Ahhh. It’s beginning to feel like fall. The crisp air, changing leaves, comfy sweaters… I love summer, but there’s just something about that autumn weather. Maybe it’s the nostalgia for the beginning of the school year (this is my first time in eighteen years without a “First Day of School”); maybe it’s the welcome of all the fantastic holidays that come after Labor Day. Either way, there’s no better way to welcome fall than with a celebration. It’s Oktoberfest time!
Oktoberfest is an annual festival in Munich, Germany, attended by over 5 million people each year. It generally lasts just over two weeks, give or take, depending on the day of the week. Strangely, hardly any of the festival is actually in the month of October — it begins in September and ends the first weekend in October. Originally held in 1810 to celebrate a royal wedding (England, step your game up!), Oktoberfest should definitely be on your bucket list. It is a truly amazing experience to mingle with thousands of people who speak a common language — party.
I was lucky enough to attend Oktoberfest during my semester abroad in 2009. My advice: PLAN EARLY. We talked and talked and talked about visiting Munich for months leading up to our trip, but once we finally got around to it, flights were expensive and accommodations near impossible. The younger crowd that flocks for the drinking aspect of Oktoberfest will generally populate camping sites near the city; I had friends who did this, and it was just as it sounds — not the most comfortable conditions. I was lucky to have friends studying abroad in another program that had rented a house outside the city and had room to spare (in the tiny village of Tandern – beautiful, but the money we saved in skipping a hotel was made up in transportation costs!).
My second piece of advice: PACE YOURSELF. There are literally millionsÂ of liters of beer poured at Oktoberfest — and a liter is BIG (I actually had a bruise on my hand just from holding the giant stein all day). You should never get extremely drunk while traveling, and while it can be tempting here, it will just get you in trouble. Luckily, there are tons of food vendors in the area, serving everything from pretzels and sausages to whole chickens.
My third piece of advice: HAVE FUN. Make new friends, learn some German drinking songs, wear some lederhosen — why not?! I have a lot of friends that stayed in the groups they came with, but in the huge crowds my friend Kristine and I never found them. So we made our own friends, talking, singing, and dancing with a group of Italians, using the language skills we had picked up in our first month in Rome.
Oktoberfest 2011 begins on September 17. If you can’t make it to Bavaria, at least toast a stranger at a bar to celebrate! Prost!