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Oktoberfest 2008: Plan Ahead!

One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I was living in Florence back in 2004 was not preparing myself—mentally and logistically—for the craziness that is Oktoberfest. I decided to travel to Munich, Germany for the beloved international beer-a-thon on a last minute whim…fun and exciting, I know. But also…stupid. Young people actually do end up sleeping in train stations, and hotel owners do actually check to make sure you haven’t crammed 14 people into your two double bed shanty…..

Don’t get me wrong—my weekend at Oktoberfest was one of the most amazingly fun weekends EVER. I highly recommend going if you have the energy and the funds!

If you are aching to prost the night away with a group college pals and local, lederhosen-clad brethren this year, then don’t put off organizing your excursion until the last minute. There are a few details that you must consider…now!

First of all, Oktoberfest doesn’t really happen in October: the festival runs for sixteen days up until, and including, the first Sunday in October (it starts on September 20th this year). Most of the “regulars” have their accommodation and traditional costumes sorted out months in advance (the costumes, I learned, are actually a big deal for German participants, serving as important markers of cultural status/pride), if not on the day that they left the festival the previous year.

The most resourceful students on my study abroad program had booked their flights/trains and hostels the previous July …i.e. NOW, if you are planning to travel to Munich this September/October. I made the mistake of waiting until September to plan my trip, and, by this time, there were virtually no flights left. The few available seats that remained were outrageously priced, so I ended up taking a long, expensive overnight train. Book your flights now!

By the time I looked into accommodation, there was not one single hostel bed free in the city. I definitely do not recommend the “figure it out when we get there” approach—over 6 million visitors will be sleeping in and around Munich when you visit. Fortunately, someone in our group was resourceful enough to find us a reasonably-priced hotel room (reasonably priced because we split it 9 ways! And – eek – almost got caught! I do not recommend this approach!) …just two weeks before our visit.

Once you are finally at the fest, another useful tip: instead of gulping down a breakfast beer, start the day with a shandy (a tasty mix of beer and lemon soda), rather than overflowing steins of potent booze. The locals have already caught onto this trick, and they will be the ones that start at 10am and are still table dancing at dusk. Mix it up! You have all morning, afternoon, night, followed by the next afternoon, morning, night… afternoon…

Lastly, after a few days of tabletop debauchery, I realized that there was so much to see in and around the beautiful city of Munich! I definitely recommend planning a few excursions and activities; I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city on a bike tour, which was led by a lively guide and, of course, included pub stops!

Also, though it feels strange, and even ‘wrong’, to abandon the world’s largest drinking festival to visit serious and solemn historical landmarks, you must consider: what is the likelihood that you will ever be in Munich, or for that matter, Germany, again? I personally chose to spend a day exploring the history of the region and took a trip to nearby Dachau; my visit to the Memorial Camp was life-changing, and I definitely do not regret it.

Well, that’s all on Munich/Oktoberfest for now! Do post a message if you have any questions or insights, and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.

I do hope that you make the most of your German adventure by planning smartly and traveling safely…

Good luck, and have fun!

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  1. comment by: beerlver on Jul 02 at 17:49

    i luv beer

  2. comment by: Lucas on Aug 19 at 18:08

    Where would I find the best “pocket” travel guide with tips specifically for Oktoberfest? I would like to recommend it to my visitors.

  3. comment by: Carrie Daniel on Aug 29 at 14:45

    Lucas: I don’t have direct access to any such travel guides as we are purely an online company. Your visitors should check out the travel section of their local bookstores before visiting for some Munich travel guides.

    Also, after a random google search, I came up with this online ‘pocket guide’. It looks pretty comprehensive!

    I think the best way to do Oktoberfest is with Germans who have been going for years – much better than a guide book… and much better than stumbling into one of the huge, impersonal touristy tents (like Hofbrauhaus, which will be full of American college students). I was lucky enough to befriend a young German who had studied previously in America, spoke great English, and had been attending the festival for years. My friend and I ended up getting to the festival very early on our first day in Munich because we couldn’t check into our hotel yet; luckily, this young man had also arrived at 10am to reserve a table at the Hippodrome tent. He was our guide for the rest of the fest: he explained to us how to order the diluted beers (since we were there for such long days), etc etc. He even talked the guards into letting us back in after we left the tent to “explore” the festival – which was a stupid mistake because tents like Hippodrome fill up by midday, and guards will not permit re-entry once the tents are full.

    My advice: if you are based in Munich, maybe you could set them up with some keen festival-going friends of yours for at least the first day?

    Good luck with the planning, and let me know if you have any specific questions: I would be glad to comment more. Hope this helps!

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