Oktoberfest in Munich


Munich > Oktoberfest

Das Oktoberfest dates from 1810. In 2010 the event celebrated its 200th birthday, but that year marked only the 177th Oktoberfest, what with wars, epidemics and such. The original Fest was the celebration of a Bavarian royal wedding. Princess Teresa (Therese) of Bavaria (1792-1854) had married crown prince Ludwig I (later king of Bavaria) on the evening of October 12, 1810. The next day, the city began celebrating the wedding with various activities, including concerts, parties, balls, and even a horse race on the 17th. It all went so well that the Bavarian royal family decided to hold another race a year later, beginning the Oktoberfest tradition.

Oktoberfest prep

Munich’s Oktoberfest is celebrated on the historic fairgrounds (Theresienwiese) in the middle of the Bavarian capital city. This view shows preparations just days before the 2016 festival opened on September 17. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The new tradition was interrupted in 1813 because of Bavaria’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, but over the years the fairgrounds (the Theresienwiese, named for Therese) grew to include other attractions. (The horse races continued to run intermittently until 1960.) In 1818 came the first merry-go-round, and a year later the Munich city fathers took over the operation of the annual affair. Since then Oktoberfest has been held annually except for two cholera outbreaks and the First and Second World Wars. The modern Oktoberfest resumed in 1950.

Oktoberfest Today
Oktoberfest now attracts from five to six million visitors every year, many of them from outside Germany. (5.6 million in 2016.) Although it is called Oktoberfest, the 16-day event always begins in September and ends on the first Sunday in October – unless that Sunday falls on the 1st or 2nd, in which case the festival continues until October 3, the German national holiday.

Dates for Oktoberfest (2016-2020)

2016: September 17 to October 3
2017: September 16 to October 3
2018: September 22 to October 7
2019: September 21 to October 6
2020: September 19 to October 4

Every Oktoberfest begins with a parade led by the Munich mayor and the “Münchner Kindl” (Munich child, the city’s mascot, usually portrayed by a girl). Then comes the ceremonial tapping of the first beer keg at 12 noon. That honor goes to the mayor, who shouts out the traditional cry of “O’zapft is!” (“It is tapped!”) Only then can the beer start flowing and the festivities begin.

The main attraction of Oktoberfest is its 13 elaborate beer “tents” (plus the Weinzelt for wine-lovers), which are set up only during the two-week event. (See more about the tents below.) Yes, beer is king, but Oktoberfest is really an oversized state fair, with a carnival atmosphere and carnival rides. Ferris wheels, roller coasters, and other fair rides are a big part of Oktoberfest. There are about 80 ride attractions alone.

In recent years, the Oktoberfest organizers have made an effort to combat what was a growing problem with rowdy, inebriated people who were creating an unwelcome atmosphere. The organizers have taken steps to make Oktoberfest more family-friendly, while preserving the fair’s oompah beer core. Some tents offer a special “kids night” once a week to encourage family attendance. (See “The Beer Tents” below for more about the tents.)


The Oktoberfest fairgrounds by night (2005). PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

For the 2016 Oktoberfest, in light of terrorist attacks and threats in France and elsewhere, new security measures were introduced. In addition to a fence around the entire perimeter, there were new restrictions on backpacks and purses. In the end, there were no serious problems, other than the rainy, cool weather that slightly reduced the 2016 attendance figures.


Transportation and Lodging
Getting to Munich, a major air and rail hub, is easy, but you should make your flight or rail reservations as far in advance as possible. If you are driving, don’t plan on getting anywhere near the Theresienwiese fairgrounds or Munich’s center during Oktoberfest.

Hotels and other accommodations are usually booked up months prior to Oktoberfest. Make reservations early. Late arrivals (and people who want to save money) often choose to stay in cities outside the Munich area. Augsburg, for instance, is only about an hour away from the Bavarian capital.

Getting around in Munich is easy with the city’s excellent public transportation system. The many S-Bahn (commuter rail), U-Bahn (metro, underground), streetcar and bus lines connect the city’s districts, the suburbs, and the airport. Of course, things can get a bit crowded during Oktoberfest, but that’s just another part of the fun.

Free Entry, but…
There is no charge to get onto the Oktoberfest grounds. You can walk around for free, but if you want to do anything you have to pay for food and drink and the various rides and attractions. Beer and food vouchers are only available in the beer tents. A typical table reservation costs 25 to 60 euros per person, depending on the tent and various options. For that you get a voucher for two liters of beer and typically a roasted half-chicken. (The reservation itself is free, but you have to pay for a voucher.) Most tents offer both indoor and outdoor (beer garden) seating. Tents only take table reservations via postal mail, fax (!), or the official online request service for reservations, starting in April. A table seats 6 to 10 people, or you can reserve in units of 10, 20, etc. By law, there are days and times when no reservations are possible; first come, first served. Timing is everything! Note: No credit card or US-check voucher payments!

Avoid weekends! Friday and Saturday in particular are crazy times at Oktoberfest. You are more likely to encounter drunk and unruly patrons on the weekend. If that’s okay with you, fine, but many people try to avoid Oktoberfest weekends. Many people prefer early afternoon on any day as well, avoiding the more rowdy evenings. On the other hand, Oktoberfest is not supposed to be a refined “Sunday picnic” – which is what attracts many visitors. Just be forewarned.


