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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Planning Your Oktoberfest Trip

If we weren't in the middle of a pandemic, Oktoberfest would have started already. This year would have would have marked the 210th celebration, which I'm sure would have been something. We celebrated in our own way with a destination date night last week. You can follow my lead and put together a family, solo, or romantic Oktoberfest at home. 

Even if you don't like beer, Oktoberfest has something for you. It's based around a travelling funfair. Sure, it's a beer festival, but it's so much more. If you're looking forward to participating in the future, I've pulled together some important info for you:

When does it happen? 

Originally, Oktoberfest was celebrated in October and started as a celebration of the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria (King Louis I) and lasted 5 days, but it has since morphed into an enormous 16-day festival that has tons of food stalls, beer halls, fair rides and more. The festival ends on the first Sunday in October.

Where does it happen?

While you can attend an Oktoberfest celebration nearly anywhere now, the original and biggest is in Munich, Germany. You'll see great big beer tents that can have seating up to 6,000. The Mayor of Munich officially opens the festival by tapping the first keg. Each brewer has their own beer hall with food and entertainment. Upwards of 6-7 million people attend from all over the world.

Top foods to eat at Oktoberfest

Food is a big draw for visitors. As you know, I love trying new foods wherever I go, so this sounds like a great way to try a bunch of things. Here are some of the things you should look for if you go (or to make/order if doing an at-home celebration this year):
  • Brezen - otherwise known as a pretzel, you can find these in every size wherever you look. they can be plain, served with mustard, or even split open and filled with things like butter.
  • Fischbrötchen - a little bit lighter than most other fare on this list, fischbrötchen are basically little seafood sliders, usually using fish, shrimp, or crab.
  • Hendl - these roasted chickens are smothered in butter, parsley, and paprika and in high demand at Oktoberfest.
  • Knödel - a potato or flour dumpling that is often served as a side dish. Potato dumplings are a staple at any big eating event in my house. 
  • Obatzda - a soft garlicky cheese spread that is often served with pickles or pickled onions, but it's awesome with a brezen.
  • Ochs am Spieß - ox on a spit is a traditional meat kebab that has been around almost as long as Oktoberfest. It's often covered in a red wine sauce.
  • Schweinshaxe - roasted pork knuckle that is generally served with sauerkraut and a potato dumpling, or other potato side.
  • Spätzle - you're probably pretty familiar with this grated, boiled dough, though probably not the way they serve it in Munich: in a heaping helping and topped with fried onions and/or bacon, or even smothered in cheese.
  • Steckerlfisch - a variety of different marinated fish that is grilled. Every stand has their own version with their own spices.
  • Weisswurst - a white sausage made from minced veal and pork back bacon and various seasonings. Served in a pair in a pot of hot water with a pretzel, mustard, and a wheat beer.

I will tell you that portions are huge and you'll maybe want to split these with your companions, because otherwise you'll be dying before you even start. Perhaps that's why Oktoberfest is two weeks long. You'll need more than a few days to sample all these delicious foods.

Let's talk about beer, because there are 14 main beer tents, with only 6 breweries represented:
  • Späten
  • Augustiner
  • Paulaner
  • Hacker-Poschorr
  • Hofbräu
  • Löwenbräu

You must request reservations ahead of time if you want to sit in one of these tents. The larger ones can rotate through tens of thousands of people in a day. Each one has their own process and start at different times of the year. You also have to book a group reservation for 8-10 people. I don't know if this will change after this year, but it's good to do your research. If there are fewer than that in your party, you may want to show up early and see if you can grab a seat that isn't reserved.

How to save money

Like with everything, you can plan ahead to save money. 
  • My number one tip for saving money is by limiting your beer consumption. This might be a bit easier for grown-ups who don't tend to go to pound drinks back to get as drunk as possible. A liter of beer can run you $10-13, but they also tend to have double the alcohol content of regular American beers (6% vs 3%). Bring along water to stay hydrated. You can purchase it there, but it will still run you about $7/liter.

  • Try to hit up the festival on the weekdays, as it will be easier to find a seat in a tent than on the weekend, especially if there are only a few of you. Weekends are always the most popular days.

  • Only bring the amount of money you want to spend, because it can be easy to lose track of your purchases. This makes it easier to budget.

  • Stay outside of Munich or look for an affordable Airbnb on the outskirts, because the closer you get to Theresienwiese (the park it takes place in), the more premium the rates. Train travel is convenient and can be a lot more affordable if you're trying to save money. 
  • Food portions are large, so look to split meals. Unless you're starving, you'll find it difficult to finish some of these entrees. You can always supplement with pretzels, which will also help you soak up some of that beer you've been imbibing in.

Staying safe

You never want to leave yourself open to unsafe conditions. This is always a concern where a lot of cash may be available and people are drinking a lot. Make sure you know what you're going into before you leave home:
  • Drink responsibly. You already know this. Remember your limits. Remember to eat (and drink water!). Remember your budget. If you find yourself doing poorly, there are recovery tents available that help hundreds of people every day.
  • Don't bring all your money. Bring cash, but bring just as much as you plan to spend, so you can't go overboard, but also because if you get robbed, you won't be screwed for the rest of your trip.
  • Beer tents all have their own serveware. Do not take the steins/mugs. This is a crime. There are plenty for sale throughout the event to take home as souvenirs.
  • Know your way around. Make sure to do your research, so you know how to get back to the train station and your hotel/rental. Keep a backup battery on you, because you don't want to get lost without a phone that could have all your important info in it. Get a multi-day train ticket and save yourself some money and hassle.
  • Agree on a meeting point if you separate. There can be up to 600,000 people there at times. That's a lot of people, so don't lose your important people. 
  • Carry your money, phone, ID and hotel key on you. Large bags are not allowed inside, so make sure you adhere to the rules.
  • Bring all your belongings with you if you leave the beer tent. Often you can't get back inside, due to crowds. 
  • Never leave your drink unattended. Someone could slip something into your beer in an instant. This happens everywhere. If someone buys you a drink (score!) make sure you are there when the waitress brings it.
There are plenty of other ways to make Oktoberfest amazing, like buying traditional dress and going with all your best friends and you have at least a whole year to plan your trip to Munich, or even a more local celebration. 

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