October is over and we are officially into November. During October, did you “Oktoberfest”?
Of course, the “real” Oktoberfest happens in September in Munich, but Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S. seem to be getting more and more popular. Maybe it’s just an excuse for people to drink beer, eat sausage and dress in funny outfits, but Oktoberfest celebrations have gained traction.
We had the opportunity to attend a couple of different Oktoberfests this season, and I’ll share some of those experiences with you. I’ll also share some tips for going to Munich in general, if you decide to go to the “real thing”.
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THE HISTORY OF OKTOBERFEST
The very first Oktoberfest happened on October 12, 1810. Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on that day. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the wedding festivities, which were held on the fields in front of the city gates. Those fields were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) in honor of the Princess.
At the end of the wedding festivities, horse races were held. The decision to repeat the horse races the next year created the “Oktoberfest” tradition.
When Oktoberfest continued in 1811, in addition to the horse races, they added an agricultural show, which was designed to boost Bavarian agriculture. Today, the horse races are no longer part of the festivities, but the agricultural show is still held every three years.
Over the years, the festivities slowly expanded. In 1818, the first carousel and two swings were set up, and visitors could have beers at small beer stands. By 1896, the beer stands were replaced by beer tents and halls set up by landlords and backed by the local breweries.
Today, Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, with 6 million visitors from all over the world attending. It is still held on the original grounds – the Theresienwiese – so you will hear the locals refer to it as the “Wies’n”.
Oktoberfest lasts 16 – 18 days, and starts mid to late September and ends the first weekend in October. In recent years, there have been some changes made to the festival to help make it more “family friendly”. Beginning in 2005, they developed the concept of “quiet Oktoberfest”, which limits the decibel level of the music during the day. In 2010, a smoking ban was invoked, so that smoking can no longer occur in the tents.
Of course, the thing Oktoberfest is most famous for is the beer (or “bier” if you are German). In 2016, 7.7 million liters of beer were sold.
Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot and brewed within the city limits of Munich can be served at Oktoberfest. The breweries that qualify are Augustiner-Braü, Hacker-Pschorr-Braü, Löwenbraü, Paulener, Spatenbraü, and Staatliches Hofbraü-München.
THE PARTY MOVES TO THE U.S.
While nothing can compete with the “real” Oktoberfest in Munich, the whole Oktoberfest phenomenon has expanded around the world. The month of October seems to have become the month of “Oktoberfest” no matter where you live.
The Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S. take lots of forms. It can be everything from a fundraiser for a non-profit organization, to a way for a local German restaurant to promote their business. In almost every instance, the focus is on beer (German and otherwise), food, and crazy Americans dressed up in lederhosen! Get your own lederhosen here.
We attended and worked several “German festivals” this year, and got a behind the scenes look at what it takes to put them on. Here are some of the highlights.
The German-American Festival (GAF) in Toledo, OH
This festival takes part during the last full weekend in August, and isn’t touted as an “Oktoberfest”. However, it is one of the largest German festivals in the country.
The festival is put on by the 7 societies that make up the German American Festival Society. It’s a 3-day event that features bands, activities (like a stone tossing and stein holding competition), and fairground rides and games for the kids.
There is lots of delicious food as well, like all kinds of bratwursts and sausages, potato pancakes, chicken dinners, and German potato salad. If you aren’t into German food, you can also find ice cream, funnel cakes, and corn-on-the-cob.
Of course, there is also lots and lots of beer! My husband and I spent most of the weekend working the Old World Biergarten, which serves a large variety of German beers by the bottle and on draft.
The festival is completely run by volunteers, which means a lot of people put a lot of their blood, sweat and tears into making the festival a success.
If you are looking for something to do at the end of August, check the GAF out. As they like to say – “Bring a guest and come to the fest!”
Read more about the German-American Festival and go behind the scenes here:
Brauhaus Schmitz Oktoberfest Celebrations
We are very lucky in Philadelphia to have an amazing German restaurant in the city – Brauhaus Schmitz. You can find more information about the restaurant and their events on their website here.
The restaurant puts on several Oktoberfest events every year. It starts with the South Street Oktoberfest in mid-September. This is their original Oktoberfest event, and they’ve done it annually. The event is held on a Saturday, and they shut down about two blocks or so on South Street (where the restaurant is located). There are large tents set up for people to sit under. They set up beer trucks and food stands on the street. There are even bouncy houses for the kids. It’s like a big block party with German beer and food.
Their other major event is their 23rd Street Armory Oktoberfest, which is typically held the first full weekend in October. They rent out the 23rd Street Armory – which is normlly a big empty space – and turn it into a traditional looking bier hall. They hold several “sessions” over the course of the weekend, and visitors buy tickets to the specific session. During the session, there is plenty of beer and food, as well as musical entertainment. We got to work one of the sessions this year, before enjoying a session as a guest.
