You’d be crazy not to plan a trip to Munich in late September, the weather, the color… the beer. Contrary to the name, Oktoberfest is a three-week long festival that starts on the third week in September. It commemorates the marriage of King Ludwig and Princess Therese in 1810, and has been a growing celebration ever since. This year, over 6 million people from all over the world will have flocked to Munich to partake in the insane festivities; including myself.
Being the rare high school French language statistic, I was someone who wasn’t adequately educated on the German language and culture. Open-minded and excited to be living in Europe during one of the biggest celebrations in the world, I arrived in Munich eager to start the weekend.
Here’s what I learned:
Contrary to college student belief – Oktoberfest isn’t all about drinking beer out of a Maß; the official word for stein. Walking up to the grand arched entrance, you find yourself back at the county fair (which you secretly miss because you’re not in America to experience fall); except put this fair on steroids. Amusement park rides, ring toss and balloon stands, endless pastry, chocolate covered fruit kebabs, and roasted nut stands line the 100+ acre grounds. Families dressed in the traditional Bavarian dirndl and lederhosen litter the walkways with nothing but smiles on their faces. They say Disney is the happiest place on earth, but Oktoberfest gives it a run for its money.
It’s not a German party without the beer right? That’s why there are over ten tents dedicated to a different celebrated beer. Be sure to get to the grounds early in order to guarantee a spot in the tent area, because by 11am it starts to get crazy. Fighting your way through the tents for a table if you didn’t reserve months ahead of time could potentially be a waste of precious time. Better luck for open spots can be found at the heated outdoor tables surrounding the tent. Don’t worry, you can still clearly hear and partake in all of the cheers rumbling through the air from inside.
While enjoying a liter of beer, maids come around selling traditional Bavarian doughnuts and pretzels to help keep up with your appetite, and they surely don’t disappoint. If you want food with more substance, order off the menu and indulge in a ½ chicken, schnitzel, bratwurst… getting hungry? After feeling like you’ve consumed a whole day’s worth of calories and taken advantage of the shorter bathroom lines in the tent area, it’s time to explore the grounds. I opted for a waffle puff pastry stuffed with cream cheese, and it was the best €3 investment. Taking in the jolly atmosphere and covering the whole area was a great ending to my first Oktoberfest experience.
I highly encourage exploring the beautiful city of Munich. So here’s what to do in Munich other than fill up on craft beer:
Go on a bike tour: There’s something amazing about cycling through the cobblestone alleys to take in Munich’s landmarks and monuments. When you’re told you’re stopping for lunch at one of the largest beer gardens in the world, you know it’s going to be good. In the middle of the English Garden you arrive at the Chinese Tower; known as Chinesischer Turm. This landmark is the hub of an amazing beer garden. Ordering a pretzel larger than your face with the obatzda cheese spread is a Bavarian classic and a must. If you like the rotisserie chickens in America, then prepare for the Munich delicatessen known as ½ chicken to blow your mind. Be sure to get the full German culture experience from the live Bavarian polka playing from the tower’s center!
Tour the BMW Museum: For any car buff, this place is the ultimate dream. Walk around the various exhibitions, get a detailed look at every car model produced, and see what the future of the company could be.
View the Neuschwanstein Castle: This landmark needs a whole day dedicated to taking in the incredible landscape. With a few hours dedicated to traveling into the Bavarian Alps, you can walk around and tour the castle that was powerful enough to inspire Walt Disney to create Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial: A short metro ride to the outside of the festive center places you in a humbling and sacred area. The entrance into the grounds is free and based on donation. Just stepping a foot onto the grounds where events only 70 years ago took place is a moving experience. Many parts of the still-standing buildings are dedicated to rooms and rooms filled with stories, data, and artifacts revolving around the first-concentration-camp-in-the-world’s history. It’s hard to put into words experiencing what was witnessed at Dachau. Every human can take away something different from the memorial, that’s what makes the memory of the visit so sacred and special. Visiting Dachau is a nice way to wrap up a weekend in the diverse city of Munich.
Germany itself is a breathtaking country, but Munich is truly a shining gem. I’m sure that no matter the time of year this city will be sure to impress, but the atmosphere of the fall season mixed with festivities was an unforgettable experience. I more than plan on returning to explore more of what Munich has to offer.