Can you post some guidance for Oktoberfest ahead of the event this year for those of us who want to attend? (At least I no longer think it’s in Oktober )
OK, so my last post containing Oktoberfest tips was not particularly comprehensive. This time I will do better.
To start with the very basics, Oktoberfest is a giant festival consisting of beer tents, rides, and vendors selling carnival food and souvenirs. It takes place at Munich’s Theresienwiese (often referred to as the Wiesen or Wies’n) and runs for around 16 days starting in the second half of September (this year it’s September 19th – October 4th). Entrance is free, and everything else is pretty expensive. Tents open at 10:00AM (9:00 on weekends) and close at 11:30PM. There are 14 large tents and a handful of smaller ones.
You have to be in a tent (or on a tent’s patio) and sitting down at a table to get beer. (OK, so there’s also the beery-go-round, but that’s not what you came to Oktoberfest for.) This sitting-at-a-table-waiting-for-beer is sometimes not as easy as it sounds. Pretty much all of the tents get full to capacity every day of the festival, at which time the doors are closed and guarded by big, angry (and sometimes bribable) bouncers. This happens by the early evening on weekdays and by about 9:05AM on weekends.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to get inside a tent, it’s now time to get down to the business of finding yourself a seat. Many tables will have reserved signs on them, usually with a starting time for the reservation. If you are there well in advance of the reservation time, you may usually sit at the table and be served beer, and the waitress will kick you out at the appropriate time. All tents have a section of tables that are never reserved, usually near the center of the tent.
Unless you’ve arrived at 10:00AM on a Monday, don’t expect to find an entire empty table all for you. Choose a table with some available space, ask the people there if the seats are free (Ist hier noch frei?) and sit down. The waitress will be by more quickly than you expect. You’ll find a crumpled, soggy menu somewhere on the table. It will list a variety of heavy foods, a couple of non-alcoholic drinks, and beer, which only comes by the liter and in one variety. Be glad you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about what to drink.
If you want to be able to easily find a seat, the best time to go to Oktoberfest is on a weekday in the morning or early afternoon. As long as you keep consuming food and drinks (and you sit at an unreserved table), you can stay as long as you like.
At times when the tents are full, it’s still often possible to find a spot on a tent’s patio. There you can eat and drink, but you’ll miss out on the music and atmosphere going on in the tent. Although tents are usually full by the early evening each day, sometimes they open up again later on, after the early shift of drinkers starts crawling their way home.
If you insist on attending Oktoberfest on a weekend without a reservation, do this to get into a tent: arrive at the Wiesen by 8 AM, choose a tent, and stand in the large mass of people outside the door. When they start letting people in a little before 9, make a run for the tables and start looking for one without a reservation sign (or one that is reserved just for the evening – you’ll be ready to leave by then). Cell phones are useful in this scenario, as the people in your party can split up and whoever finds a table first can call the others. Enjoy that 9 AM beer.
All of the large tents have live music for most of the day (starting around 11). The daytime band is usually oompa-like and somewhat traditional. At some point during the afternoon they will be switched out for a younger, hipper band which will assault your ears with Walking on Sunshine and Cowboys und Indianer. This is usually the time when the dancing on the benches commences. Be prepared to jump up and join in or find your head surrounded by gyrating leather-clad asses.
And on that note, I think I’ll wrap this post up. I’ll post a couple of follow-ups in the coming weeks as Oktoberfest draws nearer. If you have any specific questions, ask away!
Ask the Expat is a semi-regular feature here at This non-American Life. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.