Authentic Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany: An Inside Look at the World's Greatest Party by Elisa Schmitz
You don't need to be Bavarian to celebrate Oktoberfest. In fact, you don't even need to be German. The occasion has become so well known that you will see Oktoberfest parties being held all over the globe. But if you've ever wondered about the origins of this celebration and what it's like to be in Munich for the authentic Oktoberfest read on!
The extravaganza dates back to October 12, 1810. Learn more about the history of Oktoberfest, also known as the Wiesn. The celebration typically starts in late September and goes until early October. It kicks off with a parade for the brewers on Saturday, and then another parade on Sunday in which the villages of Bavaria are represented. The parade marches to the fairgrounds, where a huge carnival and many large banquet tents (more like lodges) hosted by breweries such as Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu and Staatliches Hofbräu-München are set up for Wiesn celebrations.
Photo: At the Brewers’ Parade before Oktoberfest kickoff at 12 noon. That's the Käfer wagon behind us, and the Käfer “Bier hall” is where we hosted all afternoon.
A big part of the Oktoberfest fun is wearing traditional Bavarian clothing (Dirndls for women and Lederhosen for men). My husband, Dieter Schmitz, is called the "Wiesnkönig" (King of the Wiesn) by friends because he hosts an annual event at Oktoberfest. This year, he celebrated his 21st, while it was only my fourth, so he was the perfect person to pick out my new Dirndl. He chose only one, right off the rack, handed it to me and said, “Here’s your Dirndl.” It fit perfectly, no alterations needed, which is unheard of. I guess he knows me pretty well.
This year, we had four special guests with us from Minnesota, three of whom had never been to Oktoberfest before. Dieter's sister, Heidi, her husband, Ken, and friends Jerry and Brenda made the event even more fun as we shopped for their outfits and prepped for opening Saturday. We were joined by about one million people on opening weekend, with a total attendance of about seven million people over the 17-day Oktoberfest celebration.
Photo: The first-timers each received giant gingerbread hearts inscribed with their names.
We kicked off the day with breakfast at the home of our friends Alexandra and Henrik, who live right above the Brewers' Parade route. Our Wiesn party crew truly looked the part, especially Jerry, the official “Papa” of our group, who was doted on by all the Bavarians and ensured we got special treatment all day. Bier at 10 a.m., why not? It is the Wiesn, after all...
Photo: Arriving at the fairgrounds, security was reassuringly tight, and we enjoyed the games and rides.
The next stop for our motley crew was the Oktoberfest fairgrounds. Opening day security was reassuringly tight, and we enjoyed the carnival games and rides. Since we had two retired law enforcement officers with us, we hit one of the shooting galleries first. Former police chief Ken hit 18 out of 18 shots in a row, followed closely by former state trooper Heidi. As always, my sure-shot husband won me several roses and hearts that I attached to my Dirndl before making our way to the Käfer “Bier tent,” which is more like a beautiful rustic lodge where we hosted a group of 30 friends, colleagues and clients.
From pork and ox, lamb and duck to dumplings, giant pretzels and assorted cheeses and spreads, and more desserts than anyone could ever eat, the banquet-style food was fit for royalty. And did I mention the drinks? Bier is served in a 1-liter mug, simply referred to as a "Maß" (pronounced mas), which means a "measure" of Bier in German. With many songs encouraging you to drink and toast with friends, you may be surprised by how quickly the Maß is emptied!
Photo: Ken, a former police chief, was undisputed champ at the shooting gallery.
And with all that drinking comes the urge to dance. The Oktoberfest band plays a mix of American, Latin and German music, all of which make you want to move. At the Bier halls, you're allowed to dance on the benches (but not on the tables). Brenda and I bench-danced to several songs, including Gloria Gaynor's classic, "I Will Survive," while others did their own thing. No one cares who's doing what at the Wiesn (yes, what happens at Oktoberfest stays at Oktoberfest)!
Photo: Brenda (barely shown at far left) and I danced on the benches to the classic, "I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor.
Photo: The Oktoberfest band plays a variety of music that gets the crowd on its feet.
And do you know what’s really fun? Getting your girl squad together to dance in your Dirndls on a much-too-crowded dance floor at Käfer, belting out German lyrics that you have no idea what they mean but you go with it, because that’s what you do at the Wiesn. You just kind of go with it, whatever "it" may be.
Photo: Dancing with my girl squad at Käfer “Bier hall.”
Yes, it's raucous and loud and excessive and maybe more fun than you've ever had, but for me, the best part of Oktoberfest is being there with Dieter. In the midst of the chaos, we had several "this is us” moments. Hosting and celebrating others is what we love to do, but mostly we just enjoy being together.
Photo: Sunset over Oktoberfest never gets old.
As the sun set on another Oktoberfest, there was nothing but smiles, souvenirs and sheer exhaustion settling in. It's difficult to describe why this experience is so special. I guess just like we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, we’re all Bavarian during Oktoberfest. And today more than ever, we need cultural experiences that welcome everyone and unite us as people, no matter where we are from. So take a moment to toast to a Bavarian tradition that has become a global phenomenon. And next year, get yourself to the Wiesn!
Photo: Hosting at the Wiesn is just so much fun, together!
Photo: Last gathering of our Oktoberfest party crew, sharing kaffee und kuchen, all sporting our 30Seconds caps.
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