Oktoberfest in Munich

Lederhosen, steins, and "Disneyland on LSD": Laura Dalton explores Bavaria's legendary beer festival

This article first appeared in The Prague Wanderer, a web magazine produced by students at New York University in Prague.

Watching the sun rise over the hazy Munich skyline, I was cold, sober, and had been waiting in line for more than two hours. What could have prompted me and more than 10,000 others from around the world to volunteer for such a predicament?

Simple, beer.

Dawn broke on September 27 and the tent's doors opened, the crowd surged forward to engage in the debauchery of the 175th annual Oktoberfest, a dream come true for young Americans who at home are normally not allowed into bars of any kind.

Here, they imbibe in a manner that some unkind souls might call binge drinking, while others would label it freedom.

Inside the legendary Oktoberfest, enormous tents stood throughout the grounds, looming over carnival rides, sausage stands, and thousands of people ready to party. As grown men skipped by in full Lederhosen suits and the echo of drinking chants broke through the morning air, I kept asking myself, "What is this place?!"

I asked more or less the same question to the cast of characters I encountered: “In one sentence, what is the meaning of Oktoberfest?”

1. A love-struck Italian: "Oktoberfest… It's a beautiful, beautiful girl. It's a beer. It's you."
2. Incognito diplomat/beauty queen: "One sentence? OK. I like all people: American, Japan, Italy, German."
3. Waitress skillfully carrying 10 steins: "It's horrible!"
4. Jaded security guard: "I need to do my job."
5. Middle-aged German man: "My Lederhosen are very expensive."
6. German who ignored me, but took an interest in my Chinese friend, whose name is not Jane: "China! Asian Jane, will you marry me?"
7. Cranky 20-something New Yorker using a beer stein as a makeshift pillow: "Wake me up once, shame on you. Wake me up twice; I'll stab you in the elbow."
8. Drunken philosophizing Middlebury College student: "Oktoberfest is not a normal weekend and today is not yesterday. I'm getting a meter-long bratwurst."
9. Young London It Girl stumbling out of the Hofbrau Festzelt tent, the largest and most well known at the festival: "The meaning of Oktoberfest? Hmm… I don't remember it."
10. Angry Kiwi: "Oktoberfest is Disneyland on LSD for adults. You're from America? Your country invented LSD. And Disneyland. America is gonna put the rest of the world in the mother*cking depression. Bush is a gorilla."

PSYCHED TO GO TO THE 2009 FESTIVAL?
The festivities start on Saturday, September 19 and will run through Sunday, October 4.

Unfortunately, the price of beer is expected to increase slightly. A liter of beer in 2008 cost between 7.30 and 7.90 euros (currently 9.50-10.30 US dollars); in 2009 a liter will cost between 7.80 and 8.30 euros (10.15-10.80 US dollars).

It might sound expensive, but wait till you see the size of the steins. Plus, the trip from Prague to Munich is simple and relatively cheap.

Munich's public transportation is foreigner-friendly, so getting to the festivities, which are located just outside the city center is manageable, even in drunken stupors. It is smarter and probably less stressful to plan early, but spur of the moment travelers won't be out of luck.

Transportation
Obviously flights are the most convenient, but the trip is feasible by train or bus.

While it is possible to book train and bus travel online; it is easier to go to the station. Buying your tickets in advance is a good precaution, but it won't reduce the price and it isn't unheard of to find tickets at the last minute.

An overnight Student Agency bus leaves Prague's Florenc station four times a week at 23:55 and arrives in Munich at 5:30am the next day. The price is around 18 euros (23.50 US dollars) for students.

Overnight and daytime trains leave three times a day from Prague's Hlavní nádraží train station. It costs anywhere from 30-70 euros (39-91 US dollars) depending on the seat you have. If you are going with a large group, buy your tickets in bulk as group tickets are discounted. The trip will take between five and seven hours.

Where to Stay
Rumors run rampant that all hostels and hotels are booked months or even years in advance. Not true.

It might cause you some headaches, but finding a bed upon arrival is possible. A number of hostels and hotels leave a set number of rooms open for last-minute attendees -- at an increased price, of course.

A&O Hostel and Meininger City Hostel are both located within walking distance of all the festivities. The best rate for hostels during Oktoberfest is probably around 39 euros (51 US dollars) a night.

Worst-case scenario: you pass out on a bench. It's probably the most acceptable time in your life to do it.

Warnings
As a general rule of thumb, do not try to drive to, from, or anywhere in the vicinity of Oktoberfest.

Don't feel too much pressure to partake in the tradition of visiting the carnival after finishing every stein of beer. Supposedly, the beer is exceptionally strong... Try eating a lot of sausages.


USEFUL LINKS

Oktoberfest.de (Official Site).

Transportation
By Plane
Sky Europe Airlines -- Low-cost airline
Kayak -- Flight-finder
eDreams -- Flight-finder

By Rail or Bus
IDOS -- Online timetables
Student Agency -- Bus company
Rail Europe -- Online ticket agency

Hostels
Hostels in Munich (Hostelworld)
Hostelsclub.com
Hostelz.com

Laura Dalton is a third-year student at Middlebury College studying English. She is from Simsbury, Connecticut.

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