Where the beer flows like wine. Now that I’ve, “been-there, done-that,” it’s time to talk about it. You might like to go. I’d even encourage it.
It was initially a two week wedding celebration for royal local. Ludwig I, in 1810. They had so much fun, they decided, why not do it again next year on the anniversary. That was so much fun, they said, “let’s do it again next year!”
More than two hundred years later they are still partying. Apparently they really like Ludwig (Lud vig) the first. Minus some hiccups here or there. Maybe a war or two. It’s the largest folk and beer festival in the world. Some seven and a half million litres of beer is consumed over seventeen or eighteen days.
There are rides. Not that we went on any. There are games. Not that I played any. You can bring the kids. If you’re crazy, and don’t like beer. If they are sixteen or older they can partake in the beer focal point. Beer or wine legal age of consumption here is sixteen. It’s eighteen for hard alcohol.
There is an app, you should download it. If you can, get a German SIM card or a European SIM card. It makes getting around the festival a breeze. They give you up to the minute updates on the capacity of all the tents. Did I mention how crazy and packed it gets?
Except for the wine tent and the old Cultural part of the festival — the yellow tents in the bottom left corner. The party is tame in these places but I had my favourite beer in the old cultural part. I don’t even know what type of Hacker Pschorr it was, just that it was dark and delicious.
CASH ONLY. Stock up on Euros. The food is cheaper outside of the tents. That is a dilemma. Most tents will have limited food options. At a certain point in the day you will want to make camp at a table or you’ll struggle to find a new seat. They won’t serve you if you don’t have a seat. When you do sit down, someone is at your table instantly. It’s like the Butler from Mr. Deeds.
You could send someone out for food I suppose but we never attempted this. It’s crowded. The roast chicken is a staple you should try. Considering the quantity made, it was surprisingly good.
Check the tables, most have reservations marked. Depending on the tent. You can sit there until a reservation comes in and don’t worry they will let you know if you overstay your welcome. All the tents have toilets (bathrooms/washrooms) inside. If you’re outside on a patio you’ll have to find one nearby (good use for the app). Some of them both inside and out, have a donation system I couldn’t quite figure out. Sometimes there was someone at the door, other times not. Keep some change on you all the same.
You will make friends because all the tables are huge. We met 3 Italians the one evening, only one of whom could handle the beer. Italians to the left of me. German’s to the right of me. Some Audi executives down from Stuttgart. It was a good way to learn about different cultures in one place. Also apparently many Germans are not that fond of Italians…
To Tip, Not to Tip
I wish I could be Mr. Pink. I still tip in Canada/US what is culturally acceptable. Obviously I do believe people in the service industry should be paid a living wage. I’m in the service industry. I just think it’s lost its original intent. That is, to reward excellent service. Or in some cases to let someone know the service was not good. Do you ever really change what you tip though?
Yes, it’s bullshit in places where they can pay staff less than minimum wage. That’s not fair. It’s also not fair that the kitchen staff is lucky to get a tiny percentage of tips. It’s a team effort. If the food sucks, I won’t be happy.
I think the answer is a service charge. That way everyone is clear. They do that all over Europe instead but they let you know that it’s going to be YY% or Z.ZZ dollars per person in advance. Fine. It eliminates the awkwardness of, ‘well what do I tip here?’
When I hear stories of waiters/waitresses working 2 weeks a year at Oktoberfest. Then being able to take the rest of the year off. Yes, I’m jealous but also, how does this happen? Why is this culturally acceptable? Yes, numerous people told me this happens.
End rant. You can watch this clip from Reservoir Dogs instead, because it’s hilarious.
I make a habit of looking up tipping culture when I travel other places and Germany remains a mystery. A lot of people say you tip, others don’t. One German told you you have to, or it would be rude. It only has to be a euro or two though ever. Another Bavarian told me you only need to tip at Oktoberfest well on the first one and you’re good from there.
Beer is already expensive at Oktoberfest: €11.50 a litre. 30% markup from a litre of beer outside the festival. Buy two and give them €25 is apparently acceptable. Some waiters/waitresses will deliver almost 2000 beers a day! There is nothing more impressive than watching a tiny person carry 8 steins of beer at a time. I mean I can cough up an extra euro or two just to witness this feat of strength.
It’s not a hard 15% or 18% or 20% like it is in most Canadian or American cities. It’s closer to 10% in Germany nearest I can tell.
In Italy most people are fine rounding up, maybe a few extra euros. There are tourist traps to be mindful of though (like asking for a tip after a service charge). In Malta, you can or can’t. Up to you but don’t feel obligated. In Korea, they will be insulted if you leave a tip.
Two Brewery Favs
We tried pretty much every tent and pretty much every beer. Two favourites quickly emerged for me and I would go to tents that serve these beers:
- Augustiner (oldest brewery in Munich, monks making beer since 1328)
- Hacker-Pschorr (making beer since 1417)
I highly recommend Hacker-Festzelt (or Festhalle?) and Augustiner-Festhalle tents for this reason. They were both top recommendations from a Bavarian friend. They feel a little more authentic. Shützen-Festzelt was a close third for me.
I had a blast shutting down Hacker Festhalle. At a certain point in the evening, everyone is standing on the benches. Precarious, given that most people have had a lot of beer. I didn’t see any fights break out, but apparently it does happen. The band plays songs, many of them in English. Many of them classics. It’s so loud you can’t have a conversation, so you just drink and shout in people’s ears every once and a while.
You will not be able to get Que Sera Sera out of your head for days.
The last song of the night appears to always be John Denver’s Country Road. Be warned, once it’s finished the band shuts things down quick. The lights turn down, and everyone dashes for the door. The wait staff storm through like a parade of elephants. Wiping the tables down with buckets of hot soapy water and flipping all the benches up.
I’ve never seen such ruthless efficiency. Finish your beer fast. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay in the tent.
If you like beer you have to go to Oktoberfest. Now that I’ve been I’m good, I don’t have to go back. It was an incredible experience but it’s a bit too much. By Bordeaux I’d come down with something and I rarely get sick.
If you can’t make it, there is always Kitchener, ON. I guess…
- Befriend a Bavarian that can show you the ropes.
- Look people in the eye when you cheers/prost.
- Bring a good amount of cash, it’s all cash.
- Have a big breakfast and make sure you eat during the day.
- Download the app and familiarize yourself with the toilet facilities
- Dress warmly in layers, even if it’s warm during the day, it will cool down at night.
- Pace yourself. It is not Coors light, you cannot drink German beer all day and not feel it. I recommend ordering water between beers or with your beers. Water is always extra but worth it.
- If you’re going in a large group (8 people or more), make a table reservation no later than January. Preferably December the year before. As early as possible. German’s take Oktoberfest very seriously. Many go every year. The majority of ‘tourists’ are actually from other parts of Germany.
- If you’re a smaller group, go early to scout out non-reserved tables. It gets jam packed in the tents. Uncomfortably packed if you have issues with crowds.
- Things shut down surprisingly early at most tents. 10:30PM, save two that will keep the party going til 12:30AM. The Weinzelt (Wine Tent) and Käfer Wiesn-Shänke. If you want to stay out late, go to those tents early. You won’t get in if you hang out somewhere else until close.
- Learn the words to John Denver’s ‘Country Road.’ it’s the last song sung in the tents every night.
- I would not recommend the Wine Tent (having been). Unless you like whites, especially off-dry to sweet ones. It’s expensive and completely different from the other tents. Low key if you want that kind of thing.
- Pace yourself. Yes I know I already said this. It’s worth repeating. Have fun.
- Go to Bayern Munich game if you can. I’m said we missed one.