Picture this: Meals of sausages, pretzels, bread rolls, chicken and beer; people wearing traditional Dirndl and Lederhosen garb; barrels and barrels of beer; sounds of brass bands and joyous carnival-goers; cultures intermingled from all across the world; and all this surrounded by a city filled with the perfect combination of industrialization and history.
This is the party of the year for some and the celebration of the world’s largest public festival in the capital city of Bavaria, Germany: the formidable Oktoberfest.
Rich Dipasquale of Columbus compares the festival to a tailgate party at The Ohio State University times 100, with every person claiming a different school yet everyone getting along and celebrating.
“It’s like you’re smiling at someone with a different shirt on, but know you’re all there for the same reason,” Dipasquale says. “It’s a trading of cultures.”
München (Munich, as we know it), Germany’s third-largest city after Berlin and Hamburg, is the yearly host to history-driven Oktoberfest. More than 6 million visitors from countries all around the world take part in the festival every year. It doesn’t even have an admission fee.
Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival from the end of September through the beginning of October –Sept. 22-Oct. 7 this year. Its origin is the 1810 celebration of the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The original festival was a five-day celebration, and the main event was an ancient Grecian Olympic-style horse race. Its start date was eventually moved up to include fairer weather conditions, and its end date was moved back to include the German Reunification Day on Oct. 3.
Any German native will know the festival’s location; Theresienwiese (Wies’n for short) has been the original host land since the very first Oktoberfest. The name translates into Therese’s meadow or Therese’s fields, appropriately named after the princess.
An agricultural show was introduced in the second year and now appears every four years. Other events included a carousel, barrel rolling races, goose chases, eating contests and climbing competitions. Beer wasn’t introduced to the festival until the city’s government granted permission in 1880.
The modern-day Oktoberfest hosts everything from beer tents to vendors, from traditional German bands during the day to the more Westernized cover songs being played at night, from carnival rides and entertainment for the whole family to the adult celebrations. This year, for instance, offers 14 separate beer tents, each representing a distinct German brewery and loaded with its own unique features – including a full bakery (Café Mohrenkopf), a crossbow competition (Armbrustschützen) and a 4.5-meter-tall lion statue (Löwenbraü).
Dipasquale has been to Germany and Oktoberfest the past two years and plans to attend this year’s festivities as well. He is a firefighter for the Columbus Division of Fire and has traveled to Germany both times with fellow firefighters. Dipasquale originally chose to travel to Munich for Oktoberfest because a friend had been nine times before, and his growing interest finally pushed him to experience the festival himself.
“(Friends) talked about how you could sit at a table at Oktoberfest and have a conversation with people from all different countries,” Dipasquale says.
He encountered the traditional U.S. tourists and German natives, but also found camaraderie among tourists from Australia, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.
“You can’t get a beer without being at a table, so you stand. You get a group, walk up to a table and ask if it’s OK to stand there and get beer,” says Dipasquale. “Then you end up standing there for eight hours partying with these people. It’s pretty awesome.”
Dipasquale recommends having patience while waiting for beer or food, and being respectful to all the different people you encounter.
“Germans were some of the nicest, friendliest people, (and) are very approachable,” says Andrew Maggard of Pickerington, who visited Germany in 2009. “Munich is also such an international city that you can’t just assume you’re talking to a German.”
Maggard, whose journey happened to be included in a 2009 college study abroad program, says his Oktoberfest experience stands alone in comparison to any American festival.
“It was about three weeks into the study abroad program,” Maggard says. “It was the first big thing we got excited about. It was the first thing that everyone really wanted to do together.”
Maggard, a Miami University graduate, is now an associate operations planner for Limited Brands. He and his classmates organized their trip from Luxembourg and took charter buses in to Munich. Despite the drive lasting close to 10 hours, Maggard says, the scenery of western Germany – with all its beautiful rivers and valleys and picturesque German towns – was well worth it.
Willa Owens, a travel specialist for Dublin-based Creative Vacations, advises would-be Oktoberfesters to book travel accommodations early, as availability near the festival grounds fills up quickly and tends to be more expensive. Book your flight and hotel the moment you decide to go, she says.
Owens – who lives in German Village – has also traveled to Germany twice, Oktoberfest included. She stayed at a hotel in Munich with the train system located directly below, allowing for easy festival access.
“It was totally amazing, it’s so big,” Owens says. “The crowds, the street performers, the tents. The center of the tent has an area raised to see and hear the band, and each tent has its own theme.”
Smaller German towns trump Oktoberfest in terms of experiencing German tradition, Maggard says, but Munich itself has many connections to history. It sits along the Isar River just north of the Bavarian Alps, offering many sights and places to experience, and the train system makes it easy to visit nearby German cities and European countries as well. On Owens’ second trip to Germany, she also visited Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, Prague and Nuremberg. Dipasquale hit Frankfurt, Prague and the Dachau concentration camp.
Other points of interests in Munich include:
-The Olympic stadium and Olympic Park, where the 1972 Olympics took place;
-The Hofgarten (court garden) and Residenz (former royal palace);
-The Deutsches Museum, one of the oldest and largest science museums in the world;
-Hofbräuhaus, one of Munich’s oldest beer halls;
-The public park Englischer Garten;
-The Frauenkirche cathedral;
-Altstadt, Munich’s city center; and
-The popular market Viktualienmarkt.
Maggard says walking through Munich is very similar to walking through any other American city, but his favorite part was the array of old and new beer gardens spread throughout the city.
“You know it’s always going to be quality and (there are) always going to be people there having fun,” he says. “The social scene is a lot different, more together.”
Whatever the reason to visit Germany might be, take full advantage of all the sights, people, places and experiences teeming with life, history and the modern world. Prost!
Kim Brown is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.