Beer lover or no, Oktoberfest is undeniably one for the bucket list. For just over two weeks 7 million people from around the world come together in the city of Munich, Germany, to sing, dance, be merry and, yes, drink beer – 7 million litres of it, in fact. With that said, Oktoberfest may seem like a daunting prospect for female travellers. However, it’s not an event to be missed just because you are wandering alone. Let my Top 10 tips guide you on the best way to survive (and most importantly, enjoy) this Bavarian fest solo:
1. MAKE SOME TEMPORARY (OR SOON-TO-BE LIFELONG) FRIENDS
Of course Oktoberfest can be enjoyed alone, but that all depends on the type of person – and traveller – you are. Are you happy to wander up to a long beer table, squeeze into a slot and make new friends, or does the idea fill you with dread? If the latter, then why not meet some new people beforehand? Munich has a very active international community which organises unofficial outings to Oktoberfest – so solos can connect safely and soberly first and then go with their group of new pals to explore and enjoy the party together. Check out the message boards of Toytown Germany, International Friends Munich, The Munich Network and Munich Girl Gone International (one for the girls) during the festivities to see if there are any event outings you can tag along with. Or, you could be like me and drunkenly make friends with the local policeman when you’re there – always a safe bet.
2. PICK YOUR U BAHN STATION WISELY
Ignore everyone who tells you to get to there by taking the U bahn to Theresienwiese – unless you fancy feeling like a sardine in a can, that is. No local would ever decide to get off there and battle with the endless throngs of tourists pushing their way up the escalators. Admittedly, the public transport crowds are hard to beat, but one way to avoid them as much as possible is to go by foot for the final leg of the journey. Get the U3/U6 to Poccistrasse or Goetheplatz, or the S bahn to Hackerbrücke, and then wander from there. Or better yet, get one of the buses which stops nearby – if you do, you may get to witness sights like the one above (Alphorn players on a hill) if you come from one of the other directions and get straight into the action.
3. STOP CALLING IT ‘OKTOBERFEST’
The only people who call it ‘Oktoberfest’ are the ‘touris’ (that’s Bavarian for tourists, by the way). Blend in with the rest and call it the ‘Wiesn’ from the get go. ‘Wiesn’ means field, but before you go imagining Julie Andrews Sound-of-Music-type scenes, the festival is actually held on a massive open space overlaid with concrete. It is still referred to as a field ‘Wiesn’ however, because of its location at the Theresienwiese, which is named after Prince Lugwig’s wife Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. And, the very first Oktoberfest in 1810 was, in fact, held in October to celebrate their marriage. Now ‘Wiesn’ makes sense after all, right?
4. WANDER THE WIESN
Dare I say it? There’s more to Oktoberfest than just beer. Non-drinkers shouldn’t be turned off by the abundance of alcohol because there’s so much to do besides drinking. Need proof? Well, the massive castle-shaped cake tent should be enough to get you excited. There are also food stalls, rides and games to enjoy without ever needing to step foot into one of the Festzelts (tents).
5. TIE IT RIGHT
You don’t need to wear a traditional Bavarian outfit (Tracht) to join in the fun, but if you do opt to go all-out, then make sure you do it right. Women can now also wear Lederhosen (leather dungarees), but many still tend to keep to traditional norms and opt for a Dirndl (one of the traditional dresses). If you do, then there are few important things to remember: stay away from ‘disco dirndls’ (shiny, out-there styles only bought by tourists), keep away from big American country-style check (small is fine, but no check at all is even more preferable), and make sure to go one size smaller to get the full dirndl-effect (by that, of course, I mean cleavage). However, the most important thing of all to remember is: to tie it right. The apron acts as a traffic light system for your relationship status: right – taken, left – single, middle – virgin, back – widowed / waitress. Think carefully before making your choice!
6. MAKE YOUR WAY TO A ‘BIERGARTEN’
Tickets to the Wiesn are taken well in advance – usually a year before. What that means is that those with a ticket have a guaranteed place at a table. However, the tables in the middle of the tents and in the beergardens outside are free for the taking – if you get there early enough or, have a tried and tested (and successful) Wiesn table tactic, that is. To be more sure of a spot, the hardy amongst the revellers get to the Wiesn at 7am, ready to grab the first tables at 9am. If your group is small enough though, if you arrive late morning / early afternoon then you may still be able to snag a spot before the afternoon when most of the tents close because they are full. My advice would be to get into a beergarden – they have their own unique and fun atmosphere, and then you’re in a prime position to get to the front of the queue for the tent if and when the doors open (at some tents, the security teams often opens the doors an hour before the end, to give eager tourists a chance to see inside). If there’s a queue for the beergarden too, then make sure to have a gander at some of it’s side entrances – they are usually a lot quieter.
7. BE A TENT TOURIST
When hearing about the tents, quickly put the idea of an over-sized marquee to one side – these ‘tents’ are more like hangars in size. If visiting during the week, the Wiesn is a lot less busy and it may be possible to visit more than one of the tents. If you have the opportunity then it’s highly recommended to do so – each tent has its own unique interior, beer, food, band and atmosphere. Try a few and then do a Goldilocks and find the one which is ‘just right’ for you – some people prefer the smaller ones which retain more of a local, relaxed feel, whereas others prefer the full-on party of tents such as Paulaner, Hofbräu, Hacker and Augustiner.
8. BREAK UP THE BEER
Even those with the best stamina find it difficult to sustain drinking throughout the day at the Wiesn – the beer is strong, and often people start early in the morning. The key to surviving the day and, maybe, even making it to one of the many after parties (Park Café has a great one), then you need to break up the drinking. Do so with a Spezi: a fizzy drink mixture of Fanta and Coke. Sound disgusting? It’s not to everyone’s taste, but its sugar and caffeine are sure to restore you back to your best partying mode. Little tip: Paulaner’s Spezi is by far the best. If you really can’t stomach the sweetness though, then a Radler (beer mixed with lemonade) or an alcohol-free beer is the way to go.
9. LEARN AT LEAST ONE SONG
You can’t leave the Wiesn without having learnt one of the many songs. Although a lot of those being sung tend to be some English language classics (Country Roads, Hey Baby, Sweet Home Alabama), the German ones are usually the best – and the most fun, with an array of actions involved. One that’s unavoidable is that which is played every time you are meant to say cheers (Prost!) to your neighbours and take a swig of your beer: “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, Der Gemütlichkeit! Oans, zwoa, drei, Gsuffa!” Translation? “A toast to good cheer! One, two, three, drink!” Another favourite of mine to look out for is the Fliegerlied, which can best be described as the German version of the ‘Superman!’ song – if you don’t know the lyrics and actions now don’t worry, you soon will!
10. GET YOUR CHICKEN / CANDY FLOSS FIX
And finally…let’s not forget about food (my favourite subject, as you should know by now)! Although it’s possible to eat in the tents, unless you are in a smaller, more civilised one, or at a reserved table a little earlier in the day at one of the bigger ones, then I would recommend grabbing some grub from one of the stalls outside. The best roast chicken I have ever had (sorry Mum, your roast dinners are still amazing!) was at one of the stands outside at the Wiesn. I’ve eaten it drunk and I’ve eaten it sober and there’s no denying that the Bavarians are hard to beat when it comes to roasting things on a spit. If you’re a vegetarian, then you don’t have to miss out on the foodie fun – grab yourself a plate of Käsespätzle (the German macaroni and cheese equivalent), some candy floss, or better yet, some ‘Gebrannte Mandeln‘ (almonds, covered in brown sugar, and roasted).