Forget Disneyland, we’ve found our nirvana…
You may have long scoffed at those who have waxed lyrical about Germany’s effusive ode to the humble hops – but we can now confirm that this is indeed the happiest place on earth. Disneyland is like spending a day at a wake compared to this. When you’re stuck in an enclosed space with thousands of people whose sole aim at 10am in the morning is to get royally wasted, we only envision vomiting, bad choices, fights, riots and waking up in a place you shouldn’t be – in no particular order.
Maybe that’s the New Zealander in us talking (a regular old Saturday night in Timaru includes all of those things), but what actually materialises at Oktoberfest is a land of joviality and merriment. It’s like Christmas in the 1800s. Or Boxing Day in Santa’s Workshop. Everyone just shows up in a I-just-won-25-dollars-on-the-Lotto mood, dressed in their best Bavarian garb, dancing with strangers and flirting with everyone within 500 metres. At regular intervals, someone will start up a rousing rendition of Ein Prosit and you’ll rise to your feet, hoisting your stein with you, struggling under its weight, and sing at the top of your voice a song you still don’t know any of the words to. All conversations had at Oktoberfest are uplifting, inspirational and bellywarming – and no matter what loose acquaintance you run into there, you will leave as the best of friends. I think I even got engaged at one point.
In short, if you’ve ever wanted to bury the hatchet with a mortal enemy – invite them to Oktoberfest.
Here’s how to do the world’s greatest alcohol-related festival, for about 150 euro over two days
DO stay at The Tent. The city’s most famous cheap digs is exactly what’s implied in the name, a giant tent ready to cram as many drunk people across its area as it can. And by every area, we mean every area. The central tent (after which the ‘hostel’ is named) is literally just an empty tent, with a shit load of floor space, ready for drunk people who will probably end up in a bush anyway to coma on. Any other time of year you’ll pay 8 euro for a spot of floorspace at The Tent, but during Oktoberfest that shoots up to 15 euro. If you’re feeling a bit more flush in cash or in the market for a bit of luxury, stump up an extra 10 euro for a bunk bed. The beds are an extra 5 euro at weekends for the first time this weekends too. You’d think all of this would culminate in a disgusting cesspit of tangled bodies – but as with the rest of Oktoberfest, it all remains pretty civilised. The foam mat you’re provided may as well be a bit of cardboard, but the blankets are warm enough – aided by the heaters that keep the place toasty – there’s lockers, and everyone seems to be reasonably well-versed in personal space keeping, so there’s no waking up in your neighbours lap. You’ll only have to worry about the snorers, and the occasional bottleneck in the bathrooms.
Whatever entrepreneurial genius thought this up should be rivalling Richard Branson in no time.
DO book early. Like, four months early. We tried to book our beds at The Tent (yes, you can call us fancy) in June and they were already all sold out for the weekends we wanted to go. We quickly snapped up some of the floorspace, and that was gone a couple of weeks later too. As a general rule, if you’re aiming to go to Oktoberfest over a weekend, book in May at the latest. The weekdays are usually fine to book a bit later.
DON’T show up on a night bus from Prague because you were trying to scrimp on another night’s accommodation. You will feel like death, you will peak early, and you will end up passed out in a booth at Burger King. More below.
DON’T book one of those stupid all-inclusive Oktoberfest ‘tours’. For starters, Oktoberfest is free to enter, so all of the operators that say they take care of the entrance fees should just plain not be trusted. Sure, hotel rooms and hostel beds skyrocket at this time of year, but if you actually separate out all the costs you’ll still be better off booking your accommodation separately. Most say they include ‘transport to and from the festival’, which is actually just a bus that goes from the hotel (which is inevitably in batshit nowhere suburban Munich, which is why they need a bus in the first place), and the public transport in Munich is pretty good anyway. Plus, when you’re all cramming into the metro, dressed in your drindl and tracht, with the locals rolling their eyes and heading in the other direction, that’s camaraderie right there.
DO follow the directions to Oktoberfest. The public transport doesn’t take you right to the entrance, but there’s always arrows and signs to get you to you the festival. Or, you could just follow the thousands of people dressed up, headed to the same place.
DON’T buy a shitty costume off eBay or Trademe. You will be the only one in the beer hall who hasn’t made the effort to get a traditional costume, and there will be sneering from locals and tourists alike. An authentic drindl runs for about 60 euro on average, and can be bought in just about every shop on the main drag in Oktoberfest season. Members of our group spent about 300 euro on trachts, including 50 euro socks, but I’d imagine that’s probably just getting excessive. If you’re really poor though (in which case what are you doing at Oktoberfest), by all means rock your crappy cotton tracht at your own peril: you will be ridiculed at will.
DO borrow a drindl from a mate. Face it, when are you actually going to wear a 80 euro drindl in your home country. We’ll all have at least one friend who’s been to Oktoberfest and has a prized costume stashed away at the back of their cupboard. Best thing is, these things don’t age.
