Oktoberfest celebrates 180 years of tradition
September 16, 2013
The seventh in the Insider's Tips for Auslaender series, which focuses on ways to make the most of your tour in Bavaria. Look for articles with this tag, and if you have tips or suggestions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
MUNICH -- It's the world's biggest festival; the quintessential experience where German stereotypes dance to the beat of live oompah bands.
This year marks the 180th Oktoberfest celebration, here, Sept. 21-Oct. 6, and like every year, it is shaping up to be a two-week, non-stop celebration.
Women don snug dirndls while lederhosen-clad men walk proudly through the streets, a checkered shirt hiding their inevitable beer bellies.
The 42-acre Theresienwiese, the location of the famed festival, houses 14 large tents and more than 20 smaller ones. Each beckons visitors inside where rows of revelry park on stadium-sized wooden benches.
In order to get a seat in a tent, you should buy tickets in advance. Visitors can enter the tents without reservations but will not be served unless they have a seat. If you're pushy or patient, or if you arrive early (before 11 a.m. is advised), you can usually find one somewhere.
All tents (big and small) are packed to the hilt, so you may find yourself rubbing more than elbows with fellow tourists and locals, but that's part of the Oktoberfest charm.
Tents can hold hundreds to thousands of festivalgoers, the largest (and oldest) being the 10,000-seat Schottenhamel, known to many as the "party tent." The Hippodrom tent is a colorful, hip attraction where local celebrities sip on libations, while the Hofbraeuhaus tent is as popular as the beer hall of the same name -- a favorite among American visitors.
Another crowd pleaser, the Augustiner beer tent, offers a more relaxed atmosphere that is great for families. Not surprisingly each tent keeps tens of thousands of liters of beer at the ready and most (if not all) are cash only.
While the party is self-contained in the tents, outside, visitors can roam fairgrounds for rides, roller coasters and carnival games. Parents with small children can best enjoy these games on Tuesdays, coined "family day," with special discounts.
Taking the train is the most hassle-free option for getting to Oktoberfest. Fest-goers can combine forces to use the Bayern Pass (around 35 euros for a full day of travel on regional trains, U-bahn and S-bahn trains for up to five travelers). The key term is regional trains. Avoid boarding a high-speed ICE (Intercity Express) train, which is not included in the Bayern Pass -- it's an expensive mistake.
On weekdays, the first Bayern Pass train leaves just after 9 a.m.; weekend trains leave as early as 5:30-6:30 a.m. For the same price as a Bayern Pass, the Vilseck Train Station is also offering Oktoberfest Bayern Pass packages, which includes a Bayern Pass, an Oktoberfest schedule and train timetables, explains local traditions and offers recommendations for activities in Munich after the Oktoberfest party shuts down.
If you don't intend to stay the night, be sure to double check the times for the last train home. (The last train for Vilseck leaves from the Munich Hauptbahnhof around 9 p.m.)
Another option for getting to Munich is through Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Grafenwoehr's Outdoor Recreation will run buses, Sept. 21, 28 and Oct. 5, leaving Rose Barracks at 6:30 a.m. and Tower Barracks at 7 a.m. The buses will return to post around midnight.
Sign up online at www.Grafenwoehr.ArmyMWR.com under the "Oktoberfest Event Page" or call DSN 475-7402, CIV 09641-83-7402.
Likewise, Hohenfels will run a trip Sept. 21, from 7:30 a.m.-midnight. Contact ODR at DSN 466-2060, CIV 09472-83-2060 for more information or to sign up.
The cost for all Family and MWR trips is $45 for adults (guests 12 and older); half price for children under 12. Prices are for bus transportation only. Be prepared to use public transportation to the fest grounds depending on where the bus parks.
For those who would prefer to drive, Munich offers several park-and-ride options in the surrounding area. Drivers can park just outside the city and commute via U-bahn. Visit Oktoberfest.de for additional information and a comprehensive list of park-and-ride locations.
Once in town, just follow the massive crowd of people, or look for Oktoberfest signs and you'll eventually get there.
According to the Munich Tourist office, more than six million people will visit the grounds during this year's celebration and consume the same number in liters of beer, in addition to 120,000 pair of sausages, 50,000 pork knuckles and more pretzels than can be counted.
It takes approximately two months to create the city of Oktoberfest and brings in an estimated $1.2 billion, employing about 12,000 workers.
But Oktoberfest is more than a carousing wassail; it's a tradition that started on Oct. 12, 1810, with the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. All of Bavaria celebrated the nuptials year after year until Oktoberfest became an established event.
Today, the focus is no longer on the royal pair, the hoopla has instead taken the spotlight and a "prost" with a thousand of your new closest friends will surely create a reason to celebrate for years to come.