Our newest adventure started off in Munich for the Christmas markets. Munich is definitely in the Christmas spirit with gluwein, bratwurst, roasted nuts, crib scene figures for sale, and the stores all decorated for the holidays! Did I mention that the weather was cold and wet? No snow in sight in the city but we were told the mountains have enough snow for skiing.
THEN it was off to Munich! We decided to take the train, Deutsche Bahn. Trains are, after all, more climate conscience and scenic than flying. We bought the ticket a few months ago and we had a seat reservation from Essen to Munich.
When you think of Germany, what do you think? Efficient, great engineering, cars, beer. You certainly expect the train system to work, right? Let’s just say, DB did not have a good day on Monday! Our train arrived in Essen, missing half the scheduled cars (about 8 cars total missing), including the one we had a seat reservation on. The DB conductor said, “Sit anywhere”.
“But there are no seats” …
Oh, well”, he shrugged!
We found seats for about 2 hours before two people showed up with reservations in those seats. We gathered up our backpacks and joined the gaggle of people standing in the aisles. About this time, the train arrived at Frankfurt Airport station; announcements told passengers (in German, of course) to use a different train to Munich and what tracks alternative trains could be found on.
Mark and I decided to get off the train and see what we could find. I went to visit the ticket office and managed to find 2 seat reservations on the 2:38 PM train in about an hour. Nope! The ticket agent discovered that train was cancelled! Like I said, DB was having a bad train day!
We grabbed the next train to Munich with no reservations and managed to find 2 unassigned seats to Munich and chatted with two businessmen – a German and a Belgian. The German said DB doesn’t do very well in the opinion of Germans. It’s late, equipment problems, rude employees. If Germany is serious about climate change like they profess, DB needs to get their act together in increase train use and reduce flying and cars!
We arrived in Munich only about 1 hour late so all was well.
One note … we stayed in a Sheraton Westpark in Munich using points. Great hotel in a convenient location. For the first time ever in 29 years of visiting Germany, the breakfast breadbasket did not have any German brotchen! These are yummy crispy rolls and we have NEVER not seen them on the breakfast table. They’ve been on small B&B tables, brand name hotels, campground bakeries. What was I supposed to eat my cheese and ham on for breakfast??
Jutta showed up on Thursday after work in Munich. We spent Friday afternoon at Marstall tent enjoying the food and beer. A table of French guys near us provided the entertainment as we watched them break 2 glasses (one handle and on big chip out of the top of another one); got told to stop after they danced on the table top – not allowed! They also spilled a glass of beer on the shoes of a Lufthansa flight attendant and she was NOT happy! She flies to Denver all the time and had just flown back from DC that morning before coming to Oktoberfest.
We had so much fun last year in Munich at Oktoberfest that we wanted to go back this year and Bettina from Heidelberg agreed to get the table reservation. We couldn’t convince anyone else from Fort Collins to come along but Jutta from Essen, Germany, met us there. (We met Jutta in Tanzania at dinner one night before our safari and kept in touch.)
To reserve a table, you have to reserve the full table of 10. The reservations are free but you have to buy coupons for 2 beers and a chicken for each of 10 people. We were at the Pshorr Braurosl. Besides us and Jutta, Bettina and Michelle came down from Heidelberg, making 5 at the table. Four “students” joined us from Cal State – Fullerton. The “students” are not students any more. They’ve all graduated and pay their own bills. One has a Mom who works at Fullerton with exchange programs which is where the connection comes in. I think they had fun! They danced on the benches, anyway, and enjoyed the chicken and drank the beer.
We’ve already made a reservation at Hotel Uhland for next year for 3 nights. (It’s cancellable.) We love this hotel! Susan stayed there in 1982 on a trip to Munich. It’s about 2 blocks to the Oktoberfest entrance, nice people, good breakfast, and a dog to pet. This year we met Eddie, a big fluffy dog who leans to get more pets.
If you’re interested in going to Oktoberfest, think about going the first week before it gets crazy; avoid weekends, and book a table for an afternoon session which is 11:30 – 4:30. Afternoons are way calmer and much quieter. Of course, it helps to have a German speaking person to try to get a table. If there aren’t many people in your group, you can usually find some seats by just walking in. We (2 of us) had no trouble finding seats at Marstall tent one afternoon.
