Augustiner Beer “Tent”
If you’re into beer, carnivals and singing songs with random Euros, Oktoberfest in Munich (“Weisn” to locals) needs to be on your bucket list. It’s basically the ultimate day drinking party with six million people visiting a beer tent laden fairground for 16-18 days at the end of September each year. Here are the basics you need to know to make the most of the experience and eat some, well, decent food along the way.
Oktoberfest marries children’s attractions with hardcore drinking in a way that would never fly in America. Of course, whereas we are a nation founded by fun-hating puritans, Europe was conquered by whoever could provide beer to the largest army.
When you enter, you’ll see what appears to be an amusement park with rides, games and souvenir stands. This makes up the “family” portion of the festival, although who doesn’t enjoy taking in a rousing mouse circus after a few beers? In the row farthest west you’ll find the beer tents. These are not tents like you think of in America, but huge structures with a tent-like roof for some reason. Outside you’ll see a sign or column signifying which brewery is hosting the tent.
Inside you’ll find a bunch of tables surrounding a brass band playing in the center. IMPORTANT: You will need to find a spot at one of these tables (or the ones in the biergardens directly outside the tents) in order to get a beer. This is where things can get tricky, especially later in the day. Here’s how to get a spot:
Inside a Tent
1) Tables on the outer rings are generally reserved. And they are reserved about one year in advance, usually by the people who had them the year before. So if you want to bring a big group, start making nice with zee Germans now. You can tell which are reserved by signs on the table or row that tell you what time it has been reserved for. During the week, they may be free before 3:30.
2) If you don’t have any connected friends, there are some no reservation tables too. These are generally located in the center by the band. If you have a big group, they say you need to be there by around 2 on weekdays, 9 am on weekends to secure one. If there’s four of you or less, you can probably find another table to join until around 5 when they start closing the tents to new entrants. The tables all hold ten people and are communal, so if you don’t see 10 people at one, ask if there are spots available.
While beer is the focal point of the event, Oktoberfest is no place for connoisseurs. Variety is basically non-existent as each tent serves the “Oktoberfest” beer from one of Munich’s Big Six breweries. Their ability to change the formula is highly regulated, so they all are made in a malty, amber style and end up tasting pretty much the same (although locals will usually argue that Augustiner is best). They are served in one size only: a full liter glass (God bless the Germans). To order one simply hold up the number of fingers and say “Mass” (German for liter glass, although spelled Maß).
Hope you like sausage and chicken! The food selection is only slightly less limited than the beer and mostly consists of things that taste pretty good after a few malty beverages. As such, I’m not going to bother applying my rating system to what I ate. Your options are to eat in the tents or or order from one of the the vendors outside. The menus in the tents are generally in German, but if you order one of the things below in English they’ll likely understand you.
In the Tents
Half Roast Chicken (Hendl) – Basically exactly what you’d expect, it’s half a rotisserie chicken. I found them to be on the salty side, but maybe that’s part of the beer pairing. Sadly, this is probably the healthiest thing you’ll eat here but at least it’s pretty tasty.
Käsespätzle – Think of this as the German Mac N’ Cheese. It comes out topped with crispy onions and is basically the only vegetarian option.
Weisswurst – A trip to Oktoberfest isn’t complete without some juicy Bavarian sausage (at least so the local guys say…) These spiced veal and pork links are definitely worth a try though especially because it’s hard to find a good one in America. Get a hearty serving or sauerkraut and mustard for a more complete meal.
Dried Sausage (Landjager) and Pretzels – You’ll find women walking the isles with baskets filled with various pretzels and dried sausage. Neither are anything special, but they’re cheap, easy to order and get the job done.
Outside of the Tents
Sliced Ham Sandwich – This was the best thing I ate, but that was also at closing time. I (surprisingly) can’t recall the German name, but find someone freshly slicing smoked ham and tossing it into a roll and you won’t regret it.
Currywurst – A Berlin specialty, this is a Frankfurter (basically a plump American style hotdog) topped with ketchup and curry powder. Few things here have much spice to them here, so it’s a good change of pace especially if you spend multiple days at the festival.
A Note on Dressing Up
Sure, some people will tell you you don’t have to dress up and no one will stop you at the gates if you don’t. But you just bought a plane ticket to Germany and probably shelled out $300 a night for a hotel room so do you really want to half-ass this thing now? For men, attire is made up of lederhosen (leather pants and suspenders), a checkered shirt and a hat with a feather. For ladies, it’s a dress they call a dindle. You can probably find some moderately priced outfits online or in Munich before the festival, although the good stuff does get quite pricey. Up to you how crazy you want to get but at the very least, don’t come in your Hawaiian shirt to let everyone know America has arrived.
Traditional Bavarian Attire (includes beer of course!)
16-18 Days Ending the First Weekend in October