As I start to type away at this post, the biggest beer party on Earth, the one that gave me the Best Day Ever in 2015 and the Masterpiece Weekend in 2017, the Oktoberfest in Munich, just opened its tents in 2019. And I am feeling sick to my stomach.
It wasn’t an easy decision to skip 2019 but after three Munichs in four years with the other off-year being the almost as amazing Next Best Day Ever at the Essen Oktoberfest in 2016, it was time for a breather, both to refresh the excitement and the finances. It is tempting to put on the lederhosen, but they were already starting to feel a bit snug last year. I am not sure I could take the double disappointment of not making the Oktoberfest this year AND knowing I will need to spend the next year trying to fit back in them. Yes, I am implying that the clock is ticking as of today towards Oktoberfest 2020. I have been extremely fortunate to have experienced already some of the best possible moments of my beer drinking life these last four years and it is getting hard to equal or top them. It was clear to me after 2018, it was necessary to take a year off. I want to miss it, to feel the pain of its absence, and next year go crawling on my knees to the Löwenbräu tent and beg its forgiveness.
That is not to say 2018 was a disappointment. Not by any stretch of the imagination. We were 4x Finns, 1x Mexican, 1x Swiss, 1x German, 2x Belgians, and myself. The only thing tighter than my lederhosen was our group, and this is our story…
OK, not quite yet…
It seemed not so long ago that München Oktoberfest was a complete mystery. Not just a mystery but the prospect of planning the experience was almost a frightful, overwhelming challenge. Everybody that I’ve talked to who hasn’t yet been to Oktoberfest but wants to go has the same worries. It is like hearing my own thoughts played back to me.
- How do I get into a tent?
- Do you need reservations? How do you get reservations?
- Where do I stay?
- How do you order a beer?
- Do you have to dress up?
I may not have the best answers to all of these questions, but all you have to do is read about my past experiences to know that… eh, I’ve had a pretty bleeping good time there and know a little something of what I am talking about.
The Q&A on Reservations
- Do you need reservations?
Yes and no. The fact is it differs depending on the tent and sometimes even on the day of the week. Some tents require reservations every day, whereas Löwenbräu for example, does not do reservations on the weekend. Some tents like Armbrustschützen Festhalle have first come first serve tables in the large central area in the early session but require reservations in the same area for the evening session. Any tent or area within a tent which does not require reservations is always first come first serve. When they are full, security will make you wait in line at an entrance until they decide it is ok to enter.
- Do you need to know somebody to get reservations?
First of all, reservations are made thru online or fax (yes, fax) applications which anybody can access. That is not to say that a secret inner circle doesn’t exist. I am sure these tents have certain relationships with business partners, long time customers, and connections within family or friends, but I cannot tell you the intricate workings of that. I can only say that as long as you apply early, you should be ok. In the two years I’ve attempted to get reservations, I have had two opposite experiences. In 2017, I got the first reservation I applied for (Pschorr Brauosl). In 2018, I applied to several at the opening of the reservation period and was rejected by many before Armbrustschützen Festhalle finally gave me an offer. Perhaps it had something to do with the weekend I was applying for. 2017 – 2nd weekend, 2018 – 1st weekend.
- Where do you make reservations?
As soon as the calendar turns over for the new year, go to the official Oktoberfest website, and there you will find website addresses for each of the big tents. Go to each tent website and make a spreadsheet with the dates when the application period starts and the specific rules of the tent. Check back regularly as each tent updates their details for the new year.
- When can you make reservations?
Each tent website will give a date when they will start accepting reservation requests. They are all different. But for sure you won’t be able to make reservations online before at least mid-March. Make a note to start updating your spreadsheet and checking carefully starting March 1. I have had one tent tell me that officially they aren’t allowed to give reservations until May. So the ones that take them earlier most likely will tell you that they will inform you of their decision in May. Moral of the story. Apply to every tent at the earliest possible date. Don’t wait for the rejection letter to apply for the next one. You are not committing to accepting the reservation by applying.
itsabrewtifulworld’s Oktoberfest Recommendations
- Don’t plan to go alone.
