Yep. I did it. I went to Oktoberfest. The hallmark fall semester study abroad trip. And I loved every minute of it.
On Friday, October 21st, I arrived to my classes looking like a vagrant turtle, carrying a giant backpack in anticipation of my journey later that day. When class ended at 4pm, Gabby and I made our way to the train station and set our for Bologna, where we would catch our flight to Munich (for those who don’t know- when traveling in and out of Florence, many opt for the Bologna or Pisa airports instead of Florence Peretola because they are cheaper and generally well-connected to Florence by bus and train). We departed Italy on Air Dolomiti that evening (a Lufthansa partner and a lovely little airline!) and landed in Munich around 9pm. After what felt like years trying to understand the Munich U-Bahn subway system and taking a total of three separate trains over about two and a half hours, we arrived at our accommodations- a campground.
When we were searching for accommodations way back in early September, Oktoberfest seemed like a black hole of expenses, considering prices are astronomical around their busiest tourism period of the year. This is when we found Stoke Travel, a Barcelona-based company that organizes campsites for some of the biggest parties and festivals in Europe. We chose to go with their glamping package; a two-person tent with beds, sleeping bags, and an outlet, along with breakfast, dinner, and all-you-can-drink beer and sangria from 8am-10pm.
We didn’t exactly know what we were getting ourselves into, and this feeling grew tenfold when we arrived at the campsite in the dead of night. We were greeted with beers and pretzels by the very Australian Stoke employees, who then directed us to the considerable check-in line. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us; arrive Friday night, leave Sunday night. As we waited on line, the staff continued to keep the drinks and pretzels coming to placate the masses, and after a few minutes, I felt like I was standing inside a pub rather than on a winding line to a check-in desk. We made conversation with those around us, learning about how they got here, why they were in Europe, and what brought them to Oktoberfest. The time seemed to be going by quickly, but it was pretty late by the time we got in our tent, so we promptly rested up in anticipation for the next day’s shenanigans.
Saturday was the very first day of Oktoberfest, so the beer halls in town didn’t open until noon, when the parade of kegs finished and the mayor of Munich poured the very first beer. We wanted to be in town before the festivities began to get a look around, and I’m really glad I did. One thing I definitely didn’t know going in was that Oktoberfest isn’t just beer halls and gardens, it’s also a huge carnival and fair, with an entire amusement park and tons of food booths and mini shops. Traditional Bavarian food was served alongside fair classics like french fries and ice cream. After surveying the fair grounds, we looked around for a place to settle in for the day. We didn’t have reservations at a beer hall, which would’ve had to have been made months and months in advance, so our only options were to wait on a massive line for a table or drink elsewhere. We wandered into the Hofbräu Festzelt, one of the biggest tents, where the line was already astronomical an hour before drinks began flowing, so we walked outside where there were tons of empty tables. After asking a waitress, we found out that the tables actually weren’t reserved, so we found ourselves a table in the garden and ordered waters in anticipation of the beers coming within the hour. We sat down at the perfect time, because after twenty minutes, the entire garden area was essentially full.
When noon rolled around, dozens of waitresses poured out of one door, each fisting about a dozen steins. For the next few hours, the beers just kept coming out of that door as the thousands of people kept ordering. When inside a beer tent, you cannot consume outside food, but one of the nice things about being in the beer garden outside is that you can get your beers from the tent’s waitresses but bring in whatever outside food you want, so when we started to get hungry, Gabby ran out to the booths along the street to grab us some pretzels. After a few hours, we decided to put the beers down and check out the fairgrounds some more. We headed back to the campsite for dinner and continued the party there, as everyone slowly arrived back from their day in the city. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip, since Stoke had hired a bunch of bands from Australia to come and play little sets while everyone hung out and partied in their sweats, exhausted from the day.
The next morning, we packed up our things, checked out of the campground, and headed into Munich to sightsee. This was a little difficult, since Munich adheres very strongly to the concept of using Sunday as a day of rest. Very few shops are open, and many attractions have limited hours. We lucked out though, because the first Sunday of Oktoberfest is always the costume parade, where the people of Munich dress up in their traditional dirndls and lederhosen and watch the parade of floats, horses, and marching bands in the city center. It was so cool to watch and definitely something that not a lot of people get to see, which made me really grateful to be there. After watching the parade for a bit, we traveled into the heart of the city to check out sights like the Rathaus Glockenspiel, Munich Cathedral, and the Court Garden before heading back to the Munich airport on the U-Bahn. I wish we could’ve done more museums or walking tours, but due to time and our huge backpacks it was a bit impossible.
I left Munich feeling exhausted, but really excited for the trips to come, as our first weekend voyage came to an end. I got to watch the sun set over Germany as we flew away, and was actually able to see the lights of Oktoberfest from the plane window. I probably know the least about the 25% of me that is German, so it was really special to be able to visit not only the country, but the region that a big chunk of my lineage is from and engage in a culture and tradition that is really happy and beautiful.