5 Things I Learned On My Solo Trip to Oktoberfest
Destination: Munich, Germany
Traveling is at the top of my list of passions. Many of us don’t have the luxury of traveling due to obligations, finances, and dare I say it, fear. I’ll get back to the fear thing in a second.
In the last four years, I’ve become quite the beer enthusiast. Whenever I go to a bar, their craft lagers, ales, stouts, porters, and malts hold most of my attention and inebriation. It would only be a matter of time before I got wind of the largest beer festival in the world — Oktoberfest.
My thirst for knowledge, and my insatiable curiosity led me down a path of endless research. I asked if anyone had ever been to the city of Munich, where the festival takes place. I got a lot of nos. I may live in California, but I’m from Detroit. Many people from my birthplace don’t travel outside of the city, let alone the country. To top it off, I’m also a black American. Outside of my black college friends, few black Americans — that I know of — travel abroad. But, my black millennial peers are changing that.
I asked my mother. She’s been to Germany several times on business, but never to Munich. She’s experienced smaller volksfests throughout Germany, but not the big daddy. I went on to ask a few of my coworkers, whom all travel quite often, and only one of them had been there. He satisfied my curiosity about the beer. He told me it was delicious, plentiful, and seemingly endless. That was enough for me to say, “That’s it! I’m going.”
Typically when you travel abroad, the next question that people ask is, “Who are you going with?” To which I happily reply, “ Myself.” I get all kinds of crazy stares , and don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve heard “You’re nuts!” “You’re brave” “I couldn’t do that” and “That’s scary!” I travel solo 90 percent of the time, so I was well prepared for the reactions that came my way before my voyage to Germany.
I mentioned fear earlier in this long introduction (I promise they won’t all be this long). Fear, from flying to terrorism, plays a huge part in some of the reasons why people don’t travel often. But the more I talk to people, the more I realize that the biggest fear that holds people back from traveling, is doing it alone.
I get it, I do, but you’ll miss out on some great experiences if you wait around to travel with someone. And now, without further ado, here are 6 things that I learned on my solo trip to Oktoberfest.
1. A Trusting Public Transit System
Most of Europe is renowned for its effectient public transportation. It’s safe to say that Germany has one of the world’s best — and cleanist — public transportation systems. When I arrived to Munich (München), my first task was to figure out how to get to the center of the city. At the airport, just before stepping oustide, I noticed a line full of people standing in front of three automated ticket machines. Like the tourist that I am, I followed suit, waiting far too long for people to figure out how to use the machines. I’ve been to Europe before so I’m familiar with the machines. I even used the euro I had from my last trip to Europe to purchase a one-way ticket to the city for 11 euros. I took the S-Bahn, S1, line. After I printed my ticketed, I strolled down to the subway platform, and to my surprise, there were also ticket machines there. That’s right, I wasted twenty minutes buying a ticket at the airport, when I could’ve purchased it right where the train picks you up. What came next truly blew me away.
Normally, when you buy a metro ticket, you slide it into a machine, or scan it so that you can get access to the train. Not here, I learned that Germany, or at least in Munich, has an honor system. They trust that their citizens have paid the cost to ride the metro, and I couldn’t believe it. If I were you, I wouldn’t abuse this privilege because every once in a while, a ticket collector will approach you, asking for your ticket.
2. The 6 Brews Are Not Warm
One of the most common misconceptions about the beer of Oktoberfest — according to Americans — is that the beer is warm. As a real life experiencer, the beer is not warm. It’s cold enough to enjoy, and before you’ve taken your last gulp, the warmest it’ll be is that sweet room temparature.
Fun fact: Only six breweries can produce beer for Oktoberfest. The six are:
- Staatliches Hofbräu
My personal favorite was the brew from Hofbräu. It had a delicious bitter taste with a clean finish. As far as color, it had a fine crisp golden appearance topped off with a 5-inch white head.