Beer being the ultimate social drink, this is a no-brainer. Five. That is the bare minimum. Unless you are absolutely the most socially gifted and outgoing person on the planet, a group is essential. The more people you have, the more chance that your group will have of expanding your social network and creating spontaneous unscripted experiences. And it is these experiences that make Oktoberfest so much fun. Generally speaking, you need around ten people to make reservations worthwhile. Although some tents will accept groups of 5 which means you will share a table.
- Plan the group and travel early.
Already be formulating your group in January. Get your plane tickets and lodging by end of February.
- Use Airbnb for finding an apartment or apartments where your group can live together.
For something like Oktoberfest, hotel rooms would be boring. This is a bonding experience for friends and despite the lack of privacy, sharing an apartment where you can cook breakfast together, be constantly joking and looking forward to the day, and then passing out together at the end of the night is a crucial part of the overall enjoyment. Airbnb’s which hold five people, for example, will be expensive as a whole, but divided over the group, it should normally be less then 90 euros per night per person.
WARNING: The one disadvantage of Airbnb is that the owner can cancel your reservation at any time. This can happen if perhaps the person has abused the rules of Airbnb or their neighbors have complained and now the person is forbidden to rent their place out anymore. So keep your eye on your Airbnb account and I would even send the owner a courtesy email once a month letting them know things are still on target for your visit. If they cancel, you will get your money back, but then you will need to immediately find a replacement. I had this experience in 2018. Fortunately everybody in Munich knows there is a helluva lot of money to be made during Oktoberfest for lodgings so new listings are popping up throughout the year.
- You don’t need to stay near Oktoberfest.
Don’t fret yourself if you look at an Airbnb map and the lower prices are outside the city. Munich has a very good tram and metro system and you will never be far from one of them. On two of my trips, we stayed on the east side of the river around the Steinhausen neighborhood and from there it still only takes 15 minutes to Oktoberfest by metro. Here is a map of the places I’ve stayed and it was never difficult to get to Oktoberfest.
- Don’t rely on reservations only
Target getting one reservation and then enjoying the fun of getting into as many of the other tents as you can without one. Security tightness can vary depending on the time of day. Look for the smoking door. Generally I have found that the security person letting the smokers back in is overwhelmed and cannot possibly check every wristband (something you get with a reservation) and they are easily distracted. This has worked on several occasions. After 8pm, it becomes easier to get in as most people are drunk and starting to move outside looking for fresh air and food. Then there are no lines getting in and security won’t be checking wristbands as much.
- If you want beer without a reservation, find a table, be nice to the waitresses, and make friends
Don’t expect to waltz (or sneak) into a tent without a reservation and immediately get a beer. Even in the tents which don’t require a reservation, to get a beer, you should have a table. If you are lucky, polite, and get a waitress with a flexible spirit, she will bring you one if you stand to the side near an occupied table. Otherwise, now is the time to start wandering around looking for half empty tables and turning on the charm for the current occupants. Make friends, ask if your group can join the table. Unfortunately not everybody is welcoming you to their hard-earned table, but persistence is the key. I have never failed to go thru a tent and not have at least one beer.
- Dress up (speaking here to guys)
The best 160 euros you will ever spend in your life will be for a new set of Oktoberfest duds. Yes you can find cheaper lederhosen at various tourist shops. But I prefer to shop HERE. Don’t go in a tent with cargo shorts and a t-shirt. I am not sure I have ever seen a woman in a tent without a dirndl, but there are definitely some cheap dudes out there.
The Ultimate Oktoberfest Weekend
Here it is, the formula I have used for the last two years and as long as I can make it to Oktoberfest, there is no need to change this formula.
- Arrive early on Friday, go shopping for your Oktoberfest outfit or get dressed up in it. Then go to as many Beer Halls as you can around Munich. Make a dinner reservation early in the day before you are too drunk to do it later on.
- Saturday is Oktoberfest day. On the opening Saturday drinking starts at noon but tent reservations start at 11:00am. This is because you have to wait for the official opening the tap ceremony. That will be the most frustrating hour of your life. This is why I prefer the 2nd weekend when I don’t remember having to wait.
