Something we had been wanting to experience, Oktoberfest, was three hours by train from Vienna, so it tied in nicely with visiting our friends in Austria. Our strategy of partaking in this event during the second half of our trip turned out to the the right call. Not only did we have a great time at the festival, but we were also able to explore Munich and the surrounding Bavarian region, coming away with lots of great memories made both inside and outside the tents of Oktoberfest.
Wednesday September 23rd
As mentioned in our Vienna post, the trains were being rerouted due to the sudden influx of refugees at the time. Our reroute to Kufstein ended up going smoothly and we arrived in Munich in the early afternoon. We checked into our hotel room and quickly hit the city in search of a late lunch.
Munich Beer Hall
Our first night in Munich we did not head to Oktoberfest (saving that for the first full day in the city) and instead decided for dinner at Hofbräuhaus. This beer hall is famous for many reasons, including the site of where Hitler first tried to seize power in 1923 with a failed coup, the Beer Hall Putsch. Thankfully the only things we encountered that night were tons of Germans laughing, singing, and consuming large quantities of beer. We weren’t sure if we could get in for dinner without a reservation but we wandered upstairs to the main beerhall and had no problem getting a table. Granted it was just two of us, with a larger group it would have been more difficult. We had our first stein of beer and another delicious schnitzel meal while getting our first taste of Oktoberfest activities.
On our way back to the hotel we decided to walk through the Oktoberfest fair grounds to get acquainted with the grounds. We got a feel for the numerous large tents, the smaller tents, and hundreds of vendors offering food, trinkets, rides and more food. Tomorrow was looking to be a great day in this amusement park for adults.
We opted for a key location when booking our hotel for Oktoberfest. It turned out to be a very small room (literally just a bed, desk and bathroom), but perfectly fine for the occasion, especially being a few minutes’ walk from downtown, the train station, and Oktoberfest. We booked the room well in advance (close to a year out) and would recommend the hotel for its prime location and reasonable price.
Thursday September 24th
The well-known and well-copied festival of Oktoberfest has a great background story, basically a royal wedding reception in 1810 that was so much fun they decided to do again the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and well here we are in 2015, dressed in lederhosen and dirdnl, walking to those same grounds. Located in the heart of Munich, these grounds contain 14 large tents (these seat anywhere from 2,500 – 8,000 inside alone) and 20 smaller tents, selling beer (beer that has to be brewed in Munich!) in huge steins. These tents were complimented by the vendors selling simple yet tasty Bavarian food, countless souvenirs, or a good time on amusement park rides. It was amazing how many people flooded to the grounds, most in proper attire and most in a stumbling mode by the end (6 million every year), yet everyone was having a good time and we did not encounter a fight or anything of that nature the entire time.
The numerous tips received from our friends who had gone before as we prepped for Oktoberfest could now be put to use. One was we should arrive well before the tent opening time (9am weekends and holidays, 10am during the week) in order to actually get inside and obtain a seat, where you only get served if at a table. While this is definitely true during the first day or two of Oktoberfest, by the time we visited during the second week we had little trouble during the day getting into tents. After some research we decided to check out the Hacker-Pschorr tent first. An early morning start began with a quick breakfast at the hotel before we walked to the grounds at 9:30am to wait outside the Hacker-Pschorr tent. At 10am those who had gathered rushed inside, and the reality of the situation really hit home when the first steins of beer were thumped onto our table at 10:05 in the morning. After conquering those first steins, our next stop was at the large wine tent (Weinzelt). Tent hopping and pretzel eating continued throughout the morning and early afternoon, easy for us to do because it was just the two of us (a large group would have less flexibility).
We had made plans to meet up with some friends from New York who were on their own travel adventure that afternoon at Lowenbrau. What followed was more tent hopping, beer drinking, card playing, and of course pretzels and a half chicken. This continued on into the evening before Garret randomly hit the kill switch before 8pm (yes, lame, yes, he knows he is no longer has his sophomore in college stamina) and was out for the count, surrendering to the day-drinking of seven+ steins complimented by the stop in the wine tent. Overall it was a full day of fun for us!
Friday September 25th
We decided to dedicate one day to exploring Munich beyond the Oktoberfest grounds. After waking up and doing our best to brush off the post-Oktoberfest hangover, we ventured out into the city to explore. Our first stop was Viktualienmarkt, an open air market in the center of Munich. It was fun to wander around this busy market, and we bought some wine for later that evening to drink with friends before another go-around at Oktoberfest.
