days you want to attend (and use public transport to do so) as seats fill up quickly. No seat means no beer, and what is Oktoberfest without a tall, frosty beverage?
Ladies, pack your dirndls and gentlemen, pack your lederhosen – Oktoberfest is almost here!