Oktoberfest by the Numbers (2017, 18 days)
Area of fairgrounds used for Oktoberfest: 34.5 hectares (85 acres)
Total Area of the Theresienwiese: 42 hectares (104 acres)
Seats in the festival halls: approx. 119,000
Visitors: 6.2 million, 5.6 million (2016), 6.4 million (2010)
Non-German visitors: 19 percent (most from the USA, followed by GB, Austria, and France)
Employees: 8,000 full-time, 5,000 part-time

Price of a liter beer:
10.95-10.60 euros (2017, price varies from tent to tent)
Note: Beer and other beverage prices (including water!) have gone up each year. In 2010, the top price for a Litermaß was “only” 8.85 euros. In 2018, a liter of beer may break the 11-euro level. Switching to bottled water will cost you even more than beer!

Oktoberfest Beverages Served
Beer: ca. 7,500,000 liters (2017)
Wine: 89,259 liters (2010)
Sparkling wine: 37,733 liters
Coffee and tea: 245,335 liters
Water and lemonade: 1,028,522 half liters

Oktoberfest Food Served
Chicken (Brathendl): 366,878 units (2016)
Pork sausages: 151,857 pairs (2016)
Fish: 40,850 kg (2010)
Pork knuckles (Haxen): 69,293 units (2010)
Oxen: 127 units (2016)

MORE > Das Oktoberfest in Zahlen (www.muenchen.de in German)

No Smoking!
Bavaria has a strict non-smoking law for bars and restaurants, with no exceptions for Oktoberfest! However, most tents offer special closed-off smoking areas. The catch: No food or drink can be served there – and there are no tables or chairs!

The 1980 Bomb Attack
On September 26, 1980 a bomb explosion near the main Oktoberfest entrance killed 13 people and injured over 200. The attack was one of the worst terrorist acts in German history. Right-wing extremist Gundolf Köhler was identified as the lone bomber, but he was killed in the explosion and some doubt that he acted alone. His powerful pipe bomb, filled with nails and 1.4 kg of TNT, was placed in a trash can. A memorial to the victims was dedicated in September 2008.

THE BEER TENTS (Bierzelte)
Only Munich beer breweries are allowed to sponsor beer tents. Most of these so-called “tents” look more like huge buildings than tents. The more popular Oktoberfest tents are booked up long before the events begin (but some won’t accept reservations before February or March). You have to make your reservations with each tent via fax, postal mail or in some cases email or a website form. (See links below.) Advance payment is usually cash or EC card (only a few take credit cards!). You don’t have to have reservations, but tents are closed when they reach full capacity, so arrive early! Only people with seats can be served! Most tents close at 11:30 p.m., except for the Käfer Wiesn-Schänke and the Weinzelt, which close at 1:00 a.m. There are also smaller “restaurant” tents that specialize in roast duck, chicken, pork, Bratwurst, Knödel (Bavarian dumplings), or cake and pastries. Here is a summary of the 14 main beer tents:

  • Das Hippodrom | Dating from 1902, the Hippodrom was one of the smaller main tents (with a circus theme), but also one of the most popular. Since 2014 it’s no longer on the Wiesn but is now housed in a permanent building within walking distance of the Wiesn. More: www.hippodrom.de
  • Armbrustschützenzelt | The “crossbow shooters tent” is named for an event that has been part of Oktoberfest since 1895. Beer: Paulaner. Website
  • Hofbräu-Festzelt | The tent run by the famous Hofbräuhaus is the largest and popular with Americans and other foreigners. Website
  • Hacker-Festzelt | One of the largest, this Hacker-Pschorr brewery tent features rock music rather than the more traditional brass bands. Website
  • Schottenhamel | Oktoberfest’s oldest tent is popular with young folks. This Spaten-Franziskaner tent is where the opening ceremonies with the mayor take place. Website
  • Winzerer Fähndl | Look for the landmark tower with a big rotating mug of Paulaner beer on top. Features the Nockherberger brass band. Website
  • Schützen-Festhalle | A mid-sized tent located below the landmark Bavaria statue. Beer: Löwenbräu. Website
  • Käfer Wiesen-Schänke | Small, cozy, and very popular. Open until 1:00 a.m. Beer: Paulaner.
  • Kufflers Weinzelt | A wide selection of wines plus Paulaner Weißbier. Open until 1:00 a.m. Website
  • Löwenbräu-Festhalle | The “lion’s brew” tent is marked by two large lions. Website
  • Bräurosl | This Hacker-Pschorr brewery tent seats 6,200 inside. Home to the Gay Sunday event (on first Sunday). Website
  • Augustiner-Festhalle | Family-friendly! Tuesday is “kids day”! Serves the local brew, Augustiner, from individually tapped wooden kegs.
  • Ochsenbraterei | As the name implies, ox roasted on a revolving spit is the specialty. Beer: Spaten. Website
  • Fischer Vroni | If you like fish, this is your tent. Augustiner is the beer served here. Email reservations; no fax reservations. Website (Deutsch)
  • Web: Beer Tents – Links to various tents/halls (oktoberfest.de in English)


Oktoberfest around the Globe
Even in Germany itself, Munich’s Oktoberfest has inspired imitation. The Cannstatter Volksfest (Cannstatter Wasen) in Stuttgart is the second largest beer festival and fair in Germany, with about 4.5 million annual visitors. It starts a week later than Oktoberfest. In 2017 the Cannstatter Volksfest ran from September 22 to October 8. Other large German festivals include the Cranger Kirmes in Herne, North Rhine-Westphalia; the Rheinkirmes in Düsseldorf, and the Freimarkt in Bremen in northern Germany. The Schützenfest Hannover is the world’s largest marksmen’s fair. There are also many other Oktoberfest events in about 100 other countries, including large ones in Australia, Brazil, Canada, and the United States.

For more about the genuine Oktoberfest in Munich, see the official Oktoberfest.de site (in German and English) and the various tent links above.

Next | Munich City Guide

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