Did you know that Oktoberfest takes place largely in the month of September??? It’s true! But “Septemberfest” sounds awkward, right? We attended Oktoberfest in Munich on September 30, 2014, and that year, Oktoberfest ran from September 20-October 5. But, we dally.
How was it? It was one of the most fun days we have ever had traveling! We didn’t know what to expect at all. We asked a young man at our hotel’s front desk where we should go, or what we should see. He said immediately, “Go to the Hacker-Pschorr Hall!” So off we went by train in late morning. It is held in a fairgrounds called Theresienwiese, which is accessible via two different trains. Unlike a state or county fair in the US, there is no admission fee! It is free to walk in. And actually, it is exactly like any fair, with rides, food and dessert stands, drink stands, and games of chance. BUT, the grounds are also dotted with 14 large beer halls and 20 smaller beer tents. Yes, that is 34 places to purchase – and consume – beer, in the size of a modest-sized fairgrounds.
We went to the Hacker Pschorr Hall, as it was said to attract more young people than the others. It was early in the day, about noon, but we sat down and ordered drinks and lunch. There were still seats to be had, at this hour. We went on a Tuesday rather than a weekend. We were soon talking to people around us, including a friendly young German man who had moved to New York City for work, but always returned to Munich for Oktoberfest. He was sort of protective of us, helping us with getting oriented, and he translated the menu for us. We stayed for several hours, and some college kids joined our table….Catherine, Cassie, Manuel, and Christoph. You can see them in four of the photos, halfway down. They were there to – DRINK. Period. So we talked with them, drank, took photos. And then we announced that we were going to see the rest of the fairgrounds, as we had just walked up to this hall and stayed there. They begged us to stay longer, but we really wanted to experience and see the rest of the festival. They told us to come back, and we said we would try.
We walked around and were surprised how family-oriented the event was outside of the beer hall. You can look at the last nine photos to see some of the fairgrounds. We did try a “Baumstriezel,” or chimney cake, as shown in one of the photos. It is pastry cut into long strips that are then wrapped around a thick spit, and baked over a fire or electric grill. It is dusted with sugar and other toppings, if you wish. You just peel it round and round in strips. It was very good with some espresso! There was a fun house, as you would see in the US, and lots of movie monster-oriented rides and attractions. Many brands of beer had horse-drawn carts rambling around to “remind” you that beer was available!
We went into some of the other beer halls, but most had “reserved” signs on their tables for people who had made reservations, and they weren’t very welcoming. Also, the age of the drinkers was much older than our original hall. Since we were told it would get very crowded, we returned to the Hacker-Pschorr Hall with great trepidation around 5:00 pm. As you can see, the picnic tables are set up as close as they can be to each other to allow for a narrow aisle for ingress and egress, but not much more. Each bench at either side of the table could not accommodate more than four people comfortably. We went back to our original table, and there were six people on each side, crammed together. Our four young friends were on the inside, next to a barrier, not on the aisle end. They were ecstatic to see us and told us to come sit with them. We told them there was no room, with six people almost on top of each other, and we couldn’t even squeeze past the people on the aisle end. “We are making room! Come!” Mike volunteered to go first. He squeezed and squished past people, and when he got to them, there was one inch between them and the other people. “Sit!” He said, how?? Just lower yourself! It was like the parting of the Red Sea. He started to sit, and bodies wriggled, some protested, and he was down and seated! Mike called for Jan to do the same! She did what he did, and it unfolded the same way….we were in! They were so cordial to two old foreign people! Everyone welcomed us, and people across from us waved and said hi…it was terrific. We bought a few rounds of beer for everyone, and we partied! They said…wait till the dancing starts!
There was no dance floor, only picnic tables as far as the eye can see, with the band in a raised bandstand in the middle of the enormous room. Puzzled, we asked, where does the dancing take place? We soon found out. In fact, you can see it in the first photo. Dancing consisted of standing on our seats, moving together, lifting beer mugs, and singing at the top of our lungs, yelling, and cheering. You couldn’t remain seated, of course, when your bench, intended for four people and now having seven or eight, all stood. We acted as one. It was a blast. Friendships and camaraderie prevailed. The funniest thing about the evening was their two favorite songs, sung loudly and lustily by the mostly German crowd: Take Me Home, Country Roads, and Sweet Home Alabama. They knew every syllable of every word, perfectly. I asked Manuel, who was very drunk, if he knew where Alabama was. He answered, “I don’t even know what Alabama is!” After we sang Country Roads, I asked, likewise, about West Virginia. He said, “well, what is West Virginia?” I told him that was my question to him, and his answer was, “I have no idea.”
Prices were high, but that was to be expected at a fair of worldwide notoriety. Do you see the menu? Beers were almost 11 euros (although they were huge!), apple strudel was about 8 euros, and Wiener schnitzel cost 20 euros. We could figure out those items on the menu, but needed help translating some of the others. The food was pretty good, surprisingly.
The first photos are the inside of the festival hall. Then come the photos of our four friends. Everyone wearing a dirndl was showing a lot of cleavage…that’s what they are designed to do! Most men were in regular clothing, but some wore lederhosen with a regular shirt. You can rent either of these costumes in shops around the fairgrounds, if you want to be traditional. We liked the two posters you can see….kissing, yes; smoking, no; eating and drinking, yes; smoking, no. We can only imagine what it was like in the days when there was smoking in the hall! At any rate, everyone was very fun, friendly, gracious, kind, and……drunk! What a great memory.