No Oktoberfest reservation, big problem

The day started by switching hotels and gallivanting off to our Munich bike tour. We selected the 9:30am tour as we planned on heading to The Oktoberfest (as Bavarians call it) in the afternoon. The tour took us around the city and through Englischer Garten with a pit stop at the garden’s beer garden. The English Garden is a huge park with an artificial stream running through it where people surf, like on surfboards and shit.

I learned four things from our tour guide:

  • The English Garden is larger than Central Park and its 7,000+ seat beer garden at the Chinese Tower is the second largest in Munich.
  • The Oktoberfest is held primarily in September because the weather in October is too rainy and crappy.
  • Seven million liters of beer were brewed for Oktoberfest 2011.
  • Wheat beer makes you fart.

During the pit stop, we ordered a plate of sausage and potatoes and two weißbiers. It was heaven. My liver and I could have sat at that picnic table all damn day but unfortunately, we had to get the bikes back to the shop for the next tour group.

Next up on the agenda, The Oktoberfest. In preparation for the trip, I read tons of reviews about how it is essentially impossible to get into any of the tents without a reservation. This is true. Anyone who tells you that you do not need a reservation is lying to you. In fact, people start reserving tables as early as February.

Peter and I arrived at The Oktoberfest around 3pm and randomly picked the Hacker Festzelt tent (9,300 seats), got in the queue, and stood there for two hours. I expected this to some extent because I knew if we had any chance of getting in, we’d have to show up at 8am.

The queue that we were in was a queue to nowhere.

There wasn’t anyone manning the queue and the only reason the queue moved at all was because people left the queue on their own accord. One theory a fellow American had was that there was a shift change at 5pm and they would open the doors.

Knowing what I know now, there is no opening of the doors during shift changes because there are no shift changes. To put it simply, there is no opening of the doors once they have met capacity – even people with tickets couldn’t get in.

Standing in the queue was hell but at the same time, it was great people watching. We saw one guy bend over and puke and then watched several other drunk people step in it. People would simply fall over and their friends would pick them up and prop them on their shoulders. I’ve never seen this level of drunkenness in all my years of bar crawling. Never.

One tip that we were given by the two guys at the airport and by Peter’s colleagues is that you can buy your way into a tent via a side door. Peter attempted this twice while I stood in the queue to nowhere and he failed both times. After two-and-a-half hours of standing in the queue, we made the decision to leave and come back early the following morning.

As a last-ditch effort on our way out of the grounds, we walked by a side door and Peter slipped the Yugoslavian security guard 50€ and he pushed us inside. Two-and-a-half hours into the adventure and we had passed the first hurdle and were actually in an Oktoberfest tent.

My first observation after gaining entry into the tent was that it was non-smoking.

The next hurdle was up for debate. Beer or seats? I had read that they will not serve you unless you are seated at a table, however, we found hundreds of people standing and drinking and we found no seats.

The debate was settled, we focused on getting beer.

I knew that it was my job to get the beer as Peter successfully got us into the tent, so after 30 minutes of observation, I got up the courage to ask the drunk [seated] Bavarian next to me to help get us beers. We chatted and he was able to secure us each a liter of beer. My favorite broken English conversation with him went like this:

Bavarian: “Where are you from?”

Me: “We live outside of London but we are from Texas, USA.” 

Bavarian: “Oh. Does your husband have a gun?” 

Me: “No.” 

Bavarian: “OK, then it is safe to talk to you.”

Peter and I concluded that the only reason the no-service-unless-seated rule is in place is that the server has no place to set the beers down in order to hand them out. We quickly learned that the easiest way to get a beer is to meet the server at the table at the time they bring the beers and hand them money. The going rate for a liter of beer in 2011 was 10€.

One liter of beer later and it was toilet time and I was terrified of what they would be like with this many drunk people in one tent. I’d been dreading this moment from the time we paid for our liters of beer.

To my surprise, they weren’t disgusting. The stalls were numbered and there were at least 45 stalls in the women’s toilets. My wait in the queue was always less than one minute. They were definitely German engineered for efficiency and they were impressive, especially since they were temporary.

Several hours and liters of beer later, we decided it was time to get something to eat.

We purchased a bratwurst at one of the food stands and walked to the U-Bahn station. We arrived at the station and Peter suddenly had to go to the toilet and so began the rat race around the train station.

We walked in circles following the toilet signs – all led to dead ends. More intoxicated than originally thought, I suggested that he pee in the photo booth. Fortunately, he was thinking more clearly and we eventually found a McDonald’s to empty our beer-filled bladders.

Overall, The Oktoberfest experience was great. The experience would have been better if we had reservations. Live and learn, one beer festival at a time.

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