It is certainly on mine and Mrs. Sip’s boozy bucket list to one day attend the Oktoberfest event in Munich, Germany. After all, Germany is already a place where we absolutely love the beers, food, and snacks, so why not join some fellow revelers. For now, though, let’s take a journey together to Munich and get into the spirit of the festival. Don’t forget your lederhosen!
Although named Oktoberfest, the event begins on the third weekend of September – coincidentally right around the time of the Sip Advisor’s birthday! – and lasts until the first Sunday of October. The event is over 200 years old and was first celebrated in commemoration of the marriage between King Ludwig and Queen Therese in 1810. The grounds which have always housed the festival are called Theresienwiese and are known by locals as the Wiesn.
Only breweries operating within Munich are allowed to supply the festival with their suds and each has a tent on the fairgrounds that holds thousands of people. The beers available include: Hofbräuhaus München, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Paulaner Bräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu, and Augustiner Bräu. There’s a couple in that list I know I’ve enjoyed in the past, so things are looking up for Mr. and Mrs. Sip!
In the beginning, the beer was brewed in March with a higher alcohol percentage, so it could last through the summer. It was then expended in the fall, so as to diminish the stock for the next brewing season… and the circle of life continues endlessly. It should be noted that there is also a wine tent during the modern day Oktoberfests, appeasing all walks of life.
The festivities aren’t allowed to begin until an official 12-gun salute, followed by the mayor announcing “O’ zapft is!,” meaning “It’s tapped!” The first mug of ale is then handed to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria, and only then can us regular folks start boozing. Oktoberfest has a carnival feel to it, as the event began as a county fair, featuring horseracing, various contests, and freak shows. The activities have changed over time, but the freak show is now just a natural occurrence.
If accompanied by an adult, 14 year olds are allowed to partake in all the joys of Oktoberfest and 16 year olds can join the fun on their own accord. Young children are even allowed to attend the festival (without drinking), although I’m not sure I’d want to leave my kids at any daycare tent there. The child crowd has resulted in numerous cases of missing kids, as many as 100 reports in 2012, thanks to parents imbibing a little too much.
In fact, the Lost and Found department is quite busy during Oktoberfest, having approximately 4,000 misplaced items come to their attention each year. Other lost possessions have included cell phones, wallets, passports, glasses, keys, clothing items, dentures, crutches, wheelchairs, strollers, and even dogs. Perhaps the most bizarre item turned in was a Viking helmet… although, it does kind of fit the whole theme.
Although swigging from glass beer steins is a highlight of the party, they weren’t used until 1892. Before that, stone and metal steins were filled with wonderful German brews. The current glass is called a Maß (good luck with the pronunciation!), which holds 1 litre of beer and will cost around €12 each pour. These steins are great souvenirs, but rather than purchase one, many tourists will try to steal it (Mrs. Sip, I’m looking at you!). This can result in a charge of theft if caught by security guards.
If you can’t handle the stronger beer mixed with hot temperatures, you may be labeled with the term Bierleichen, which translated means Beer Corpse. Water and pop are also available for purchase to quench your thirst, but cost nearly as much as the booze, so you might as well keep drinking beer. Food options include roasted chickens, sausages, giant pretzels, and other traditional German fare.
Some downsides: While tourists may have visions of oom-pah bands playing the day away, while getting their drink on, music above 85 decibels isn’t allowed to be played until after 6:00pm. Also, to use a toilet, you will likely be charged, but that’s no different to other parts of the country and continent. This concept has provided some funny stories for the Sip Advisor over the years and travels.
To get a spot in one of the packed tents, visitors may have to purchase food and drink vouchers beforehand, sort of a reservation, exhibiting that you will make full use of the tent and drop some good money inside. Similarly, hotels book up very quickly during this time and making arrangements one year in advance is common. The price for accommodation will also be at a premium, so beware!
In 2004, a counterfeit ticket ring was busted after waiters inside a couple of the tents contacted police when they were handed suspicious vouchers. Had the scheme worked, the beer companies would have lost about $500,000 thanks to the nearly 30,000 forgeries. Sticking with crime, stein fights are known to occur and serious injuries have happened. Prosecution can lead to sentences of between six months and life in prison, depending on severity of the injuries.
Sadly, Oktoberfest has been forced into cancellation 24 times, mostly as a result of war and cholera epidemics. There were also issues during the 1920’s depression, which caused the event to be missed. On the bright side, Paris Hilton was banned from future Oktoberfests after attending the festival in 2006 as a spokesperson for a local canned wine product. She was said to have cheapened the event… a serious no-no in Munich circles.
Amid all the celebrating, a terrorist attack occurred at the 1980 Oktoberfest, where a pipe bomb was detonated, killing 13 people and injuring more than 200. Officials concluded that it was the work of right-wing extremist Gundolf Köhler, who died while placing the explosive. There is some dispute over whether Köhler acted alone or was part of a larger conspiracy.
The festival has jumped into the digital age with a few apps that enhance the whole experience. The event’s official app lets users input their height, weight, and how much beer they’ve consumed to learn their blood-alcohol level and how long it will take to sober up. There’s also the ‘Wiesn Flirt and Find’ app, which allows visitors to meet on the grounds for romance, a quick hook-up, or whatever else they may fancy.
If you can’t get to Germany, Oktoberfest events around the world include: Cincinnati, Ohio (largest in the United States); Denver, Colorado; Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario (largest in Canada); Blumenau, Brazil; Lima, Peru; Hong Kong, China; Bangalore, India; Hoh-Chi-Minh City, Vietnam; and Taybeh, Palestinian, of all places. Taybeh is home to the only brewery in all of the West Bank region.
Germany: Black Blood
- 1 oz Jagermeister
- 1 oz Blue Curacao
- Top with Squirt
- Garnish with a Lemon Wedge
If anyone out there wants to sponsor the Sip Advisor’s trip to Oktoberfest, that would be awesome. In exchange, I’ll try to steal a stein for you, risking freedom and well-being for my generous benefactor. I think it would totally be worth it!
Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
As per usual, I went with Grapefruit Soda over Grapefruit Juice because I’ve learned over time that I just don’t like heavy juices (orange, pineapple, etc.) in my cocktails. These colours came together really interestingly, with the yellow Squirt turning some of the Blue Curacao and Jagermeister green. It certainly isn’t black, like the drink’s name would have you thinking.