One of my favorite things about Europe is that a truly tasty beer is never too far away. History has not been favorable toward American beers (though as of late the U.S. has really stepped up its' beer game). Every country in Europe has it's own unique brew whether it's Heineken in Holland, Guinness in Ireland, Carlsberg in Denmark, or Karlovacko in Croatia, each country has its go-to cheap, light, lager that any budget traveler will surely be able to call out.
Side note: Something America really needs to pick up on is the ability to buy large bottles for cheap. Sure we have 30-packs for $20 out there, but I can buy a 2 liter bottle for less than $3 in many countries here. That's nearly 6 beers in one bottle for not that much. Maybe they do exist somewhere and I just haven't found them yet, but I think it's genius. Just a thought. I digress.
For many years Germany has been the king of beers. Dating back several hundred years, Germany has lead the way continuously in both their quality of beer and beer drinking abilities, and there is no better demonstration of this success than Oktoberfest, the yearly gathering for international beer drinkers to get together and revel in their commonalities.
Our group left Krakow and made our way through Prague (see previous post on how awesome Prague is) and up to Munich to join in this annual celebration. Their are many imitators of the great beer festival all around the world. Hell, there's even one in south central Wisconsin not far from where I used to live at the New Glarus Brewery. But very few, if any, can live up to what this festival is really all about. To summarize our four days there, I can put it in one, simple word: Spectacular.
The history of this festival is actually quite something. Beginning 182 years ago, a former princess of German, Princess Theresa, was married and rather than having a party with the socialites of the time, she wanted the entire kingdom to celebrate with her. And what was it exactly that she wanted people to be eating and drinking? Why beer and pork of course! Germany has never looked back.
Today, Oktoberfest is a staple internationally for anyone that has even the slightest interest in drinking beer. It has grown to see more than 6 million visitors annually and is more than just a festival for drunkards who can't handle their booze. It's truly a celebration for people from across the world to gather, drink, sing, and be spectacular together. It's absolute chaos at it's finest and my group loved every second of it.
So, you may be wondering what the process for getting a beer, meeting people, and sitting at a table is all about?
I initially thought that beer would be literally flowing from the ceiling and upon arrival we'd be welcomed like kings to the tables of the beer drinking Gods. Quickly I realized this was not the case. Not only did it take us nearly an hour to consume our first beer, but our group of six wandered around debauchery-filled tents wondering why in the hell beers were not in our hands yet. The process for actually getting a beer at Oktoberfest is really quite simple once you figure it out. There are several different processes for getting beer, however, we arrived in the early evening to the tents which had already been open for six hours and soon realized it would be much more difficult than we anticipated. So, if you're really wondering what the strategy is, it requires a table first and foremost. In order to be served at Oktoberfest you must be sitting (or standing close by) a table within a tent (really it's a pavilion that's called a tent for God only knows why). One you've secured a table, which is significantly more difficult than it sounds, you can quickly be served by classy men and woman dressed to the nines in authentic German garb. Once ordering, they'll bring anywhere from 6-12 steins all at once (see World Record carry of 27 beers to the right). Once beers are in hand, feel free to drink and never look back.
Another alternative to acquiring a table is to arrive at the tents early. And by early, I mean 10 in the morning. That's when the tents open, and within a couple of hours, each tent is completely full, tables packed, and bands fully into the swing of things. We tried this alternative on our second day and had a great time. Once securing a table, it's important to remain at the table and continually recruit new people to join your table as each consecutive group comes in and out. Throughout our six-hours of having a table in the Lowenbrau tent, we had passer bys from Italy, France, Israel, Australia, Britain, and Germany all come by for an hour or so throughout the day and enjoy a beer or two with us, each group bringing a different energy to our table to keep the day going. Once each person from our group had had just enough beer, we all became solo adventurers wandering through the countless other tents on the fairgrounds. Even with a table, it is literally impossible to hold on to everyone in a group of two or more at Oktoberfest, and we all found that out the easy way, making for that many more opportunities to meet people from every corner of the globe and enjoy the celebrations of Oktoberfest.
The festival includes more than just beer drinking though, with carnival rides, music, and German food galore throughout the grounds. After enjoying our time in the tents, exploring and wandering through the grounds and riding all the rides quickly ensued. The fairgrounds as a whole were littered with people every night, even during the middle of the week, and everyone was enjoying their time at this annual celebration. Though I didn't have any lederhosen to don throughout the festival, I didn't feel out of place in the slightest, as there were several others just like me, wearing street clothes around the park and still enjoying every single second.
Our third day at the festival was meant to be an "exploratory" day around the grounds, as most of our time spent at Oktoberfest was either in the tent during the day time or at night, inebriated and wandering through the packs of people amid the flashing lights and delicious smell of carnival food. We successfully wandered into and out of around five tents before we finally settled on a tent we were able to find a table at, and the usual activities of the days before once again commenced. And once again, it was a jammed-packed day full of new faces, cultures, food, and beer.
Now that I've been to Oktoberfest I can honestly say that it was one of the most fun events I've ever been to. I met people from across the globe, all sharing in an unforgettable experience together without worrying about the madness and problems occurring everywhere else in the world. The taps flowed freely, the singing rang loudly through the tents, and the memories were built to last a lifetime. I'll definitely be back, Oktoberfest, but let me first continue to enjoy and fondly remember my first experience at this fine, beer drinking, friend making, happiness filled extravaganza!