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 surf boards 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. 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 line, 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 line that we were in was a line to nowhere. There wasn’t anyone manning the line and the only reason the line moved at all is because people left the line 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 line 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 just 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 line to nowhere and failed both times. After two-and-a-half hours of standing in “line,” we made the decision to leave and come back early Saturday morning.

As a last-ditch effort on our way out of the grounds, we passed 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 to my surprise, the tent was non-smoking.

The next hurdle was debatable: 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 -300 seats. Therefore, the next hurdle was getting a beer as getting a seat was not going to happen. 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 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 because 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, 10€/liter.

One liter of beer later and it was bathroom time and I was terrified. I had been dreading the bathrooms since the first liter landed in my hand. They had to be a total disaster with this many people drinking. To my surprise, they weren’t. The stalls were numbered, so there were at least 45 in the women’s bathroom. I never waited in line more than one minute. The bathrooms were definitely German engineered for efficiency. They were nothing short of impressive, especially since they were temporary.

Several hours and liters of beer later, we decided it was time to get something to eat since the last time we ate was at noon during the bike tour. We purchased a bratwurst at one of the food stands and made our way to the U-Bahn station. We departed the train and suddenly Peter had to go to the bathroom and so began the rat race around the train station. We walked in circles following the bathroom signs – all led to dead ends. More intoxicated than originally thought, I at one point suggested (in all seriousness) that he pee in the photo booth. Fortunately, he was thinking more clearly and we eventually made our way to McDonald’s to empty our beer filled bladders.

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

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