Oktoberfest in Munich has been a celebration since 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig married Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and invited all the residents of the city to a horse race after the nuptials. Today, there’s no race, but it’s now one of the best-known “good times” on Earth as well as an economic powerhouse for the city of Munich, with over 1.25 billion euros in economic impact each year. Oktoberfest runs from the mid-September until German Unity Day on October 3rd.
Over 200 years later, I’m not sure Ludwig and Therese would be in good spirits to see what their party has become, but it sure is a lot fun (once you enter the tents—let me explain).
I left the subway station around 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, September 30. The first thing I saw upon leaving the subway was bloody young man being carried by his friend. This increased my reserve about coming to Oktoberfest on a Saturday evening, the busiest day of the entire festival. I had been told by numerous Germans to stay away from Oktoberfest altogether as the fighting, drunkenness and general rowdiness can be aggressive, especially at night.
The festival grounds themselves reminded me of a large state fair, with rides, massive crowds, food stalls, souvenirs and games. This area of Munich is called “Theresienwiese” and was the meadow where the original Oktoberfest took place. Named after the bride, it’s now essentially a big fairgrounds. If you didn’t know there were beer tents, that’s essentially what Oktoberfest is—and they’re surprisingly family-friendly, with many beer tents during the day hosting “family hours” where the noise level is lowered. The children, all dressed in their tradition Bavarian costume known as “tract,” were adorable.
Six friends and I walked around the event. Many in the crowd were either in great spirits or had clearly had too many beers. The beer is only served in large, one-liter mugs (called masskrug or “mass” for short; that’s essentially a quart of beer!) and there’s only one style of beer served in the tents—a stronger version of golden lager called festbier that’s usually around 6% ABV. Our first encounter with drunkenness came in the form of two people passed out next to a carnival ride. A man about to vomit ran past us looking for a safe place to throw up. I understood immediately why people I knew had told me not to come here. Once I was inside the tent, though, I would tell them they were wrong; what I experienced was something so joyous that I wish I were there right now.
The first night we were there, we were treated with VIP seating at the large Hofbrau tent, thanks to fellow Forbes contributor Don Tse’s connections to importing Hofbrau to Western Canada. This area was calm at first, but a couple of hours in, people were standing on the benches as the band played and thousands inside sang along. The energy of the 5,000-plus people was electric. The traditional half-roast chicken meals were tender and moist, and the beer was cold and smooth.
The next day, we had a noon reservation at the Pschorr-Bräurosl tent run by the brewery Hacker-Pschorr. When we arrived, we were seated upstairs on the balcony. This tent, I learned, afterwards has a reputation for being a favorite of many, as well as being the site of “Gay Sunday,” a yearly LGTBQ celebration that’s been held in some form since the early 1970s on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest. The vibe was fun, the band incredible, the beer tasty and the chicken crispy. It reminded me of at being at a really great wedding—and that makes sense given that, of course, Oktoberfest all started as a wedding.
Later that day, we went to the “Oide Wiesn,” a section you pay four euros to enter that serves beer in earthenware steins and offers old-fashioned rides for all ages. In the Augustiner tent, we sat side-by-side in close quarters with many people, including next to two locals who say they only come to this section because of its traditional roots (you won’t hear “Country Roads” sung by thousands of people here). On a stage in the center of the tent, couples and families danced to the brass band, and a dance troupe entertained the crowd. The night ended outside this tent with a pair of brats served on a hard roll. They were delicious.
For those naysayers who talk down about Oktoberfest, I understand and agree that the passed-out people lining the fairgrounds is not a good look, not to mention the fighting and general horseplay that can occur. But inside the tents, it is pure joy and revelry, celebrating humanity with people throughout the world. I would go back in an instant.
Things To Know
If you go on most weekdays, you don’t need a reservation to enter the tents, but it’s highly recommended if you plan to go on busier days like weekends or days closer to the end of Oktoberfest. Reservations can be made online and usually open in April.
Oktoberfest tents are cash only! Germany is a big cash country, so plan to carry euros with you. A beer in 2023 was 14.20 euros or about $16. Food and non-alcoholic drinks are available, too, and English menus were available either by scanning a QR code or as physical copies.
You may think wearing a traditional costume like lederhosen or a dirndl is silly, but the majority of people wear one—and dressing the part makes the vibe of the festival feel more authentic. It’s not required, but it’s very fun!