3. The Hostel Situation
I’m a fan of hostels. They’re cheap, convienant, and the employees are usually nice and helpful. When I go hostel shopping, I look for the ones that are close to or in the city. In Munich they had several hostels located in the center of the city. So, I had to do further research. That meant checking out reviews, photos, costs, and websites. After all of that research, I found a real beauty. Nestled smack dead in the center of Munich was a hostel called “Wombats.” It was the most modern hostel that I have ever laid my head, AND they had a bar. As far as costs go, I only spent $220 for 3 nights, which was a steal considering that Oktoberfest was a 14 minute walk from it. I arrived around 9am, and I couldn’t check in until 3pm. Luckily, they had a room for people’s belongings until you were able to check-in. They also had a common area that had these massive couches, and a shelf filled with books to read. It’s the perfect place for those who can’t check-in just yet. I, personally, slept on a couch until check-in.
Once I checked in, I took a nap, a long, long nap. The beds were rather comfy, and I didn’t wake up until around 10pm. Curse you, jetlag. After I woke up, I discovered the bar. It was filled with young folks around my age, having a great time, drinking lots of beer, dancing, and shooting pool. The alcohol was cheap and strong. The drinks were between 3 to 6 euros, with the exception of a few. Since the booze were dirt cheap, everyone bought drinks for one another. It was sublime, and it was a great way to meet people from all over the world.
Wombats is a hostel chain. There’s one in Berlin, Budapest, London, Vienna, and as mentioned, Munich.
4. Bavarian Culture
Bavaria is one of the sixteen federal states of Germany, and it’s the largest. Munich is the capital and biggest city in Bavaria. During Oktoberfest, men and women slip into their traditional Bavarian attire. The men wear lederhosens, and the women wear dirndls. Today, they are considered folk costumes, and they are only worn during the festival. You can go to Oktoberfest without wearing a Bavarian costume, but where’s the fun in that. I bought a lederson for $120, and paid an extra $20 for a matching hat. That’s a bit pricey, but the costume is made up of real leather. Wearing that alone should get you in the spirit to slam down several liters of beer amongst the Germans. As far as the dirndl goes, I’ll give you a few tips. The bow on the apron indicates a woman’s marital status. If it’s tied on the left side, the lady is single and ready to mingle. If it’s tied on the right, the lady is either married or in a relationship. If the bow is tied in the middle, she is a virgin. Occasionally, you’ll notice a woman with a bow that’s tied on her back. That means she is either a waitress or a widow.
If you happen to not have a Bavarian costume, there are a ton of shops that sell them during Oktoberfest.
5. The Fourteen Tents of Wiesn
In case you were wondering, the proper name for Oktoberfest is Wiesn. If you want to blend in with the locals, you should try to call it that. Wiesn has 14 tents — and I’m not talking about your tiny camping tents — that are massive. I’d compare them to warehouses. Each one is ran by a family, club, or business. All of the tents have a theme, brass band, and one of the six permitted beers. Each of the tents have a theme or day. They range from Gay Day to cross-bowing, and one tent is dedicated to wine. The tents are usually crowded, and standing room is law if you can’t find a table. You must be seated at a table to order be served some booze. When I went in the morning, there were open tables everywhere, but as the day went on, it was nearly impossible to find a table. Now, if you’re solo like me, or in a small group, your chances of finding a table are much higher. Otherwise, you’d have to either make a reservation, or wait until people leave the table. You have to be quick on your feet because it’ll be a fight to the death to snag it.
Try to visit all of them, and figure out which one you’d like to hang out in. If you’re a tourist — like me — you’ll end up having the most fun in the Hofbräu and Hacker tents. You’ll find a bunch of internationals mixed with the locals.
If I dived further into the details of each tent, this article would turn into a novel.
Overall, I had a blast. I made some great short and long-term friendships, and I gained the experience of a lifetime. Next time, though, I’d love to go with a few friends to Wiesn. It’s the perfect to travel abroad to with frends.
5 seconds after I took this photo a woman came up to me, and punched my phone out of my hand. She thought I was taking a picture of her. All I could do was laugh it off.