After the tent and beer, it was game and ride time! Oktoberfest is like a REALLY big fair with lots of rides, including upside down, spinning rides. Why anyone wants to ride the upside-down ones after a beer or two is beyond me. Mark rode two rides with Bettina and Jutta, Mark and Susan rode a small roller coaster.
Mark and I did some sightseeing in Munich before Oktoberfest. The weather was perfect with clear blue skies!
On the way back to the Hotel Uhland, Mark asked two guys if they needed directions since the guys stopped at a corner to discuss the map on their phone. One guy said “This is good. We have an American guy telling two German guys how to find Oktoberfest!” Yes, they needed directions at the messy intersection.
Germans think it’s a good idea to let people shoot fake guns after consuming large quantities of alcohol.
- This is Mark’s version of Oktoberfest – I haven’t read Susan’s account. This will be fun to see how we match up on our stories!
- Most of the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
- You will see duplicate photos from Susan’s version – she used mine
Mark’s abridged version of Oktoberfest
Drink, drink, drink, eat a chicken; drink, drink, play carnival games; drink, drink, eat a brat, go to bed
Mark’s full version of Oktoberfest
I knew this day wouldn’t be like any other day in Munich – it was sunny! We had pretty much a week of cold and damp weather before Thursday when our Oktoberfest reservations rolled around. Susan and I went over early to the Oktoberfest grounds (no, not to drink) to buy a souvenir stein that our lovely German friends were gracious enough to take back to Heidelberg for us. We will recover it, along with some clothes we leave in Heidelberg, next summer sometime. We, along with the girl selling the stein, about had a heart attack, when the opening bell screeched at 10 a.m. to announce that the grounds were officially open!
We had a reservation for 30 people at the Pschorr Braurosl tent. Due to unforeseen issues, some people couldn’t make it. We had 22 people at our 3 tables – 15 Americans and 7 Germans. That meant we had an additional 8 * 2 = 16 beer tickets to use. We wondered if they would go to waste but any guesses if they went to waste? We added a couple of extra people the night before at Schneider Weiss, Dan & Debbie from Minnesota, to join us at Oktoberfest. It was easy to pick them up, we just mentioned beer! OK, they are friends of Chris and Janet and we knew they’d join us but they were new to our group.
We (the Americans) arrived at the tent at 11:30 and found our table with no problem. The only issue we ran into that day was our 3 tables were spilt between 2 waitresses. One waitress had 2 tables and the other waitress had 1 table. John committed a mortal sin and ordered his first beer from waitress number 1 and his second beer from waitress number 2. John was summarily berated, spanked, and given a wedgie by waitress #1. OK, I am a bit foggy on the wedgie. We were then told to order only from the table where you ordered your first beer. Fear of the wedgie, we didn’t make the same mistake as John.
Our German friends, led by Bettina, made it to the tent around 11:45. What took them so long? They had been in the Lowenbrau tent queuing up! The roar of the Lion was the giveaway they were in the wrong tent. At 11:30, BTW, the drinking hadn’t started! Not for us at least, but maybe the Germans started early!?! If you are keeping score, it’s Americans 1 – Germans 0.
Being the afternoon session, the tent starts off quiet and is not very crowded. As the afternoon wore on, the tent started to get busier and noisier. People in our group moved around to different tables so people had a chance to speak with everyone during the session and spend time with each other. No fights started in the tent, so that was good.
As the session got later in the afternoon, people started ordering their chickens (Remember, you get a ½ chicken with your voucher). Here’s how they cook all those chickens. This was one of maybe 6 stations that just cooked chickens.
People also consumed more beer as the day progressed – shocker. The operation to clean, fill, and serve the beer is impressive. Again, this was just one of several stations in the tent.
Where would we be without the vendors? People came by, selling pretzels, hats, t-shirts, snuff, and desserts. At some point Justin decided he need a Chicken hat and, yes, the legs do move! The hat made it around the table with plenty of photos. I believe I have a video of people wearing the hat and dancing. If I find it, I will post it! Justin also decided that I needed a traditional Bavarian hat, so he bought me a hat. The hat immediately made me more dashing and I immediately became fluent in German – “Ich kenne diese Leute nicht, sie haben mich einfach gebeten, mit ihnen zu sitzen. Es tat mir leid für sie, also sagte ich ja.”
