A deep roar is heard across the enormous tent, becoming louder as it gets nearer, the wave passing ever onward.
People turn to the epicenter of the noise where a man, dressed in pine-green lederhosen, is standing on a bench with one arm raised heroically in the air holding his empty stein and the other arm wiping drips of beer from his beard. Within a few minutes of his sitting down, another cheer surges from across the other side of the tent.
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This is Munich’s Oktoberfest. Or at least it’s one tiny moment of this massive festival—the greatest beer-drinking event in the world. From my seat, I can see thousands of people around me. Everyone is drinking amber lager, and everyone is smiling and laughing and talking with others. There’s music, singing, pretzels, and roast chicken. I’m trying to take it all in, but it’s just so big, so over the top, so unexpectedly amazing that I’m mostly just staring dumbly at what’s going on around me. I’d held off coming here for years, not being especially drawn to it, but within minutes of arriving I’m loving it.
You’ve probably heard the story: the first ever event here, before it became the Oktoberfest we now know, took place on 12th October 1810 for the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The party was so good, they repeated it the following year, with it evolving and growing annually. Beer was available at small stands from the beginning. The amusements arrived in later years. By 1896, the first large beer tent opened. Later they moved the festival forward to make use of September’s warmer weather.
Today the festival is beyond astonishing. The 14 large tents are like
superstores, with the biggest capable of holding 12,000 people; the spaces between the tents are wide, busy boulevards; there’s a fairground that’s bigger than many stand-alone theme parks; there’s also so much food, so much beer, and so many people—around six million people visit each year.
The “Big Six” Munich brewers—Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Späten—each produce a special Oktoberfest lager for the event and all of these are a little different, though all the lagers are between 5.7% and 6.3% ABV. They are all good. My favorites are Hacker-Pschorr’s, which is the darkest, the most bitter, the one with the deepest flavor, and Augustiner’s, which is the smoothest, the creamiest, the one with the tastiest, toastiest malt—it is also notable because it’s poured from 44-gallon (200-liter) wooden barrels. Each tent pours just one of the beers, so pick your tent based on what you want to drink. If you want a different beer, then go to a different tent.
Here’s some extra stuff you need to know if you’re visiting: the festival opens early in the morning, but it’ll be full by lunchtime. The beer only comes in one-liter glasses and these cost around €11 each. Given the scale of the event, service is incredibly efficient and quick. When you enter a tent, it’s your challenge to try and find somewhere to sit. When you do sit down, say hello to other people—it’s a friendly festival. There are amusements and rollercoasters, so go on those before you drink too much. Eat lots of pretzels. And, ideally, don’t stand on the bench and down your beer.
Oktoberfest isn’t just a beer festival. It’s the greatest drinking event in the world.
HOW: Takes place in mid-September for 16 days, opening at
10am on weekdays and 9am at weekends (www. oktoberfest. de).
WHERE: Theresienwiese, Munich, Germany