5 Surprising Facts about Oktoberfest

5 Surprising Facts about Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest entrance

We finally made it to the official Munich Oktoberfest! With a motley crew of old and new friends all dressed up to get down, we were wished well by an older Bavarian gentleman gardening in a felt hat on our way to the train station the morning of our visit.

Here are a few things that might surprise you about Oktoberfest:

Rides and stands

  1. It’s family-friendlier than you would expect

While the highlight of the fest takes place in the more than a dozen big brewery tents, the festival is actually laid out as a carnival with rides, games, food stands and souvenir booths. We visited the Schottenhamel tent on a Thursday afternoon, and the lunch crowd was pretty tame – pleasant chatting, pretzel eating and beer drinking to the sounds of a traditional Bavarian brass “oompah” band.
Löwenbräu

Löwenbräu tent

  1. You don’t need to make reservations

To enter the Wiesen area, as the fest grounds are called, you just need to pass through a bag check under the main archway. From there, as mentioned, there’s a lot to see and do outside of the tents. There are even areas of tables in the tents that are for anyone without a reservation. If you get there early, particularly on a weekday, it shouldn’t be difficult to snag one of these tables. With a little patience, even our group of nine was able to find a non-reserved table outside and eventually inside the Lӧwenbrӓu tent in the late afternoon/early evening. And once we were in, the waiters were serious about helping us make sure no one else tried to take over our table.

Schottenhamel

Schottenhammel tent

  1. But if you want to reserve a table, do it months in advance

When I reserved our lunch table in April, all of the evening slots were already booked! The advantage to having a reservation is that you’re guaranteed a place to sit and get service, plus enjoy live music. Again, not necessary to do in advance but nice and also very easy. I booked the table online and we prepaid less than 24€ a person for the minimum amount of food and drink (tickets for a roasted half-chicken and a big Maβ of beer). This way you guarantee the brewery tent some business (you can even prepay for more food and drink tickets if you want to bring less cash), plus you can stay at the table for several hours and order anything else you want.

Schottenhammel

  1. It’s normal to dress up, but be careful about tying those apron strings

As our train got closer to the fest, more and more Bavarians and tourists alike boarded wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls. By the time we reached our stop, we were able to follow the multi-generational sea of Tracht (traditional clothes) straight to the Wiesen. Important for ladies to note is where to tie the apron strings that go with the Dirndl. A bow on the right indicates that you’re married, left means single, and back is for widows. The Tracht (particularly the Lederhosen) is expensive, so some of our friends just got the checkered shirt and a hat to blend in with the crowd.

Schottenhammel tent

 

  1. You’ll have at least one song memorized early on

Yes, even if you don’t know any German, you’ll be very familiar with this song in a short time because its chorus is played after every few songs. Of course, this goes along with everyone in the tent raising their glasses and toasting each other:

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!
Eins, zwo, drei, g’suffa!

(My very rough translation: “Cheers, cheers to feeling good! / One, two, three, drink up!”)

Next stop for us in Tracht: Cannstatter Volksfest, the Oktoberfest of Stuttgart, in about a week. Prost!

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Pretzels + Baguettes = Alsace

Colmar

Colmar   Colmar

German shepherds walk alongside French poodles. Mugs of beer sit next to glasses of wine. Order and rules mix with a love of liberty and that ever so laissez-faire way of life.

Alsatians seem to have taken the best of both German and French cultures and mixed them into a charming region just on the border, full of half-timbered houses where artfully prepared food is served. Currently Alsace is a French region but its nationality has changed back and forth between France and Germany at least four times in the past hundred years, giving it a uniquely blended culture both tidy and elegant.

French poodle   Hearty but elegant food

Confectionery shop   Traditional dress and dancing at the Marché Couvert

Colmar   Dominican Church

Moped in Colmar   Colmar  

Over Labor Day weekend we visited the city of Colmar, about an hour south of Alsace’s largest city – Strasbourg. Colmar’s smaller size makes it all the more quaint and charming. Walking around the city itself was definitely a highlight, particularly with a visit to the Marché Couvert (covered market). For only a few euros, we even toured the canals of the Lauch River by boat.

Outside the Marché Couvert

Marché Couvert   Inside the Marché Couvert  

Pretzels   Marché Couvert at night

Colmar boat ride   Colmar canals

And while Colmar may be a relatively lesser-known French town, at least one of its former residents is certainly widely known, particularly to Americans. Among many other works, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty. We found a mini version of the famous statue in a traffic circle on the outskirts of town.

Mini Statue of Liberty

I didn’t love the Bartholdi Museum in Colmar, as it was a bit old-fashioned in its gallery design. But I did enjoy seeing plans and photographs of the Statue of Liberty’s construction as well as the design process of the Lion of Belfort, a similarly famous and larger-than-life sculpture dedicated to heroes of the French Resistance against Prussia in 1870. Also of interest is that the museum is actually located in Bartholdi’s former home.

Bartholdi with the Statue of Liberty and the Lion of Belfort       Certificate of Presentation of the Statue of Liberty

Naturally, we also spent an afternoon tasting Alsatian wine. The Alsace wine route is lined with vineyards and makes up part of a pilgrimage trail to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Most of the wine styles in Alsace have German names (many that we see in the Rhein region in Germany) and are classified as AOC according to French quality control regulations.

Alsatian wine cask

What else is there to see in Alsace? Our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a stork sighting, as this is the very symbol of this region and can be found all over building decorations and souvenirs. We spotted several and heard their clickety-clack chatter while walking around among the narrow cobblestone streets of Eguisheim, near Colmar.

Storks nesting on rooptops
Storks nesting on rooftops

Eguisheim   Eguisheim

En route home, we stopped to visit the medieval Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg, still in Alsace but at one time restored by Wilhelm II to define the western-most boundary of the German Empire. There is plenty to read about the castle’s many centuries of history along a self-guided tour. And really a visit here would be worth it for the beautiful mountainous views alone.

Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg

View from Haut-Koenigsbourg

Dining room of Haut-Koenigsbourg

A pretzel from the castle shop completed our trip to Alsace. Au Revoir & Aufwiedersehen until next time, Alsace!