Oktoberfest is fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know where to start.
I could do the clinical overview and talk about the 6.4 million visitors to the festival each year, or the 6.7 million liters of beer that get poured, or the 522,000 roast chickens. I could talk about all the different tents and their specialties, or the history of how it started as a royal wedding in 1810 and everyone had such a good time that they just kept doing it.
I’ll probably do some of that but mostly I’m just going to show you pictures and tell some stories about how fucked up I got. 😛
The first day of Oktoberfest involves a lot of ceremony, with the ceremonial first tapping of the keg by the mayor of Munich. There’s also a parade where people come down in traditional garb (dirndl and lederhosen), and each brewery has a horse drawn cart full of beer kegs.
I didn’t really do much of the ceremonial stuff. I knew the first day would be really crowded (Munich explodes to about 4 times it’s normal population during Oktoberfest and the first day is the busiest), and I had a full week to do the fest. I just went down and walked around and got some food. So for me it really began on the second day. I tagged along with some hostel roommates and joined their party.
There are a shit-ton of tables (Germany is on the metric system so it’s actually a metric shit-ton, which is more than a standard shit-ton). Each tent is huge, seating as many as 10,000 people, with even more outside in the biergarten. Even with so much seating, space is limited. You’re not going to get a table for just you and your friends. Any open space gets filled with fellow beer swilling festival goers. So you just walk in, sit down where you can, and make new friends.
Some people told me that once you do get a table that fits your group, you should stay there because you might have trouble finding another one. Obviously this prevents you from tent hopping to see each tent’s take on things and to taste beers from different breweries.
Over the course of several trips to the fest, I was able to enjoy five different tents, out of the 14 large tents and 20 other smaller tents. Obviously I just scratched the surface. Here are pics from a couple that I went to:
The best Munich brewery, in my humble opinion, is Augustiner. Their beers are served in a couple of different tents and I also went to their brewery in the week leading up to Oktoberfest, so I’ve had a few of their offerings. Something really notable is that their beers for Oktoberfest are ALL from wooden barrels. Considering how many zillion liters get poured, that’s quite a feat. The quality is really high too. To me, their lager is exactly what a lager should taste like. Same goes for their dunkelbier, which is a darker beer but still pretty light and drinkable. Honestly, the brewery has existed since 1328, so probably a lot of lagers and dunkels were influenced by Augustiner and breweries like them. In the Oide Wiesn, the liters get poured not in glass steins, but in the old traditional stone mugs.
There’s more to Oktoberfest than just drinking, though. I mean… drinking is most of it, but there’s other stuff. They have a real assortment of rides, kind of like the state fair back home, but with more drunk people and less concern for liability. One of my favorites was a fast-moving, steep escalator followed by a great big slide. It’s a challenge to keep your balance on the escalator, especially while crunk, and most people fall down and have to ride up on their backsides. A crowd gathers to watch people fall and potentially hurt themselves. It’s hilarious and apparently it’s been there for over 80 years. People falling down is one of the comedy classics so I was in entertainment heaven.
There’s also a four story haunted house. The carnies they hire to work that type of thing are really hit or miss. I understand it’s kind of a shit job, but I saw a ghoul at the haunted house wearing a mask with a t-shirt and jeans. Come on, man. Have some self respect.
Ok. I promised stories of me getting fucked up… Ugh, where to start. I’m too open and honest sometimes… My mom reads this blog… Yeah, I’m about to embarrass myself so you better appreciate this.
Let me back up. Hotel and hostel prices are through the roof during Oktoberfest so my original plan was to spend three nights over opening weekend in Augsburg, which is just a short 30 minute train ride from Munich, but then I decided that I liked Munich enough that I just wanted to stay and not have to bother with the train. My hostel had two nights available but I was going to have to figure out the third night. I had a couple of options, but hadn’t really decided yet. Worst case scenario, I go to Augsburg for one night.
That is, if I hadn’t fallen down the rabbit hole.
The day that I had no accommodations set up, I had two liters with the roomies early in the day, and then went back to the hostel with one of them so we could both connect to wifi and try to meet up with other people we were each hoping to hear from. I had no luck, but the person she was trying to meet was there at the hostel so she disappeared for what I can only assume was “snogging.” There in the lobby was Michael the Canadian, whom we had met another day (once again refer back to hostel roomies). We waited a bit for the “snogging” to finish, then gave up and just went back to Oktoberfest for another liter. And then another liter. Then Michael and I met some god damn Croatians.
They were nice guys. Super fun. At some point, one Croatian lifted the other on his shoulders and the upper Croatian started chugging his beer. So Michael does the natural thing and decides to lift me on his shoulders. Once I’m up there, I felt compelled to follow suit with the chugging because everyone around was staring at us and cheering us on.
This is a thing that happens at Oktoberfest. Sometimes someone will get up on top of a table and chug a beer. Everyone around cheers. It’s a thing. So I did that, but instead of standing on a table, I was riding a Canadian. I wouldn’t have even remembered that except I’ve been keeping good notes in my phone.
It all kind of falls apart from there.
I wish I had thought it all through. I still had no place to sleep and by this point I had missed the last train to Augsburg. So I did what I had to do. I stayed up, went to the bar at the hostel and hung out with some random people for as long as I could. My game plan involved an all nighter. It was all my feeble brain could think of.
Eventually the bar died down. I laid down on a couch in the hostel lobby. I dozed off. At about 4am the security guard kicked my foot and said, “Time to go to your room.”
Having no room to go to, I decided to take a walk. If I could just get to 6am, I knew the security guards would be gone and there would be a shift change at the front desk. If I could just make it two hours, I could maybe come back to the lobby couch. But I’m in my thirties. I was so tired by that point that I just needed somewhere, ANYWHERE to lay down.
So I walked to Englischergarten, a great big park that I had taken a nice nap in a few days earlier. I found a spot off the main path and I crawled under a bush and passed out. I’m not proud. The day got out of hand. I don’t recommend this plan to anyone.
There’s this thing called The Comedic Lifestyle that has driven some decisions for me in the last few months. I don’t remember who came up with it, but the main point is that if you do something that makes a good story, that’s often better than doing the smartest or best thing because you’ll get more enjoyment out of the story than if you had done the classically “right” thing. I didn’t go to Augsburg or spend the day hunting for an available Airbnb. Instead I got tanked and slept in a bush. That’s my Oktoberfest story.
Subsequent nights were less crazy, but just as fun. It’s so easy to make new friends. In fact, it’s kind of designed so you have to. This is an experience I heartily recommend. There’s really nothing like it.
Munich and Oktoberfest were god damn incredible. I spent two weeks there, and honestly I was a bit conflicted about moving on so soon. But new towns and new stories are coming, so stay tuned.