Do you like beer? Do you like beer so much every night is beer fest night for you? Well if that’s true for you, then you need to go to Oktoberfest. What is Oktoberfest I hear you ask? Well my sweet, naive friend, let me open your mind to a world across the sea to a place called Germany where they have the biggest and most wonderful festival in the entire world. Here’s a guide to help you this Oktoberfest.
Munich is the largest city in the German state of Bavaria, north of the alps and situated on the banks of the River Isar, but it’s also much more than that. Munich is home to Oktoberfest and for those of you Oktoberfest veterans, I don’t need to tell you how important this festival is to not only in the German calendar but also the beer calendar.
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Since 1810 this festival (the largest folk festival in the world) has been showing the rest of the world how it’s done. It’s easy to forget that Oktoberfest isn’t only about drinking beer but is actually a family festival with a fun fair, parades in the street, tonnes of traditional German food to munch on, plus many, many more attractions that don’t involve beer. But when did it all begin? How did Oktoberfest come about? Well, here’s a little history lesson for you (only short):
It all began when Prince Ludwig, who later became King, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 2nd, 1810. The day was full of festivities and the citizens of Munich were invited to attend. It events were held on the fields in front of the city gates, which were later named Theresienwiese, or ‘Theresa’s Meadow’ in honor of the princess. These days, the locals have abbreviated it to just ‘Weisn’.
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The celebrations lasted for 15 days and on the last day, 17th October, horse races were held in honor of the happy royal couple. The decision to repeat the horse races a year later was how Oktoberfest began. Many people still argue over whose idea it was to hold horse races, making the origin controversial, but there is no doubt that this is when Oktoberfest began.
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It was soon developed from simply festivities in a field to a more civilized affair. They set up a grandstand on the Sendlinger mountain that could hold 40,000 people to spectate the race, but kept the event held on the original Weisn fields. They added more attractions such as wine and beer tastings, a performance in homage of the royal couple, the horse race grew in size and was concluded by a choir of children. In the second year, 1811, they added in an agricultural show to promote Bavarian agriculture.
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In 1813, it was cancelled due to the Napoleonic wars but ever since then, the festival has grown in size each year. Along with horse races, tree climbing and bowling alleys were added plus carnival booths which appeared in 1818. It soon became an annual event, well anticipated by not only the Bavarian people but slowly, more and more people from across Germany and Europe. Oktoberfest was also lengthened later on and moved forward into late September because of the seasonal weather in the northern hemisphere.
Since 1850, the parade of eight thousand people in traditional costumes that walk from Maximilian Street through to the centre of Munich to the Oktoberfest grounds has been an annual feature. What is amazing is the fact that for the last 200 years Germany has seen many wars, changes and epidemics and yet the Oktoberfest has only ever been cancelled 24 times. The Munich people are very serious about their festival.
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During that time, it has evolved and grown into the Oktoberfest we know today which sees around six million visitors each year – that’s roughly 7 million litres of beer by the way! But as you can see, beer wasn’t always the main feature on the agenda at Oktoberfest. It wasn’t until 1887 did the Entry of the Oktoberfest Staff and Breweries take place for the first time. It would go on to highlight Germany’s, specifically Munich (no beer brewed outside of the Munich area can be sold at Oktoberfest) beer and celebrate the local breweries.
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Also, since 1950, there has only been one way to open the festival. First, a twelve gun salute and then the tapping of the keg by the Mayor of Munich at Noon sharp. The Mayor shouts “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”) and Oktoberfest will begin. Before that, there are parades through the streets but no horse races at the end of the festival, as they stopped in 1960.
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Today, Oktoberfest is still recognisible as the original festival as the Munich people have done an incredible job to keep it traditional whilst moving with the times. If you love beer, this festival has to be on your yearly list of places to go. If you don’t like beer, well there’s a solution for that….
Although there are now Oktoberfest celebrations all over the world, including hundreds in the United Kingdom, for now, let me tell you about the mother, the Queen of Oktoberfest, and that is of course the one held in Munich, Germany.
You’re probably wondering why you should travel all the way to Munich just to drink beer when you can attend an event in this country or just go down the pub for a pint? Well all I have to say to that is get out. If you’re a true beer drinker, enjoy a festival and a fun and vibrant atmosphere with music, beer and food, then Oktoberfest is the place for you. And if you still don’t believe me, let me run you through some of this folk festival’s aspects.
