Oktoberfest aka das Wiesn
Oktoberfest, or Wiesn, is a 16 day festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It is one of the most famous events in Germany and is the world's largest fair, with more than 5 million people attending every year. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810.
When I decided to start my trip in the fall, I wanted to work out the timing such that I can spend about three weeks visiting Ukraine in Russia and make it back to Munich in time to catch a few days of the famous Oktoberfest festival. After getting to the city fairly late on Saturday and getting my bearings, I headed out to Theresienwiese on Sunday morning. A group of couchsurfers was planning to meet up at 11 by the Bavaria statue so I was going to join them there. It was a quick ride on the U to Goetheplatz station and then I just followed the crowd to get to the event.
Reading up on Oktoberfest, everyone kept mentioning these beer tents as the main attraction - that's where the beer is served and the festivities happen (there are no beer sales or walking with beer outside the tents). I also learned that the beer tents tent to close pretty early, once they reach the capacity. The word 'tent' threw me off here as I was expecting to see a bunch of fairly small sized tents I am used to seeing at any festival and with a dozen of tents shown on the map, the grounds did not really look that big. Honestly, I was bit disappointed just looking at the map of the event.
However, once I got there, I realized how mistaken I was. The 'tents' turned out to be huge buildings, each one accommodating thousands and thousands of beer lovers. Just walking through the grounds took me quite a bit of time in order to reach our meet up place. There, I quickly found Phil and a dozen other couchsurfers already there. Thankfully, a few of them were locals and told us about a place that is hidden in the southwest corner of the fairgrounds and serves decently priced beer and food. Supposedly, it is for event workers only, but since it was still pretty early, it was not full of people and they were happily serving anyone that was showing up, no IDs required.
While we were there, a few other couchsurfers joined us, while some left to join their friends that were already inside some of the tents. Eventually, we headed out that way just to find out that the Schützen tent was already closed. Thankfully, the Paulaner tent was still open so we quickly jumped in there and started wondering around trying to find a spot at the table. It is not just that you cannot walk out of the tent with beer, you cannot even get the beer inside the tent unless you are sitting down at one of the tables. Even though it was not even noon yet, we could not find a spot for our large group.
At some point we ended up splitting into smaller groups, but there was still no luck getting a table (by the way, the 'table' is not your normal restaurant-style table - each one is a long one, accommodating dozens of people). Still, we had some girls with us that worked their magic to get some people that were already sitting down to order us all some beers. At 8.90 Euro/$11.65 for each one litter mug (10 Euro with the tip), it was not cheap, but at least the alcoholic content of the beers was higher than normal (someone told me it was 8.9 percent at one point, not really sure how true that was).
The tent itself had a stage in the middle of it with the band playing both German and American pop songs with the endless rows of tables surrounding the stage as well as some tables located on the second floor's balconies. People were singing songs, jumping up and down the tables, and once in a while someone would get up and try to chug the entire liter of beer. Immediately, there would be a ton of people cheating them on, but those that failed, were boo'd by what seemed like the entire tent. Needless to say, neither of us had the courage to try something like that.
Once our group really thinned down to just a few people, we were able to get in on a table with a bunch of young Germans, but even then, after a bit one of their guys, after hugging and buddying with one of our guys just minutes before, had a mood shift and started telling us to leave. So we left, and after wondering around the tent for a bit more, we went for the exits. By that point, it was already 6pm and I have had five or six litters of beer, and exiting the tent with a few folks is the last thing I remember of that day.
Somehow, at some point, I made it home that night and woke up in my bed the next morning. Late morning. Very very late morning. It was the last day of Oktoberfest, so I walked over to the grounds to check it out during the day. Being Monday, I expected the crowds to die down, but it was still in full swing. I did not feel like drinking again, so I just walked around, grabbed some food and went back to take a nap.
In the evening, I came over again to see if there would be any big ending festivities, but the crowds were thinning out and there was a massive exodus of people. Most of the tents were open by this point and I walked through them to check them out but still was not really feeling like drinking again. I also tried some local favorites - Fischsemmel (a sandwich with herring and onions) and fruits covered in chocolate before heading back home myself.
Overall, I put it down as success - I got some beers, I managed not to spend a fortune, I had a good time, did not lose anything (although, at some point someone handed me my iPhone - not really sure what happened there), made some friends, and avoided being tagged in any embracing pictures on Facebook. Prost!
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