Thanks, Justin, for the hat. I got a lot of compliments on the hat.
Franziska (Bettina’s daughter) bought some tobacco snuff and peppermint snuff; as they say, when in Rome…. I tried both and can attest both open your sinuses. I did have peppermint several more times that day from unknown Germans.
Fast forward to the end of the session … you can guess a lot of beer was consumed during the afternoon. Justin commented that he knew, now, how all the people we had seen over the last several nights who were passed out, were puking, or were so drunk they could barely stand could reach that state. He said “if you were at Oktoberfest from beginning to end, you could be pretty drunk”. Enough said.
The trumpeter played his song to conclude the session and at that point people scattered like cockroaches when the light comes on. We didn’t see most of our group until the next morning. We aren’t sure what happened. We ended up with our German friends and going to the carnival part of the Oktoberfest – great!
Here’s the list of games I played and the results (Remember, this is my memory of Oktoberfest).
Strongman Game (think sledgehammer and bell) – 3 attempts
- Swing and a miss – I had that hammer cocked over my head for a good 2 minutes (I swear) and the whole time I am thinking “Don’t miss the target. Don’t miss the target. Don’t miss the target – shit!”
- Rang that bell – I won a little horn.
- Not sure, I swear I hit the bell again.
Shooting game – yep, my comment at the beginning about Germans and shooting after drinking – I had 12 shots. These guns shoot BB’s, but haven’t they seen Christmas Story and the Red Rider BB gun?
- Summary – I hit pieces of the target, but instead of moving on to the next target, I just kept shooting at the same target until it shattered. If you’re confused about why I was confused about the rules of the game, read the part above about drinking for 5½ hours. That said, I hit 10 at least parts of 10 of 12, if that counts.
Franziska did the Strongman Game and hit the bell 3 times in a row! I think she even knocked the bell off on her third try. Her and her dad, Hermann, blasted most of the targets. BTW, they showed up later than everyone else to the Pschorr-Braurosl tent so they had an unfair advantage on me.
I’ll give this round to the Germans. Americans 1 – Germans 1
After games of chance our German friends did some “traditional German rides”. One was for 2 people where you stood in the cage and tried to get the cage to go in a circle. They also rode a ride that went in circles; see my FAQ page about vomit-inducing rides.
I rode one “traditional German” ride. The only way to describe it is spinning top, upside down, without the point. The object is spin around and try to stay on as long as possible. The announcer called for people 45 and over to do the ride. Bettina and I both rode it. I didn’t win that one, but didn’t vomit either. So, a win in my book!
Since everyone was getting a bit parched by this time, we all stopped at the Champagne booth to have a glass of bubbly. At that point our German friends left and we met up with John, Deanna, Hans, his cousin Mark, and Mark’s friends at a wine tent. The wine tents are much smaller than a beer tent. Weinzelt seats 2,500 people. We had the table until 8:30 and had a little wine.
At some point we got separated from Mark and his friends, but found them again at the Spaten tent around 9:00. Of course, we heard “Sweet Caroline” while we were there. The Spaten tent was fairly crowded and noisy. It was fun as we got to meet and talk with new German friends. We stayed there until it closed at 10:30. I bought a brat on the way back to the hotel and went to bed.
I must give Dave and Justin the award for Best spirit of Oktoberfest!
BTW, no beer tickets went unused.
I want to thank everyone who came to Oktoberfest to celebrate the start of our Around the World adventure. It means everything to us to have such good friends to celebrate with. Thank you again!
As Bettina says “same tent, same time next year”. Are you in!?!
History of Oktoberfest
You can thank Prince Ludwig for the annual party that hosts more than 6 million visitors a year. It all started when Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on 12th October 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) in honor of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n”. (http://www.muenchen.de/int/en/events/oktoberfest/history.html)
Afternoon vs. Evening Session
If you have “Ein Prosit” or “Sweet Caroline” running through your head for a few days, that means you attended the afternoon session (Ein Prosit) or the evening session (Sweet Caroline) at Oktoberfest. If you have both running through your head, you probably had too much to drink at Oktoberfest. BTW, the bands don’t play “Ein Prosit” because they like it; they are required to play it every 15-20 minutes to increase the drinking of beer and, hence, the sale of beer. It works!
What is the difference between afternoon session and evening session ?