In the same area as the market is St. Peter’s Church, where we climbed some narrow stairs up to a cramped outdoor deck on the steeple, which provided amazing 360° views of the city. The Old Town area is cramped with numerous churches and government buildings, most of which rebuilt after the War. After soaking in the views we continued to walk through Old Town and made our way to the very large city park, English Garden.
The Englischer Garten is very walkable from Old Town, with lots of sightseeing along the way. We thought the top sites within the park would include the beautiful greenery and Chinese Tower, but it was also a site to see a naked guy enjoying the late summer rays. (And yes, it is legal!) We looked for but failed to check out the surfers in the middle of the park, but plan to see these on our next visit to the city!
That night we met up with our friends for another night of tent hopping at Oktoberfest. Evening turning into night is the start of the home stretch in the tents, where the energy picks up, tents are packed tight with people (we even saw kids/families there, which was interesting), and you spend the last hour on top of your table singing your heart out to German songs you don’t know or classic American ones everyone knows (ever heard a German band butcher Sweet Home Alabama?). For those of you who went to our alma mater KU, and spent the last part of a fall Friday night at the overloaded Wheel, bellowing out Sweet Caroline as the marching band played, it was like that but with 8,000 people in one tent.
The traditional every-20-minute cheer of Ein Prosit! gets louder, sloppier and better as the night goes on; brave souls stand on the tables and try to chug their beers in one gulp, success being met with hearty cheers, failures enduring the boos and possibly being pelted with pieces of pretzel. It is in those final one or two songs the final cheers and hugs conclude one of the more enjoyable moments as a human being, watching people from all parts of the world speaking all kinds of languages enjoying each other’s company and having the time of their lives, all of this going back to a party in the early 1800s that was just too good to stop. We now know first-hand just how true that statement is, and how much fun it is to keep the party going.
Saturday September 26th
Another part of Bavaria we wanted to see was the Neuschwanstein Castle. Instead of renting a car, we decided to sign up for a group tour departing from Munich. We did a little research and found Bus Bavaria (also known as Mike’s Bike Tour) which had great reviews, a reasonable price, and also included a bike tour around the castle area. We were slightly hesitant because we aren’t normally the type to enjoy large group guided bus tour type experiences, however Bus Bavaria far exceeded our expectations.
The two hour drive to the castle (right on the Austrian border) offers incredible views, and we were able to sit back and both enjoy instead of someone having to drive, the other navigate, and both of us being on the tired side thanks to Oktoberfest. Once arriving at the castle area we enjoyed a group bike tour around the area with frequent stops to get photos of the castle from different angles. The tour offered lunch (which was a slight additional cost but worth it), some alpine sliding, and pre-purchased tickets to tour the castle in the afternoon. This was a huge plus due to the fact that it was high tourist season and the tickets had sold out early that morning.
The castle itself is a fascinating story of both the end of and independent Bavaria, the emergence of Germany as a nation, and the mysterious death of a “mad” King Ludwig II. We had a great guide, Brad, who made it a very personal tour for such a large group, and he pointed out numerous facts as we biked all around the area, and told the story about why the castle was built, and the irony of a reclusive king having his reclusive (and unfinished) castle opened up to the public only months after his mysterious death (the government doing this to pay off the debt). This day trip out of the city was extremely educational and enjoyable for both of us.
After making it back to the city later that night we decided to take one more (sober this time) walk through the Oktoberfest fairgrounds. This also allowed for an absolutely amazing people watching experience, and we picked up a few souvenir steins so we can help keep the Oktoberfest tradition going!
Sunday September 27th
We headed for the airport to catch our direct flight back to NYC. The Munich airport is easily accessible by public transportation. We walked to the central train terminal and hopped on a train to the airport. The train station has both the local Munich subway trains as well as regional European trains, which caused some confusion as to where to buy our train tickets. It took us a few minutes to get this figured out, however the airport trains leave every 10 minutes so we didn’t lose much time overall. We left our fifth European country of 2015 exhausted but extremely satisfied!
(De)parting Word of Advice:
- GO to Oktoberfest! Embrace the traditions, including the outfits, and you will have an incredible time. Also bring cash!
- We always try to save our airline miles for international trips, you get way more value out of it compared to domestic travel (60k direct multi-city roundtrip to Europe versus 30-45k indirect trips to the Midwest).
- The Germans are very strict about waiting to cross the street/pedestrians obeying rules of the road (opposite of NYC).
- Explore Bavaria, not just Munich, and you will soak up an incredible amount of their culture and traditions.
- BMW stands for Bavarian Motor Works (and the blue and white checkered in the logo comes from the Bavarian flag).