There's much more to Oktoberfest than just beer and pretzels. Make the wrong decision and you'll miss the best bits...
Late September marks the start of the world's most famous drinking festival: Germany's Oktoberfest. To many, it's all about the beer. But scratch the surface and you'll discover a host of age-old traditions that give the celebrations a bit more depth and meaning.
On the first day of Oktoberfest, for example, there is the traditional Parade of Tent Hosts into Theresienwiese, followed by the mayor tapping the first keg of beer.
It's also when you'll have to make your first big decision of Oktoberfest. Do you watch the Parade of Tent Hosts with their brewery horses and remarkably decorated wagons? Or, will you grab a good seat for the tapping of the first keg?
Sadly, you can’t do both.
The Parade of Tent Hosts and Breweries is well worth a visit. A huge and varied assortment of horse-drawn carts weaves through the cheering crowd on the way to their tents, accompanied by brass and woodwind musicians.
It all starts just before 11am on Josephspitalstraβe near the Sendlinger Gate, then the parade makes a turn into Sonnenstraβe and then left onto Schwanthalerstraβe. From there, it continues to the Bavariaring and then straight onto Wirtsbudenstraβe and onto each brewery’s assigned spots.
History of the Parade
Since 1887, the march has been a staple part of the Oktoberfest tradition. The first parade happened a few years earlier, in 1879, when the Styrian Hansa (master butcher, proprietor of an inn on Tegernseer Landstraβe in Munich, and ‘Bavarian Hercules’) drove to Theresienwiese with many guests, two coaches and lots of fuss. However, he was stopped by guards and forced to pay an exorbitant fine of 150 Deutsch Marks – but that didn’t stop him from getting a permit for it during next year’s Oktoberfest, and with that, started a lovely tradition.
The Modern Parade
Today the parade is led by the Müncher Kindl (Munich child – the figure on the official crest of the Bavarian state capital) followed by the current Mayor of Munich. If you want to cheer on the hosts and their attendants, you should find yourself a good spot in the crowd, preferably not behind two seven-foot tall Bavarian giants. It’s best to stand near the beer tent that you plan on visiting later, that way you can mix fun with practicality.
You should wake up early. The best seats are highly sought-after, and you should research the events in each tent. If you want to see the mayor tap the first keg, you have to go to the Schottenhamel tent. It’s very hard to find a seat in here, since so many people want to see how many strikes with a big hammer it takes the master of ceremonies to tap the 200 litre beer keg (which has a lifespan of about 11 minutes at Oktoberfest!). So set that alarm extra early!
Kenneth Hart has been leading Oktoberfest tours for a number of years and has become somewhat of an expert on the festival. For more insider tips on Oktoberfest, visit his website, Oktoberfest Tours.