- Sunday is site-seeing day. Get out and get some exercise. We like to take hikes. There are many beautiful places within a 2 hour train ride. Neuschwanstein Castle, Salzburg, Oberammergau, etc.
Which brings me to….
Oktoberfest Weekend 2018
There is only one way to start an Oktoberfest weekend and that is with the ceremonial liter on the Viktualien Markt. I could try to explain the pure joy and electricity flowing thru my veins the moment I arrive at this market, but you simply have to experience it yourself.
And the only way to follow up the celebratory welcome liter is to drink several more liters at the many beer halls around Munich. Schneider Brauhaus and Hofbrauhaus are convenient to the Viktaulien Markt and the lederhosen shop on Tal (street name). For two years running, these were the first two beer halls after Viktualien Markt. Perhaps in 2020, we will need to mix it up. On Beer Hall Day, you have a chance to mix it up a bit with the flavors. At Oktoberfest it is all Helles, all the time. A Hofbrau Dunkel keeps you honest.
On Saturday morning, we had an 11:00 reservation at Armbrustschützen Festhalle, a Paulaner tent. We had the early shift which meant an agonizing wait of one hour before the taps were opened at noon. However, this gave me ample time to swap our table which was cramped in a corner with an annoying beam in our way to another table whose group was late showing up. Another itsabrewtifulworld word to the wise… don’t show up late!
We were joined by an old high school/university friend and his group. Beer was flowing and despite still having a table against the back wall, it was great to hear stories of the college days I have forgotten. Deep down though, us veterans knew that the party really starts when the reservation ends, because that means one thing.
It’s Löwenbräu tent time.
With no reservations on the weekend, Löwenbräu is a madhouse and gets my vote for the best party tent. However, it does take some skill to beat the lines, but we aren’t just any out-of-town inexperienced hicks. We played the distracted security guard at the smoking area like well-trained Mossad agents outside a tent full of Nazi war criminals.
We continued to hone our skills at another Paulaner tent and a Spaten tent.
On Hangover Sunday, the plan was to take a train to the cute Bavarian village of Oberammergau, ride the cable car to the top of the Laber, have lunch, and hike down to the Ettal Abbey.
Oberammergau is known for its wood carvings, once-a-decade Passion Play, and lüftlmalerie on its buildings. I suspect it was a bit too cutesy after a day of hard playing at Oktoberfest. We strolled thru town like a grizzled group of weary gunfighters, the two-hour train ride leaving the dry taste of prairie dust in our mouths. We barely raised an eyebrow to the beautiful frescoes. The mountain was calling and on the other side of that mountain, German abbey beer.
The hike was entirely downhill for 5km. While this seemed like a good idea, the lack of dynamite views on the way down more or less made it an exercise in patience. Sometimes patience is rewarded and when we came out on the backside of the abbey, we were there to receive it.
Ettal is a Benedictine Abbey founded in 1330. The beautiful baroque appearance of the abbey today is the result of reconstruction in the mid-1700’s after a fire destroyed the original buildings. It is still active today with around 50 monks and it has one key onsite activity which benefited our visit, brewing.
When Oktoberfest 2018 ended for us, you could tell that some of us had collectively lost a step. Maybe it was age, familiarity, been-there done-that, who knows. But you could feel the mood was different than in past years. It was an amazing time. Let’s not sound like spoiled brats. We have lived once in a lifetime experiences for four years running.
When January 2019 rolled around and I habitually started to take roll call for Oktoberfest 2019, it was clear that our hearts (and perhaps wallets) were not in it. I haven’t thought about it much during the year. It has been a year of changes for me personally. But when this weekend finally arrived and the pictures started to pop up on my Instagram from people attending Oktoberfest this year and then those stupid Facebook memories reminding me of what I was doing this weekend last year, I felt the loss. I felt the loss. But in that loss, that gut-wrenching, nauseating pain is justification that we did the right thing. We will remember this feeling. And in 2020, Munich will again be OUR city, and Oktoberfest will be OUR party. And you are all invited.
Viktaulien Markt 2018 vs. 2017