Oktoberfest: The Inside Scoop

This past weekend, I traveled to Munich, Germany for the illustrious celebration of Oktoberfest. I don’t know about you, but I had a pretty naïve understanding of the German tradition before I went. I thought it was pretty much a big beer festival featuring a lot of pretzels and some famous sausages. What I came to find was that it was much, much more than what my unassuming self was expecting.

First of all, as I mentioned, I had a pretty vague image in my head of what the weekend was going to look like. This image consisted of a bunch of drunk adults and students milling about a long block in Munich lined with beer halls, with the idea being that you hopped between them. This was partly true, but what I (and all of my friends) were shocked about was that the beer halls were not even the main attraction when you walked in: this place was truly like a carnival. When you enter, you do not see the mugs of beer bigger than your head or the trays of famous German pretzels. In fact, you do not even see the rowdy, wild atmosphere you’ve been mentally preparing for. Instead, you are surrounded by amazing food and endless rides. This place was literally a theme park. You see families eating together, little kids running around with bratwursts, the long lines for the famous amusement park rides you grew up with (minus roller coasters) and the most amazing food stands. The food here was the best I have had in Germany. On the first day, I ate a bratwurst that was probably about 1.5 feet long and two cones of piping hot “pommes” (french fries). And on the second day, I ate three of the best crepes I have had in my life. We bought tickets, rode the rides, played some games, won a prize and kind of just hung out like any town fair. 

The unruly and yet merry chaos of the beer halls was strategically sheltered from the main crowds. The beer halls were sprinkled throughout the food and game stands, but the security of each was so intense that you couldn’t even see or hear (and thus know what to expect) the inside at all until you were let in. Once inside, you were placed into a totally different world. It was like passing through a portal; you went from relative yet tolerable and friendly commotion into full blown madness (but hey I’m not mad about it). All I’m saying is that my modest pre-conceived notions could not have prepared for me for the frenzied pandemonium that then ensued in those halls. It was honestly amazing.

The inside was packed to the brim with people. Seriously, you could barely move. And every once in a while you would get whistled at and thrown out of the way by a waitress making her way through the crowd to serve beer to a table. Oh yeah, you wanted to be served - you had to be at a table, either seated or standing. There were also vendors walking around with baskets around their neck filled with all kinds of food, but mostly pretzels. 

Ugh, I wish I counted the amount of pretzels I ate this weekend. 

The most pleasantly surprising aspect of the beer halls was the actual beer itself. I was a tad bit worried because I don’t typically drink beer, and I knew that the mugs were both 1) bigger than one’s head and 2) a quintessential part of the experience. Luckily, one of their options was a mixture of their famous beer and Sprite… a combo I could get behind (for the experience). Once we found all of our friends (pretty much 80% of people I’ve ever met at UCLA were there) it was one of the best days ever. The gigantic group of all of us Bruins crowded together and danced, sang, bumped into each other a lot and just had fun together.

If you are thinking about going, I have a few tips:

  1. Definitely wear a dirndl - they cute, traditional, and super respectful. You will blend in more if you wear one. Also, make sure it is long. Don’t wear the super short costume dirndl’s because they are not traditional and you may get spit on. Yeah, that happened to my friend.
  2. Don’t camp. Camping is definitely cheaper and if you’re okay with that kind of thing then by all means go for it. But, I found that after the long days at the fest it was way easier and way safer to take a quick tram ride back to your hotel in the city center than take the metro and bus back to the dark camp site.
  3. Always tip the waitresses!! Their job is relentless! So not only is it expected, but also incredibly deserved.

All in all, it was an awesome weekend. And I can honestly say that while it was a crazy fun day, I was excited to leave and finally get to fresh air, fresh food and some personal space. If you’re studying abroad during the fall semester in Europe you should definitely check it out! While it isn’t a traditional German celebration and more specifically a Munchen custom, it’s a really cool reason to fully experience a beautiful city’s historical tradition. It was a weekend I will never forget.