This year, the restaurant has expanded and put on additional Oktoberfests in New Jersey and New York.
If you are into German food and beer, Brauhaus Schmitz is a great place to visit any time of the year. Definitely mark your calendar for their Oktoberfest events next year if you are in the Philly area.
Temple Lutheran Church Celebrates a Homebrew Oktoberfest
The smallest of all of the Oktoberfests we attended this year, was the one our church puts on. Done as a fundraiser for the church, TLC’s Oktoberfest features beer (and root beer) home brewed by church members, German food cooked by my husband, and live music. We also have a bunch of gift baskets that are raffled off.
While it’s not as big as some of the other festivals, it takes a lot of work! A bunch of members of the church come together to decorate the hall, set up tables, prep food, serve beer, and cook the food the day of the event. It’s become one of two big fundraisers the church does every year!
BUT WHAT IF I WANT TO EXPERIENCE THE REAL THING?
I have never been to Munich for Oktoberfest, but I have been there a couple of times at other times of the year. Munich is a great place to visit any time of year!
If you want to go to Munich for Oktoberfest, my biggest piece of advice is to plan early! Over 6 million people attend Oktoberfest, and many of those people come from out of town. Finding a place to stay is not easy. In fact, if you are thinking of going in 2018, you may already be too late to find a place to stay.
Tip #1: Our favorite hotel in Munich is the Hotel Royal. It’s very reasonably priced, and the rooms are nice and comfortable. There is also a great breakfast every morning that is included in your room rate. It’s also a great location. You can easily walk to the main train station, as well as the Marienplatz area. You can visit their website here.
Tip #2: Make sure you bring an electrical converter with you. The outlets in Europe are different than in the U.S., and you’ll need a converter to be able to plug anything in, including your phone charger. Converters are reasonably priced and small enough to take in your suitcase easily. Click on this link for a travel adaptor that I recommend.
There are lots of things to see and do in Munich. Some of the highlights to check out are:
Marienplatz: This is the main square in the center of the historic area of the city. It features the New Town Hall, which is famous for its glockenspiel, which “chimes” every hour during the day.
St. Peter’s Church: This is the oldest church in town. It was badly damaged in World War II, and you can see pictures inside of the bomb damage.
Hofbräuhaus: Even if you don’t like beer, you should venture inside the Hofbräuhaus. You sit down and have lunch or dinner, and just watch the servers carrying the huge liters of beer. Just don’t get in the way – they will run you over! Make sure to explore the whole building. There are multiple floors and a lot of rooms set off to the side. If you want something to remind you of the U.S., stop in at the Hard Rock Café across the street too.
Viktualienmarkt: If you are into markets, this is a great one to visit. Lots of fresh food, cheese, wine, meats and other cool stuff. There is also a great little beer garden in the middle of it, with some great places to grab a quick lunch. Make sure you also look for the huge maypole.
The English Garden: This is Munich’s version of Central Park, and is the biggest park of its kind in Europe. Within the park you’ll find the Chinese Tower beer garden and a wave pool area where people actually surf.
BMW-Welt Museum: This is a little bit outside of the main town, but worth a visit if you are a car fan. The complex contains BMW headquarters, the factory, the showroom and the museum.
Tip #3: If you want to tour the factory (which I recommend – it’s a great tour), you need to make reservations well in advance. Go to www.bmw-werk-muenchen.de to buy tickets on-line or call 0180-211-8822.
Olympic Park: If you visit the BMW-Welt Museum, stop at Olympic Park as well. They are right next to each other. Munich’s Olympics were held in 1972. You can see a lot of the original facilities that were built for the Olympics. Another thing worth checking out is what was once the athlete’s village. Those buildings are now used as housing for residents who tend to be very artistic. Just wander around the village to see the different houses and the artistic creations their residents have made.
Tip #4: If you are a beer fan, it’s worth the trip to go out of town to Andechs Monastery. Not only are the grounds beautiful, this is some of the best beer in the world. From the Munich train station, take the S-8 train to Herrsching. From there, you can either catch a bus or a taxi to the monastery, or if you are feeling like some activity, hike the 3 miles up the hill. It’s worth the trip!
Tip #5: A great way to learn more about the city and the beer is to take one of the walking tours offered. We’ve done the Sandemans Free Walking Tour, which was great. The tour is technically free – you just pay the guide whatever you feel you can afford. There are multiple tours offered each day and they meet in the Marienplatz area. Go to http://www.neweuropetours.eu/munich/en/home# for more information. We’ve also done the Munich Walk Beer and Brewery Tour, which was a lot of fun. You can get more information at http://munichwalktours.de/en/beer-brewery-tour/.
For more information about things to do and see in Munich, I recommend getting Rick Steves’ book on Germany. I have personally used the book to help plan my trips there. It’s a great resource! You can click on this link for the book.
Have more questions about Oktoberfest or visiting Munich? Comment below or e-mail me at email@example.com.
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