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Munich, Germany is the birthplace of Oktoberfest and an important part of the Bavarian culture that all began on October 12, 1810, when the Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese. Citizens were invited to attend the festivities hosted on the fields in front of the city, known as “Wies’n,” which means grass, which is why you may sometimes hear it referred to as such in Germany. Ever since, the 17-day festival has become a major event, with travelers coming from across the globe in recent decades. An estimated six million attend each year, drinking an astounding seven million liters of beer.
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Of course, the primary focus of Oktoberfest is the beer. There are strict regulations for brewing the gold liquid in Bavaria that has been in place for nearly 500 years. The Bavarian Purity Requirements call for only water, hops and barley to be used, which means the beer supplied at Oktoberfest comes only from the six breweries in Munich: Löwenbräu, Augustiner, Spaten-Franziskaner, Paulaner, Hofbräu and Hacker-Pschorr. Many say it’s the best beer you’ll ever taste.
While Oktoberfest has a wild fair atmosphere, it also has plenty of delicious traditional fare to help soak up all that beer. It’s world famous for its soft pretzels referred to as brez’n by the locals which are often served with sausage and sweet mustard. Other popular foods include slowly roasted ox, juicy rotisserie chickens. Käsespätzle and weisswurst, which means white sausage, is sucked out of the skin. There are plenty of other types of sausage too, like bratwurst and currywurst, usually served with a bread roll. And, when you’re in the mood for sweets your options will be endless, from warm crepes served with applesauce to waffles with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, or powdered sugar.
Live music is a big part of Oktoberfest too, locals and frequent attendees from elsewhere always look forward to finding out which song will emerge as the No. 1 hit of the world’s largest beer fest every year. Usually, it’s a bouncy modern chart hit with a unique twist, thanks to the brass bands, though there are plenty of classics to get almost everyone singing and dancing – often right on top of the tables. Every tent has its own live bands. There are 14 massive beer tents and 21 smaller beer tents throughout the festival, some of which can hold as many as 10,000 people. The tents each offer a different atmosphere too, some are filled with Americans, others with more mature Germans, and there are even tents where the rich and famous gather along with those that offer a diverse mix of people from across the globe. No matter which one you’re in, you never know what they’re going to play as there are no rules for the music, just be prepared to sing along, and get up on the tables and dance with the locals.
Oktoberfest offers a great excuse to dress up in Bavarian attire, with the men wearing lederhosen, leather shorts with H-shaped suspenders, and the ladies donning dirndl, a full skirt and a close-fitting bodice. You can pick outfits up in the city and then bring them back home for Halloween costumes or other dress-up parties. Pop-up street vendors sell cheaper versions, and you can find many, more elaborate pricey options in Munich stores.
The opening day of the festival is marked by a magnificent, colorful parade of elaborate floats, carriages, marching bands and people in all sorts of costumes that make their way through the streets of Munich. The two-hour-long Trachten and Schützenzugis (Marksman and Costume) is the world’s biggest costume parade, with anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people walking the over 4.3-mile course straight through the heart of the city. It includes 70 traditional bands and costume groups that are not only from Bavaria but from throughout Germany, and some well beyond, like France, Poland and the United States.
Oktoberfest also offers carnival rides, with everything from heart-pounding roller coasters to classic Ferris wheels – just be careful not to drink too much Löwenbräu beforehand if you want to enjoy them. Some of the favorites include the “Höllenblitz” or “Lightning from Hell,” “Skyfall,” the “Teufelsrad,” which means “Devil’s Wheel.” There are more family-friendly options too, like the old-fashioned carousel, along with games and even haunted houses.
As Oktoberfest draws so many people from around the world, it provides an ideal opportunity to meet new people and perhaps make a friend or two you never would have met otherwise. Almost everyone is in a good mood here, and the locals are especially friendly. After a few beers, conversations really get flowing and you’re sure to start chatting with the group sitting at the other end of your table. It’s always fun to get to know someone from another country, perhaps providing the perfect excuse for your next travel adventure.
When you’re ready for a break from the city, you may want to check out some of Munich’s magnificent historic sites. While it was totally destroyed between the two World Wars, it somehow managed to recreate much of its Bavarian past. From the central square known as Marienplatz, located in the heart of the city, you can explore many of its impressive landmarks, buildings and churches, like the Mariensaule, the Marian Column topped with the golden statue of Virgin Mary, as well as the Old and New Town Hall. In the latter, there is a beautiful carillon, a Glockenspiel that’s over 100 years old. Listen to it chime and watch the life-sized figures reenacting historical Bavarian events at 11 a.m. and noon each day.
Munich is perfectly situated for a day trip to magnificent Neuschwanstein Castle, which is really a must-experience while in Bavaria. Named after Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, it’s just a 90-minute drive away, or a three-hour train ride. Set atop a rugged cliff in Germany’s Bavaria Alps, this 19th-century palace is truly a real-life fantasyland, and in the fall it’s even more spectacular, surrounded by colorful autumn foliage. The interior of the castle can be explored through a guided tour, and horse-drawn carriage rides are available for a fun way to get to the top of the hill.