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Before you start thinking that you will have to stand around in a drafty beer tent at the festival, let me stop you. Originally, they may have been tents but today they are grand, vast halls that will rival those the vikings built. Inside are colourful facades, long wooden tables, benches and even different levels in the larger halls. One of the largest can hold up 10,000 people. Now does it sound more appealing?
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Well let me tell you about the beer next. As I mentioned earlier, the only beer sold at the Oktoberfest is from Munich breweries; these include Spatenbrau and Augustiner-Brau. However, if you’re hoping for a gentle sip on a half pint, this isn’t the place for you. Beer is only served in giant litre stein glasses. You can usually see several of them being carried at once by buxom barmaids. Oktoberfest beer is a registered trademark of the Club Munich Brewers, which consists of six breweries. Each beer must meet the criteria designated by this group too. Fun Fact: skilled bartenders at the festival can fill up a litre stein glass in a matter of 1.5 seconds. No waiting around for your beer here.
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Yet, if you don’t like beer do not be put off by people telling you to avoid Oktoberfest. As I said before, this folk festival is more than just the excellent beer on offer. It’s about the experience of Oktoberfest and being part of something that dates back 200 years. If you’re a wine drinker, there is a tent for you. The Weinzelt is a special place where you can choose from 15 different wines, including sparkling and champagne. Bodo’s cafe offer up something non-alcoholic for you designated drivers; from pastries to coffee to strudel this is another great place for those who don’t like beer. Plus, if you like cocktails, Bodo’s cafe is also a good option.
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Next we have the food. Germans are famous for a few things and the two I always remember are their beer and their food. Yummy! And Oktoberfest is not short of good old German grub, including Bratwurst sausages, roasted chickens, pretzels, smoked fish and tonnes of gingerbread creations. Or even try a Bavarian breakfast, which includes veal sausages with a sweet mustard. Let’s just say, you won’t go hungry or thirsty at Oktoberfest.
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And for those of you who aren’t interested in the beer or the food (I’m sure these people don’t exist), to satisfy your queries, yes there is more than just booze and grub. As I said previously, Oktoberfest is a family orientated festival and so there are plenty of fairground rides and attractions such as the Olympia Loop ride, candyfloss stalls and traditional Bavarian music in most of the tents. But don’t forget, Oktoberfest is held in Munich which is an attraction in itself; packed full of beautiful architecture, great shopping and excellent night life hot-spots.
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And for you youngsters, don’t worry. It won’t be like going to a family/relative picnic event. Although quiet music is played during the day, at 6pm Schlager and pop music is played and the party is really started. Plus, what some people don’t know is that ‘Wiesnzelt’ at the Stiglmaierplatz is the only event at Oktoberfest that combines the tradition of its origins with the modern day clubbing and partying experience. This all night and week long event is only 2km from the Weisn and hosts DJs from Gong 96.3. In the main hall there is typical Oktoberfest fun with beer, pretzels and music. In the Bennossaal room, there is more music and everything you need for the best clubbing experience you’ll have – the Munich way.
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Lastly, a question often asked by ‘foreigners’ and ‘Oktoberfest Virgins’ – do I need to dress up? I wish it was compulsory but no, you don’t. But if you do, don your lederhosen and ladies, put on your Dirndl – which is a traditional dress with a full skirt, apron and tight bodice (you know what I’m talking about). I’d say it helps you get into the German spirit of Oktoberfest and if you don’t want to take it with you, never fear, there are plenty of shops and stalls in Munich that will help you dress the Bavarian way!
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Like any festival, it’s always helpful to know little tricks and tips when attending.
- Remember to try every tent to get the full flavour of the famous folk festival.
- Pace yourself; stay hydrated and stuffed with pretzels. And even better, order beer with lemonade to take the edge off of a litre stein glass.
- Book a place in a tent: things can get very crowded at Oktoberfest so if you know which tent you want to be in, book a table. If you’re not overly fussed, get there early and pull up a bench. There’s nothing worse than standing and drinking. Don’t forget, there’s outside seating too!
- If you smoke, know the rules!
- Know when to attend the festival: you can check out the opening times here but locals would say it’s too busy at the weekend so try to aim for a weekday if you want to get the full experience without being overwhelmed by people.
