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Drink The World's Best Beer at Munich's Oktoberfest

Published by Bill Lehane, Writer

Country: Germany

The Experience

Undoubtedly the world's most famous beer festival, Munich's Oktoberfest draws a remarkable six million visitors each year. The 16-day festival celebrating Bavarian beer and culture has become something of a rite of passage for any young European who likes a beer, and attracts plenty of travelers from further afield as well.

Oktoberfest history dates back to 12 October 1810, when crowds were invited to a meadow in the city to celebrate the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. It subsequently became an annual fair that initially included horse races and agricultural conventions. Local businessmen working with city breweries created the first massive beer tent in 1896, and the festival has been all about beer ever since. The area where that famous wedding was held 200 years ago has since been renamed Theresienwiese in honor of the bride, and remains the venue for the festival to this day.

The modern Oktoberfest boasts about 15 tents, each offering the beer of a different German brewery as well as other local treats to eat. The most famous tent is probably the Schottenhamel tent, where the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg at the stroke of midday on the first day to open the festivities. When you hear him exclaim, 'O'zapft is' ('It's tapped'), the beer will begin to flow around the festival.

Other well known tents include Hofbrau-Fezelt, where the famous Hofbrau beers are served, and the Augustiner-Festhalle, which is the favorite of most locals because of its popular Augustiner brews and the fact that it uses wooden kegs instead of steel vats. If somehow you arrive at the festival without a taste for Oktoberfest beer, there's also the Weinzelt tent, which offers 15 different kinds of wine.

Of course you're bound to get hungry sooner or later, especially given all that beer. Be sure to try some of the Bavarian speciality dishes that abound at Oktoberfest - look out on the menu for favorites like sauerkraut, himmel and erde (blood sausage with pureed apples and potatoes), schlachtplatte (mixed sausage plate), hassenpfeffer (rabbit stew) and of course the schweinshaxe (pork knuckle). You'll definitely become fast friends with the festival's large pretzels, which arrive at your table lassoed around your next beer.

While you're at Munich's Oktoberfest you're sure to meet plenty of locals and visitors dressed up for the occasion in the traditional clothes, known as lederhosen for men and dirndl for women. There's also likely to be plenty of Bavarian rock and pop music performances around the festival, so be prepared to listen even if you don't like German music! In the unlikely event of you getting tired of drinking beer, there's also a funfair at the festival with a ferris wheel, roller coaster and other Oktoberfest games. Prost!

When to Go to Oktoberfest Munich

Most of the major North American airlines have some direct flights to Munich, as well as dozens of different airlines in Europe. The event itself is well served by public transport, with a number of different subway stations providing access to different gates to the Wiesn (festival site).

As well as Oktoberfest, there are a number of other attractions in the Munich area. Chief among them is probably the Neuschwanstein Castle, a beautiful 19th Century Bavarian palace that sits on a hill outside the city and is the most photographed building in all of Germany. Beer drinkers will particularly appreciate the Andechs Monastery, a Benedictine monastery and brewery on top of a hill known as the Holy Mount, where you'll find a both a brewery pub with fantastic open air seating and monastery restaurant.

Odds n' Ends

While ordering a beer at without speaking German isn't exactly complicated, any use of the local language will be appreciated, just like in most parts of the world. For example, the liter mug your Oktoberfest beer comes in is called a 'mass', 'prost' means cheers and 'danke' or 'danke schon' is thanks or thank you.

If you plan on attending Munich's beer festival, to make it the best Oktoberfest experience possible, be aware that it is somewhat of an endurance challenge. Each tent gets full with all-day drinkers very early on, and while it's free to get into Oktoberfest in most cases you will need a seat in order to buy a beer. Get to your chosen tent before 10am to guarantee a spot on a bench, and know that if you leave it will be taken when you get back!

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