This summer has been a whirl of social engagements, what with friends visiting, me visiting friends and everyone congregating in London. And to crown it all, my friends and I decided to go to Oktoberfest in Munich. Lucky for us, two of my friends actually live in Munich and they managed to snag a table at one of the tents on the first day of Oktoberfest, an almost miraculous feat as most tables are booked months in advance. Although I visit Munich once a year to reconnect with my school friends of over 20 years, we've never been to the famous beerfest together. I was under the impression that it would be a crowded, heaving meat market with lots of drunken people throwing up all over the place. But I was pleasantly surprised.
I flew into Munich a couple of days earlier, and of course, being rational and sound-minded people, we knew we needed to get a bit of training done before the actual event. So instead of sightseeing, we decided to visit the Hofbräuhaus, Munich's oldest and most famous brewery and beergarden.
As soon as you step inside, you are enveloped in a jovial atmosphere of camaraderie and singing. Lots of men in lederhosen here swinging huge masses of beer. And lots of tourists. But the ceiling is stunning.
And so is the beergarden.
I'm not much of a beer drinker as I get full quicker than I get drunk. In London my max is a pint (about 500ml). But when in Munich, we do as the Bavarians do. And beer tastes SO much better than anywhere else.
That's right. A mass is one litre of beer. And it's bloody heavy. But we needed to train.
To keep the beer company, we got ourselves a brezn (pretzel). They're huge and chewy and my favourite German food. I'm happy with just a beer and brezn: a perfect combination.
But we also got some obazda to eat with the brezn. This is a mixture of different soft cheeses, onions, paprika and caraway seeds.
You smear the obazda onto a piece of brezn after flicking the big pieces of salt off the bread.
I have to admit, my distended stomach caused me problems after downing that litre of beer and I needed many toilet stops on the way home. Tragic. But the training actually worked and I was in good form for Oktoberfest the following morning!
We got up very early and with military precision got ready and made our way to the station. There we were joined by lots of other folk in their dirndls and lederhosens. It was refreshing to see people wearing their traditional gear with pride and to see so many excited people including children. The crowd was mainly local but there were a lot of tourists especially the beer-loving Brits and Aussies.
We decided to forgo the parade which starts at the town centre so that we could claim our table, but it's apparently a spectacular sight with lots of costumes, horses and music. We followed the crowd to Theresienwiese where the festival is held and got there before 11am. After queuing for our tickets and trying to downsize my bag (you can't take big bags or bottles inside), we went into our tent, the Paulaner (brewery) tent.
The Augustiner (brewery) tent is the most coveted one, but Paulaner comes a respectable second in terms of beer according to my Bavarian friends (apparently Löwenbräu is to be avoided). The tent is huge and accomodates about 6,000 people.
There are about 10 different tents ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 people but they are so well organised that you can't really get lost. The toilets are all signposted and there's a smoking area outside. Although the tents are ticketed inside and closed once the festival starts, it's possible to find seats if you get there early enough. Opening times vary with some tents carrying on until 2am. Each tent has a mascot and ours was a great boar. We took our seats at our table and chatted and played cards until the brass band arrived from the morning parade.
And at 12 o' clock, the Mayor of Munich ceremoniously taps the first keg of the festival, there are 12 gongs announcing that the festival has begun and the beermaids in their dirndls start making their way to tables each carrying between 10 to 12 masses. An astonishing sight indeed. I couldn't get any shots of these incredible beermaids, but got one of them carrying platters of food instead.
Hundreds of rotisserie chicken to soak up the beer.
We each paid 30 euros for our table of 10 which included one plate of food worth 10 euros and 2 litres of beer worth 9 euros each. Pretty good deal. Of course the most important ticket was this:
We got our beers in. PROST! (Cheers!) The beer served at Oktoberfest are all specially brewed for the festival and are a tad stronger than the usual fare. It's a good thing we got some training in the night before because we had to clink glasses a gazillion times: with our friends, with the people from the neighbouring tables and each time the brass band played the drinking song every 10 minutes. All I can say is I've got new muscles.
We got a platter of cold meats, bread, pickles and radish to start. We also bought some brezn on the way to the festival. As we all know, we can't have beer without brezn.
Dig the non-smoking sign on the slices of pork.
My dainty selection.
Apparently some tents only serve beer. But ours luckily also served mugs of wine, soft drink and water. Otherwise it would be hell for non-beer drinkers.
We ordered some chicken which was tender and delicious.
My friend ordered roast pork with potato dumpling. Very Bavarian and very comforting fare.
Also a platter of meat including a liver dumpling of which I'm not really a fan.
I managed to almost drink TWO litres of beer. That's the MOST beer I've ever had IN MY LIFE. But the beer was good and went down a treat. My German friends had a lot more.
We only had our table from 11am to 4pm so we wandered outside, nicely tipsy and full and decided to go and explore. There were stalls selling sweets, bratwurst, grilled fish, drink, souvenirs and lots of rides. It was like a funfair.
We decided to go on the rollercoaster since it seemed like a good idea. I hadn't been on one in 10 years since I first got vertigo and never been on one drunk. But it was so much fun.
We went on another ride where four of our friends came off a little green. I went on a third ride after which I didn't feel so great myself. But two litres of beer and three rides is pretty respectable, don't you think? We then walked around a bit more before heading off home where we watched the Oktoberfest parade on the telly.
A pretty perfect first experience and one I would heartily recommend.