You could say night and day. ? The afternoon session is what you would expect – calmer, quieter, and plenty of German music. The afternoon session starts at 11:30 a.m. and last until 4:45 p.m. During the afternoon session, it is easier to find a table, especially if you have a large group and no reservation (I will talk about table reservations later). You will see people of all ages in the tent from school children to senior citizens. If you worried that the afternoon session will be like watching paint dry, don’t worry. By 2 PM or so, most people are feeling no pain and singing to the songs regardless whether they know the words or not. We saw one guy toss his lunch at 2 p.m. inside the Lowenbrau tent … sweet!
The evening session is a complete flip from the afternoon. The session starts at 5:00 and last until 10:30 p.m. The tents close at 10:30 p.m. You will hear very few traditional German songs sang during the evening session. You will hear “Ein Prosit” once in a while, but no need to play it, everyone is drinking!!!
Evening sessions can be very difficult to even get into the tent and these tents seat 6,000 – 10,000 people in EACH tent. There are 14 tents in total. They will “close” a tent when it hits capacity. As people leave, others can enter. Trying to find seating for a large group (i.e. >5) is tough. Did I tell that you need a seat to drink a beer? Yep, no seat, no beer. No self-service either.
Tip: Get to the evening session early (e.g. 5) or late (9:00). If the main floor is packed, go upstairs and look for a table. If the weather is good, head outside to the tent’s beer garden. They seat another 3,000 – 5,000 people outside at each tent. Note: the evening sessions are VERY loud!
Do I need to pay to go to Oktoberfest or to get into a tent?
No, admission is free for both.
Are there just beer tents on the Oktoberfest grounds?
No, Oktoberfest grounds look like a State Fair. There are food vendors, games of chances, haunted houses and several rides that we termed “vomit inducing rides”. Think spinning around and upside down at high rates of speed.
Can I only get beer at Oktoberfest?
It depends. In a beer tent, only beer is served. There are 2 wine tents located at Oktoberfest where you can get wine and beer. Besides beer or wine, you can get food. Food varies by the tent.
Is there only one size of beer? What kind of beer can I get?
The beer is only served in a one liter mug. There’s only one kind of beer per tent, a fest beer. Each tent has their own beer.
Can I eat at the tents?
Yes, there are full menus at each tent. You better bone up on your German or have someone in your group who knows German. We never saw an English menu.
What’s about reservations?
Reservations are very hard to get, afternoon or evening session, especially if you are in a large group like us (30 people). Reservations are handled differently by each tent. Requests are submitted via letter, e-mail, etc. The tent(s) will let you know if you got a reservation sometime around May; again, this varies. Check individual tents for specific information. A reservation gets you an assigned table for a specific time and day. When you walk into the tent, you find the row number on your reservation, walk up the row and look for the name of your group at the end of the table.
Tip: Reservations are made by the table size, most common is a table of 8 or 10. You MUST book an entire table.
Does a reservation cost anything?
No. But, you are required to buy a voucher for each person that includes 2 – 1-liters of beer and a chicken.
Tip: If you speak enough German, we understand you can change out the chicken. We don’t, so chicken it was!
Oktoberfest seemed to be a success for our gaggle of 21 people – 6 Germans and 15 Americans. If you don’t know, Oktoberfest is celebrated in Munich every year for 17-20 days and is a large party/fair for everyone who attends. We had reservations in the Pschorr Braurosl Tent, thanks to hard work by a German friend. Reservations are free but you must buy food and drink vouchers for 2 beers (Each beer is a liter.) and a half chicken for each person. You can order other food and “pay as you go”. Our reservation started at 11:30 AM on Thursday morning and we had the 3 tables until 4:30 PM. Let’s just say everyone enjoyed the food, drink, company, and German music. I lost count of the number of liters of beer that were consumed by our group. A few hats were purchased from the vendors, too.
Oktoberfest is not just a time to have a few beers and some food. Oktoberfest is also a big fair – sort of like the Iowa State Fair without the cows, pigs, and chickens. The rides included ones that go upside down, up high and around in circles. No one in our group tried any of them but the lines were long, including people who I’m sure were not really in any condition to spin or turn upside down.
Oktoberfest has a post office set up for the event with its own cancellation stamp along with ATM machines since all purchases in the tents are cash only.