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The Festival of the Gods
By Lucy Corne
I expected Oktoberfest to be a lot like New Year’s Eve. People talk it up all year, plans are made months in advance, prices rise and crowds descend only to end in the most disappointing party you can remember. Although I yearned to be proven wrong, I feared that nothing could live up to the hype. I was right on a couple of points – prices in Munich do skyrocket during Oktoberfest and there’s no lack of crowds. But disappointment? A New Year’s Eve style let-down? Not a bit of it.
From the moment we boarded the train from Salzburg (having failed to secure flights straight to Munich), we knew the weekend was going to live up to our sky-high expectations. We joined a group of travelers from across Europe who were picking up stragglers so as to qualify for a discounted group ticket. Train staff sold cold beers throughout the two-hour journey and there was a wonderful feeling of revelry in the air as we arrived in Munich, the capital of fairy tale-esque Bavaria.
Our hotel room in Munich was less than luxurious – in fact it was the last room left in the city when we finally made our minds up about celebrating Oktoberfest four months earlier. But we didn’t care – it was clean, within staggering distance of the Theresienwiese and was a worthy place to dump our bags as we headed straight to the party.
I think there’s a misconception that Oktoberfest is only about beer (bier in german). Sure, the nectar of the gods plays a pretty large role in the proceedings and the festivities can bring out your inner 20-year old, but there is more to do than guzzle huge glasses of ale. The festival has origins that greatly pre-date its modern-day reputation as a two week boozy binge. First celebrated in October 1810, the original Oktoberfest was in fact a lavish wedding celebration for Crown Prince Ludwig I and his bride Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The main event at their wedding celebrations was a horse race, which in following years was replaced by carnival style booths. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that these booths were upgraded to beer tents and the festival started to resemble the party we know today. The extravagant modern-day celebrations that see seven million litres of beer guzzled in a couple of weeks are still celebrated on the spot of the wedding that launched the tradition – known as the Theresienwiese (Therese’s Meadow). Over the years the dates changed to guarantee good weather (sunny days mean thirsty patrons) but the Oktoberfest moniker stuck, even though most of the 16-day shindig actually happens in September.
Knowing that there would be plenty of bier consumed later, we started off away from the tents and decided the best way to begin was to line our stomachs in preparation. Dieters beware: steins of foamy beer aside, Oktoberfest is essentially a giant carnival. And as with any carnival, there’s an abundance of food that’s high on taste but low on nutrition. Starting on the savoury snacks we munched out way through a trio of different wurst, half a dozen gigantic pretzels and about a pound of scrumptious roast pork on a bun before admitting defeat and moving on to dessert.
Roasted almonds, toffee apples and cotton candy all beckoned, but it was the heart-shaped gingerbread cookies that won the confectionery battle. My high school German failed to translate the etchings neatly iced on to the surface, but that didn’t matter – within seconds we had devoured the cookies, writing and all.
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