- If you do want the full Oktoberfest experience, don’t miss the Grand Parade at the beginning of the festival. Check out the full programme here.
- For a cheaper trip, consider camping or staying in a youth hostel. This brings me onto the next point…
- Book in advance. I can’t stress this enough. If you want to stay in a hotel during your stay, book well advance because let’s face it, camping ain’t for everyone!
- Have fun. It’s not a race to the finish line to drink every beer there. Just enjoy it!
And if after all that, you’re still unsure about travelling all the way to Munich for some Oktoberfest fun, there are plenty of events in this country that you can enjoy and still wear a lederhosen for, if you wish.
Oktoberfest Events in the UK
All up and down the country, there will be Oktoberfest events; from Aberdeen in Scotland to Truro in Cornwall (and everywhere in between) you will find an Oktoberfest to attend. Some will be pricey than others, while they all vary in length but each will be celebrating in Bavarian style with beer and hopefully pretzels. If you’re eager to show your Oktoberfest spirit, you won’t have to look far to find one near you. They also all differ in events, festivities and attractions. Find the one that suits you and put on your lederhosen.
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For a rough idea, I’ve noted down a few events in major cities for you to attend:
- London Oktoberfest – based on two sites (Kilburn Grange Park, Camden & Millwall Park, Canary Wharf) London couldn’t decide on one so instead insisted on holding two different events. With prices varying between free to £10 (depending on the package you buy), you can just turn up! With thousands of people claiming it’s the best in the country and just like Munich’s, I’d say if you’re up for a trip to London, their Oktoberfest festivities will be the place to be. Click here for more information.
- Birmingham Oktoberfest – running from the 14th-18th of September, Birmingham promises good German beer, food and music at their very own Oktoberfest at Cannon Hill. Priced between £5-£10, they, like the London event, offer different packages including food. Check it out here.
- Leeds Oktoberfest – with beer brewed and bought from Bavaria, Leeds will be serving up their special beer to their punters this year. Their package prices that include food, beer and a good seat range from £34-£44 so a bit pricier than the rest but apparently very worth it as Leeds is a famous hosting city of Oktoberfest in this country. For more information, click here.
- Manchester Oktoberfest – held in Albert Square and for five wonderful days, Manchester’s festivities prices vary between free to £10, depending on the day, and are family orientated like the Munich style Oktoberfest. They claim to have a fabulous atmosphere, great food, beer and music, plus their own lederhosen shop so if you left yours at home, you can get one there! Have a closer look by clicking here.
- Liverpool Oktoberfest – in the middle of the city, this five day event is being held in homage to Munich’s original event. Like Manchester’s festival, its prices vary between absolutely free to £10 but promise a whole family experience with the same great vibe, food, beer and music as the one in Germany. Have a look here.
- Edinburgh Oktoberfest – Prince’s Street gardens will be transformed into a traditional Bavarian festival for five days for their festivities and like the rest, the price differs from free to £10, plus packages. Packed to the brim with lederhosens, German beer, food and music, this is not one to miss. Click here for more information.
- Bath Oktoberfest – and for those of you who cannot make it up to London or the north for Oktoberfest madness, don’t worry! As I said before, there are plenty of events scattered all over the country. Bath being one of the many cities that are holding an event of tasty beer from Munich breweries, traditional Bavarian food and music – on Friday 26th, ‘The Bavarian Oompah Boys’ will be playing. Plus, it’s free!
Just remember, you need only hop online or talk to your local pub for Oktoberfest-ivals in your area. Don’t worry, you won’t miss out on the fun!
So to answer the one question I haven’t mentioned. When is it this year! Well my dear beer loving friends, this year (in Munich) Oktoberfest will take place from September 19th until October 4th. The dates and length actually change every year as although it traditional runs for 16 days, the last day being a Sunday in October, they often lengthen the festival so it will continue to the 3rd of October if need be, so it ends the same day as German Unity Day, or after.
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Now, go ahead and see if you can book a ticket! Starting eight days from now, you may have to find a tent! But never fear, Oktoberfest is definitely worth it! Don your lederhosen or Dirndl, grab a pretzel and fill up your stein glass, it’s Oktoberfest time!
Look out next Thursday for an all new All You Need For: Oktoberfest Special, telling you exactly what you’ll need if you plan on hosting an Oktoberfest party or commercially if your establishment is holding an Bavarian style weekend in homage to the great beer festival!