Oktoberfest – A 200 Year Munich Tradition

Hanging at our table inside the Schottenhamel Tent at the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.

On September 15, 2010, I took my first trip across the pond to Munich, Germany to take in the 200th Anniversary of Oktoberfest that ran this year from September 18th-October 4th.  The first Oktoberfest took place on October 12, 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese and lasted a paltry six long days. Though this year celebrates 200 years it is the 177th celebration since the celebration has been canceled a few times due to untimely world events.

Cheers to the 200 year tradition of Munich’s Oktoberfest.

Munich itself is a very pleasant city for travelers. The people are friendly and most in the service industry speak English to make the language barrier much more simple. The transit system is efficient, reliable and can take you from the airport to city centre in about 45 minutes. This transit system, the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, were built for the 1972 Olympics to which the Olympic complex is still standing and continues to be a major tourist destination. The city is extremely walkable and the only challenge I found was that street names change abruptly and continue with a different name, sometimes after only two blocks. While walking one will notice the abundance of beer gardens throughout the city, most are family oriented and some are quite massive. But one thing is for sure, each and everyone of them is such an integral part of the culture of Munich.

Outside the Schottenhamel Tent during the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. In this tent the mayor of Munich taps the first keg to kick off Oktoberfest.

Onto Oktoberfest and my attendance at the tapping of the first keg 200 years after it all started. I arrived with my group of friends to the Theresienwiese grounds at 10:30AM in search of the Schottenhamel (Spaten) Tent. Once the tent was located we waited in a short line to enter the tent. We were fortunate enough to have a table reservation for 10 inside the tent waiting our arrival. This is a very tough tent to be able to enter on the opening day of Oktoberfest. Schottenhamel is the tent where the mayor of Munich taps the first keg. Unfortunately I could not see the tapping but could here Mayor Christian Ude shout out “O’ zapft is” which means, “its tapped”! This happened at 12:00 noon and then the beer started making its way to the thirsty patrons. Our liters of Spaten did not arrive until 12:30 but with all the excitement it was well worth the wait. As more liters were drank throughout the rest of the day we all became a bit more festive and began to meet some locals and others that were also visiting from outside of Germany. When you have a table you find yourself attracting more “friends” since sitting at a table is the only way to order a liter of beer inside a tent.  As the day and many liters later parts of our group left at different times and eventually we left an open table for others to enjoy later into the evening.

Inside the festive Schottenhamel Tent during the 200th Oktoberfest in Munich.

Schottenhamel is the oldest and one of the largest tents that holds 10,000 festival goers and is known to be the “party tent” of Oktoberfest.  All tables and benches are secured to the wooden floors and as the day wears on, a much younger crowd filters through to keep this tent quite lively!

With our newfound Swiss Friends inside the Schottenhamel Tent during the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest.

The only other day that I attended Oktoberfest was on the third day, Monday. This day we had a table reservation at Schützen-Festhalle (Löwenbräu) Tent. On this visit we arrived a bit before our 4:00PM reservation to allow us enough time to locate our table. When you have a reservation you do receive a map of the approximate location. You just hope that no one had removed the reservation sign. If so you can always ask for assistance. Once settling into our table our original intention for the evening was to take it easy and not stay too late since we all were flying out the next day at noon. Well that soon changed once the Löwenbräu started pouring. Well after a few liters of Löwenbräu we fell back into the festive mood and stayed through closing time of 11:00pm, oh well.

Schuetzen Tent at Oktoberfest in 2010 that serves Lowenbrau.
Met some new friends inside the Schuetzen Tent during the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest itself is a 16-day festival that takes place from late September through early October. It’s the world’s largest fair, similar to a state fair here in the US. Its more than just beer, there are even amusement rides and at one time there were horse races. Each year 6 million people pass through the gates drinking 1.5 million gallons of beer, eating 200,000 pairs of pork sausage and 480,000 spit-roasted chickens. A decent number of festival goers wear traditional Bavarian clothing, lovely dirndls for the ladies and lederhosen for the men. The beer at Oktoberfest is supplied and specially brewed by Munich’s breweries known as “The Big Six,” which include: Spaten-Franziskaner, Löwenbräu, Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr. These beers are available in 14 of the selected tents and throughout the Theresienwiese grounds.

