Douglas McCaffrey walks us through the ins and outs, do and donts, drinks and more drinks of Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair attracting around five million visitors every year. It has been occurring since 1810 and is thoroughly ingrained into Bavarian culture. In recent years it has also become a time to celebrate German unification. Only beer brewed within the area of Munich is allowed to be served within the confines of Theresienwiese and serve it they do. In 2010, at the 200th anniversary of the festival, the five million folk from all around the world drank around 7.5 million litres of beer in under three weeks. This makes Oktoberfest the best thing ever. Ever. That thing you thought was the best thing ever? Wrong. It’s Oktoberfest.
Most of my memories from my 2009 trip to Oktoberfest are, unsurprisingly, blurry. Munich is a beautiful city. It is full of wonderful, historical buildings and practically oozes culture from every nook and cranny. I would dearly love to return and experience Munich’s sights and sounds without the all consuming feeling that I was going to throw up in the street. Also, I would find a place that sold fried breakfasts. There is nothing more detrimental to a hungover me than not being able to find a proper breakfast. Cheese and pastries are not a breakfast Europe, no matter how much you want them to be.
I remember an intense conversation in the Hofbräuhaus tent with a middle aged American dwarf about why the Miami Dolphins need a more stable owner. I remember a young German girl falling off the narrow table she was dancing on and being caught by a group of Australians. They immediately screamed “Howzat!” at the top of their voices. Some national stereotypes run deep. I remember trying to get the band leader to play an Oompa Version of ‘Rocket Man’ because we thought he looked like Bill Shatner. However, by and large the memories are jumbled and incoherent. Brilliant and unforgettable, but at the same time utterly twisted and disjointed.
Our friend alcohol has that power over us. To amplify small moments of our lives into vivid focus. I wish I could remember the names of the guys we sat alongside in the Hacker tent. I know we talked at length about Frank Lampard and discovered one fellow’s lederhosen was almost 80 years old and had belonged to his Grandfather. Their names? Fuck you, says alcohol, here’s an almost photographic recall of the Planet Hollywood toilets instead.
One of the surviving snippets of conversion I can remember from Oktoberfest was on the topic of drinking teams. We were sat in the Haubräuhaus in the centre of Munich making plans and grabbing beers. Over the umpteenth round of mighty steins filled with foaming liquid awesome we really got into the anatomy of a great boys night on the booze, from where we would go, to who should be there.
We quickly established, in a united moment of hubris, that we were the ultimate team of gentlemen drinkers. Ensconced on our long benches and enjoying a superb, crisp Pilsner in a gorgeous, historic bierkeller we pretty much believed we were the shit and the rest of humanity could only strive to obtain such a perfect moment as this. I still do.
This conversation, as most do with the application of drink, turned to the hypothetical. From the entire span of human existence pick four people to come drinking with you. Where would you go? What would you drink? Explain your choices, show your work. For example (and for reasons too elaborate and drunken to go into here) I picked, at one point: George Carlin, Bruce Dickinson, Bill Hader and Bill Murray (too many Bills – Editor).
The debate still rages now. We have even, in subsequent sessions, used genres or topics to refine our search. Political Figures, Musicians, Authors, Film Characters and Sportsmen have come under our glassy eyed gaze. Each slot is ruminated on, postulated, ridiculed and defended furiously. Without this rigorous and, above all, deeply scientific debating how can we get close to naming our foursome? We never did. It was so contentious an issue we ended up with four vastly differing lists of drinking buddies. Try it yourselves, see how far you get.
Oktoberfest is Mecca for beer drinkers. The entire festival site is a swirling mix of people from all nationalities and walks of life. The only common denominator in this mass of humanity is the desire to drink beers and enjoy oneself and the company of other, like-minded people. My initial impression was of a large funfair, which is probably because of the numerous rides and stalls dotted between the huge, hulking shadows of the beer tents. It was a giant snaking conga line of awesome.
My tips for optimum Oktoberfest fun are thus. Make sure you get a reservation in one of the tents ahead of time. You cannot get a beer at the festival unless you are sat in a tent and they fill up fast. Most of the breweries have websites where you can get yourself a berth. Try to do this as far ahead of time as possible as with five million visitors you can imagine how packed they can get. Beers are around nine Euros for a stein and they come right to your seat in the arms of a buxom Bavarian lady. They’re all buxom by the way, it’s like a law or something. I would counsel a round of Radler (a stein of shandy) or a soft drink at some point during the day. This’ll rehydrate and perk you up.
For your flights and accommodation, get in early or get ripped off. My digs were Spartan but the price was a little more Sheik. You can expect to pay a little over the odds when staying in Munich during the festival but the closer you get to it starting the more you will fork over and the less salubrious they are. The flights don’t tend to get more expensive than your average flight to the continent but they do fill up.
Check out where the nearest U-Bahn station is before you go, it’s the cheapest way to get around and there’s a stop at Theresienwiese so you can stride in and stagger back in relative comfort. Although there are no barriers or obvious train guards do not be tempted to try and jump the fare. There are plain clothes Transport Police on the lines at all times and they spot check people for tickets and the fine is horrendous. It’ll take a serious chunk out of your beer money.
Finally, try the local food. I have long held the Germans dear to my heart. Not only do they share my love of football and beer, they love proper food. If you’re a carnivore you’ll be like a pig in muck. You simply must have a Schweinhaxe. This is a ham hock, boiled in garlic brine and roasted until the skin is crisp – they are phenomenal. Of course, no trip to Oktoberfest would be complete without a giant pretzel and a bratwurst, make a beeline for one of each.
Everyone should experience the festival at least once in their lifetime, especially if they love beer. I have plans to take your dear editor Craig Heap to Munich next year for an R&R staff outing. I’m sure the other guys will want in to. WE WILL NOT HAVE T-SHIRTS. Only douche-bags go on holidays with t-shirts proclaiming where they are and a “humorous” nickname on the back. We will wear hats though. People don’t wear enough hats. There’s a general lack of class nowadays. It’s a damned shame. If you do go, I hope my tips prove useful and you will forget to send us a postcard but that’s okay. I pre-forgive you. Prost!