Today we welcome our friend, Mike Theodore, as he takes us on a trip down memory lane to his 2014 two-week trip through Europe. During that time, he was lucky enough to attend the authentic real-deal Oktoberfest in Munich. Read on to hear about it and see some fabulous photography from his sister, Meghan Theodore, and friend, Tyler Mercer.
Wiesn (Oktoberfest in Munich)
As summer fades to fall, the seasoned beer drinker knows it’s time to grab the flannel and cords (maybe that’s just me) and hit an Oktoberfest celebration. But local Chicago fests barely scratch the surface of the true Bavarian experience. Last fall, I traveled with 14 eager beer drinkers from Chicago to celebrate the 181st Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.
Oktoberfest—or Wiesn to locals— started in 1810 to celebrate Bavarian Prince Ludwig’s wedding. And more than 200 years later, the party continues and now incorporates Germany’s unity day. The 2015 fest opened this past weekend and it’s reported that happy beer drinkers gulped more than one million liters of beer in the fest’s first two days.
If you enjoy great German beer, a festive atmosphere and crowds (don’t underestimate this last part), hopefully BTL’s overview encourages you to visit Bavaria in fall 2016.
The Tents (Schützenfestzelt)
Oktoberfest features 14 tents, which serve as the anchors of the festival. These massive tents house the majority of drinking, eating and live music. Each tent has a distinct atmosphere and beer sponsor. Some tents are more traditional and attract the local crowd, whereas others have a more modern and international feel. Consult Oktoberfest.de to determine which tent is most appropriate for you and your group. This decision likely will have the biggest impact on your time at the fest.
We were seated in Schützenfestzelt, a tent that was re-built in 2004, holds 5,500 and features delicious Löwenbräu. Schützenfestzelt is billed as “pleasant and friendly” and certainly lived to its billing while still providing a raucous atmosphere, especially as the afternoon wore on (go figure). It featured live music, enticing nearly non-stop sing-alongs of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ The Time of My Life and traditional German songs.
Our group entered the scene early in the afternoon without knowing what to expect. Inside Schützenfestzelt, we found an already joyous crowd. After finding our host who arranged our reservation, we sat down at our table, not quite ready to join the rest of the crowd in the tradition of standing on the benches. But soon, well, after we had our first stein in hand, we quickly assimilated into the scene and joined the standing and singing. After our first liter, we met our table neighbors, who were a group of all-male partiers from England and proved to be big drinkers and good friends.
Our table reservation came with a ticket for hendl, Bavarian-style roasted chicken. And here’s where some may say our group erred in judgement. After a few liter steins, we traded our hendl tickets to our dirndl-clad waitress for another round of Löwenbräu. The hangover may have said otherwise, but I’ll stand behind this decision one year removed. Side note: Our English neighbors, as veteran drinkers, redeemed the hendl tickets. Those smart Brits.
The Beer (Löwenbräu)
All beer served at the festival is of traditional Bavarian style and must adhere to the purity standards of the region. Each of the 14 tents features one type of beer, so do your research and plan accordingly. Our tent featured Löwenbräu’s Oktoberfest brew. Liter steins of beer average around 10 Euro.
Löwenbräu dates back at least 600 years and was established prior to the Bavarian purity standards (reinheitsgebot), which limits the ingredients to only water, barley and hops.
Perhaps the only way to continue the excitement and happiness of an afternoon in the tent is to stroll the five-acre festival grounds and ride the assortment of amusement and carnival rides. Rides are pay-as-you go and feature everything from a five-ring Olympic-themed roller coaster to carnival-style swings.
Our group fractured at this point in the afternoon with the more adventurous seeking as many rides as possible to challenge on a stomach full of Löwenbräu. There was no fear in losing the beer buzz obtained in the tent while waiting in ride lines, as Oktoberfest staggers outside bars and vendors throughout the park.
As night set, the rides gave a beautiful vantage point of the sun setting on a fantastic day of drinking and friends. As night came, the fractured group serendipitously reformed at a pizza joint (which, of course, served beer) across the street from the fest. You can take the American beer drinker out of America…
Halloween this is not. The Germans don’t mess around when it comes to dressing the part. If you plan to attend, be advised most attendees will be clad in traditional Bavarian fare. If you want to join the tradition, don’t go cheap. Lederhosen that pass at your local American Oktoberfest will stand out against the dapper locals in Munich. Our group did not partake with the lederhosen and dirndl but were still welcomed by our fellow drinkers in Schützenfestzelt.
There’s plenty of opportunity at the fest to add or build to your Oktoberfest wardrobe, with vendors selling Alpine hats, Bavarian-flag themed sunglasses and other souvenirs. Our group (the male contingent) was quite taken by the sunglasses. Or maybe it was the beautiful German saleswoman in her authentic dirndl. She even managed to sell sunglasses to those already wearing sunglasses. And it wasn’t that sunny. I left Schützenfestzelt and Munich with a wool green Alpine hat, sunglasses and great beer-soaked memories.