Standing alongside the Paulaner Beer Garden Fountain in Munich, Germany.
The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Munich by Larry Hawthorne

If you do take the trip to Munich, Larry Hawthorne’s The Beer Drinker’s Guide To Munich is a must read for any beer lover. This book will guide you through all the beer halls and beer gardens of Munich and also touches upon the other five large festivals in Munich: Frühlingsfest, Sommerfest, Auer Dult, Bayernmarkt, and Fasching Dienstag. And if you do plan on attending Oktoberfest it is very wise to make your plans well in advance as hotels fill up very early and are a bit pricey during this time. If you want a table in one of the 14 tents and your group is five or more it is also suggested that you acquire a table reservation around January of the year you plan on attending. Most reservations require the advance purchase of 2 liters and a ½ chicken per person. You can also purchase more beer tickets in advance as it can make things more simple than paying in cash for each transaction. Credit cards are not taken inside the tents but there are plentiful amounts of ATM’s throughout the Theresienwiese grounds. One liter of beer is around 9 Euros so it can be a bit expensive at Oktoberfest.

Beyond Oktoberfest, Munich has many other places to enjoy your German beer.  My first night in Munich I ended up at Der Pschorr, a Hacker-Pschorr beer hall. They served an enjoyable session beer, Edelhell. This beer is served from wooden kegs that sit on top of the bar. It was tasty and very clean. The uniqueness of this beer is that the wooden kegs that it is served from are still manufactured in Munich by Schmid.  The night I was there they seemed to go through quite a bit of Edelhell, about a new wooden keg every 30-40 minutes. I also had a Munich Dark Export that was sweet and malty but I preferred the Edelhell. I had a few more after my dinner of Nuernberg Bratwurst, six smaller sized brats served over homemade potato salad.

On Friday afternoon I found an outdoor table at Ayinger’s Speis & Trank, which is across the street from the world famous Hofbräuhaus. Ayinger’s is a very nice alternative to the always too crowded Hofbräuhaus. This afternoon I enjoyed a Dunkel, Hefeweizen and a Helles along with a bowl of potato soup. I appreciated the Dunkel the most; this beer had an excellent balance of malt and hops, a very nice dark beer.

Then on Friday night we had a group dinner at Markwirt a few minutes away from Marienplatz in the heart of Munich. We had a large group of more than people so we had to find a restaurant that could hold all of us. As we all arrived our personal 50L wood keg of Augustiner was tapped. This was a very nice way to meet up with some old friends and meet many more new ones to get ready for Oktoberfest the following morning.

Tapping the keg at Markwirt the night prior to the start of the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest.

Our in between Oktoberfest day of Sunday was spent visiting a few beer gardens and venturing outside the city to a local brewpub. Sunday started off by having lunch at Paulaner am Nockherberg. This massive beer garden is located at the Paulaner brewery in southeast Munich. Somewhat out of the way but well worth the visit with the peaceful setting of the beer garden that’s surrounded by chestnut trees that provide ample shade from the sun. There is also a nice fountain with a bust of Paulaner here in the beer garden. That day I had a liter of Paulaner Hefeweizen along with a salad and potato soup. Both the hefeweizen and food hit the spot while enjoying the nice fall weather that Munich was offering us.

Hofbrauhaus 2nd Floor Beer Hall in Munich, Germany.

From Paulaner we walked to Wiener Platz to take in another beer garden, Hofbräukeller. This Hofbräu beer garden was also a nice relaxing way to spend the rest of our Sunday afternoon.  The locals agreed too since this place was quite busy and many families were there too. There’s even a playground for the kids. Here we enjoyed a few Hofbräu Helles. Our first one was a .5L but when we went to get a second, the only size that they’d serve it in was a 1-liter mug being that it was after 4:00pm. The Germans want you to drink lots of their beer, and this is one way to make you do just that.

Marienplatz in the center of Munich, Germany.

Then for dinner we traveled a bit outside of Munich to a local brewpub, Forschungsbrauerei. Once we arrived in the neighborhood by the U-Bahn it was a short walk to the establishment. This brewery features two beers, a Pils and a Bock. I had the Pils and it was very session able beer. Now this place offered us a bit more Munich charm. Very little English was spoken here and the clientele was much older. There was a table next to ours where most had to be in their 80’s and both the men and the ladies were enjoying their beer.

Forschungsbrauerei meat plate on the outskirts of Munich, Germany.

In all, Oktoberfest was quite the event and is a must visit for any beer lover. Drinking German beer that is so fresh is and experience that I will cherish for some time. I’m just glad I can now cross this off of my bucket list and be better prepared for the next time I attend.