- The life of a travel writer isn’t as glamorous as most people think. Granted, I get to travel frequently to some of the world’s most famous cities, but it has its downsides. First of all, I travel alone most of the time, and ordering a meal for one isn’t always fun. Secondly, I spend a lot of time away from friends and family and us Cancerians enjoy being around our loved ones. Thirdly, as I sometimes have to plan press trips months in advance, I tend to miss big events back home. But don’t get me wrong, the majority of the time I am extremely grateful of the job I have landed and sometimes I think to myself ‘life could be worse’.
One such occasion was when I was sent on assignment to cover Oktoberfest; the largest public festival in the world. Whereas other festivals renowned for the amount of beer drinking that goes on at them actually celebrate something else, Oktoberfest unashamedly celebrates nothing other than beer itself. This is 16 days of pure unadulterated debauchery.
The first Oktoberfest
The first Oktoberfest (or ‘beerfest’ as many people refer to it) took place in 1810 to honour the marriage of Prince Ludgwig to Princess Therese. Five days they celebrated, drinking copious amounts of beer and ending the event with a horse race on October 17th. As the wedding turned out to be such good fun, they decided to celebrate the event the following year, and the year after that, and every year until the present day. Somewhere along the line though, they decided to move events forward to September as weather is nicer then. Seriously.
The day I left Ireland for Munich to cover the event, I didn’t arrive until 11pm. I knew festivities would be coming to a close by this time but I had an urge to go down to the site to see what I could expect. I soon discovered things could get very messy. The thousands of litres of beer drank that day meant people were falling over, others were staggering, and there was a very serious amount of love in the air. I knew the next day would be a memorable one, or not if you know what I mean.
I had been informed on numerous occasions that the trick with Oktoberfest was to get down early. I didn’t know what time this meant but I made it down at 2pm, an early time to start drinking by any account. Before I began to pour litres of beer down my mouth I wandered down Wirtsbudenstrasse, the street that the main tents are located on.
Fourteen beer-fuelled tents
There are fourteen in all. The smallest tent is the Weinzelt tent, a tent which specialises in wine rather than beer. It fits just under 2,000 people. The largest is Winzerer Fähndl which manages to squeeze in an astounding 10,900 people on any given night. That’s the population of a small town getting inebriated in one tent.
I opted for the Augustiner-Brau tent, a tent seating a modest 8,500 people. I had been to Munich on one occasion before so knew that the Augustiner brewery produced good beer. Once inside I met Simon, Alex and Cristof, three friendly Bavarians who were full of chat. They later confessed that they were only on their first beer. Within 30 minutes I’d caught up with them and we proceeded to exchange stories about a number of things, none of which I can remember at this point in time.
After a number of litres I returned to my hostel to freshen up. Upon my return I settled in at the Lowenbrau tent, one famed for its distinctly international clientele. Ironically I didn’t meet any Aussies, Americans or English like I was told I would. Instead I drank with Elke, a girl from Düsseldorf, and some of her friends.
I’m not quite sure how I got home that night but I woke up the next morning in one piece. They say German beer doesn’t give you a hangover. This is generally true but your head can definitely feel a bit cloudy the next day.
Oktoberfest's best known tent
I didn’t go down to Oktoberfest as early on the second night. When I did eventually return, I found myself drinking this time in the Hofbrau tent, arguably the best known tent at Oktoberfest and seating just under 10,000. Of these 10,000, approximately two thousand were using their seats. The majority of those in the Hofbrau tent decided it was a far better idea to test their balancing skills after 8 litres of beer by standing on the beer-covered tables. Here I met Nathalie, her brother Mathew, and her friend Sebastian. We proceeded to tell each other stories for the evening.
Unfortunately it wasn't long before I lost Nathalie and her friends. The thing with Oktoberfest is that the beer is stronger, not weaker. And as its served in litre glasses, by the time you’re staring into the bottom of your third ‘Maβ’ (litre) you may find yourself a little merrier than you were expecting.
Walk around Oktoberfest and you will witness every action that gallons of beer tends to cause. You will see people crying, laughing, fighting (just verbally though – I didn’t encounter one fight during my three nights there), kissing (rather passionately I might add), sleeping and, regrettably, throwing up. You will also create an endless supply of stories. If you don’t make it this year, I recommend you make it to this festival at least once in your lifetime.
Is there something about Oktoberfest you are curious about but isn't covered in this story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.