DO learn the words to Ein Prosit. Don’t be the guy swinging his stein around every time people start singing, yelling random syllables and consonants around like they’re confetti, and butcher the ditty for everyone around them. Here are the lyrics. You’re welcome.
DO get involved in the chanting and games. Every so often you’ll notice an insistent drumming on the table grow ever louder and realise someone is being challenged to down the rest of their stein because they’ve accidentally stood on a chair. Should the person choose to accept the challenge, they stand on their chair for all to see and slop more of their lager down their front than down their throat. Almost no-one actually succeeds in this, which usually draws ire and ridicule (and the odd thrown pretzel) from the crowd. But if they do make it to the end, you’ll never experience cheering like it. DJ Otzi’s “Hey Baby” is another one the crowds seem to have a weird affinity for.
DON’T swap tables. If you’re moving across to another table with even a mouthful of beer left in your stein – that’s 10 minutes of tips the beer maiden from that table will not get. The beer maidens a hugely territorial about their tables, and the wealth of tips that they bring. As soon as you take half-full jugs of beer onto one of their tables, you’re delaying another round of tips for them. Similarly – don’t try and stretch out to take up another table. They want to cram you in there for maximum tip potential.
DO tip your beer maiden. The myths that we heard about tipping them averagely resulting in no service to your table seems like a lie, because we tipped about 2 euro per beer and were on the understanding that was below the market rate, but we were served promptly every time. The easiest thing is to just round it up about 20 per cent – steins were 12 euro in 2016, so we tipped two or three euro on each. All you do is hand over your note, and stipulate exactly how much you’re tipping. They don’t actually side-eye you or hate you as much as you think. We’ve had it on good authority that some of these lasses make 20,000 euro in these short few weeks. Probably so they can get back to weight lifting for the rest of the year for the next Oktoberfest.
DO show up early. But not too early. By the time we arrived on day one, at about 9.30am, the most popular beer tents were still half early. By midday they’d filled out a bit, but even if you arrived at 4pm or so you’ll still get a seat at a table.
DO try out other beer tents. Hofbrau Festzelt is one of the more rowdy and loudly joyous, due in no small part to it also being known as the Antipodean tent – where you’ll struggle to find anyone who isn’t a New Zealander or an Australian. Lowenbrau-Festhalle is another good one, if not a little less rowdy, but it has a 5-metre lion to make up for that. Some of the other smaller ones are good if you’d prefer a more authentic experience. The full list of tents are here.
DON’T revive old ghosts from your home town. You will inevitably run into people at Oktoberfest you never expected to be there, there will be catching up and there might be merriment, which is going to be misconstrued as flirting because you’re in the happiest place on earth, one where people just get an idea in their head that anything can happen. Not speaking from experience…
DO eat the food. The pork knuckle may cost double what it would outside the flimsy walls of the beer tent, but it’s actually delicious.
DO leave the tent if you’re trying to save money. If you just wander about 100 metres to the nearest food stall outside the tent, still in the Oktoberfest grounds, you’ll find a pretzel for 3 euro and bratwurst for 6 euro – compared to 6 euro and 9 euro respectively in the beer tents.
DO pay for your fare on the public transport. Europe is synonymous with relying on the honesty of an individual in regards to the metro and buses, which is never the greatest idea. Because you buy a ticket, then ‘validate’ it in a machine before you board the metro, and there’s no gates, you can only really get pinged if an inspector comes through searching for tickets – and we noted that approximately no one bought a fare. We’ll be honest, our own success rate at doing so was about 50 / 50 too, but if it’s the most you’re going to give back to the city that’s allowed you to come in and plunder it for a weekend, may as well part with that 1.50.
DONT disappear early from one of the beer halls without telling anyone, including your sister, to crawl into bed and coma out after too many beersies. Then wake up at 3am and realise you’d crawled into a booth at Burger King and you’d been sleeping there for several hours while not one of the workers could be bothered to wake you. Man, the things they must’ve seen in their time.
DO try experience the weekend days and a week day. The weekends are obviously busier and more frequented by tourists, but the weekdays are when more of the local Germans and their families come out, and are often more enjoyable.
DO check out the calendar of events. Check the Oktoberfest website for a full run-down of all the things going on over the weeks. The parade and tapping of the barrel is always a popular event to make it to, but there’s also a number of family event days, concerts and even a mass that might be interesting to check out.
DON’T go on a carnival ride after drinking. No explanation necessary.
DO realise how freaking big this place is. Across 14 beer tents and an outdoor carnival, 6 million people visit this festival each year. There’s a lot to see and a lot to do.
DO give yourself at least two days to explore the festival. Probably, though, by the third or fourth day you might be a shell of your former self and need to get out, stat.
Accommodation: 15 euro for one night on the floor at The Tent.
Eating: 5 euro on breakfast from Lidl, 3 euro on a pretzel, another 5 euro on breakfast at Lidl, 6 euro for a bratwurst.
Drinking (because this counts as eating too): 4 steins over each day at 14 euro each
Transport: Probably about 3 euro because we didn’t lead by example and pay for tickets most of the time
= 149 euro