Before attending Oktoberfest, Hollywood’s preconceived notions were already stuck in my head. Whether Clark Griswold in a dance-off with other lederhosen-wearing Bavarians or the guys from Super Troopers trying to out drink local Germans, the expectations were dubious.
Fresh out of high school in 2006, the movie Beerfest had just been released. The story involves two brothers who stumble upon a fictitious, centuries-old drinking competition held at Oktoberfest every year in Munich with questionable banter the whole way. The whole extravaganza seemed like an event that needed to be witnessed. I enjoyed the movie for the crude jokes and quotable lines but it soon was out of my head. At that time traveling wasn’t really on my radar, never mind the real Oktoberfest. Years later, those thoughts of Oktoberfest really had inception in my mind. Realizing that every city around the world has its own version of Oktoberfest to replicate the beer garden atmosphere of the Munich original was eye-opening. Being very grateful to have attended the fest, this thing is a big deal and will leave you riding a high of Bavarian culture months after.
Oktoberfest and health aren’t usually mentioned together for obvious reasons. However, walking around the festival, it’s rare to see an overweight person despite the endless fried foods and alcohol. Despite having the same fair-type feel as a US state fair, the crowd looks distinctly different. Since a majority of the attendees are local Bavarians, I guess it makes sense.
In this Fit Man’s Guide to Oktoberfest, I’m going to breakdown thinks that are useful to a potential festivalgoer. Some health-related, some overall useful, and stuff I wish I knew. We’ll take this thing in chronological order of events.
Hotels get booked fast and prices go up naturally. Looking for lodging, you’ll notice that the closer you are to the fest, the more expensive the room whether hotels or Airbnb. I rented an Airbnb from Ari, an odd guy who rents his modest flat during Oktoberfest to pay for his holiday that year. While we paid 230 dollars a night for a tiny flat, we still had to hop on public transit to arrive at the fairgrounds. Some of the further away Airbnb rentals I looked at were cheaper and nicer. I would recommend these outside places. In terms of attending actual Oktoberfest, you won't need more than one or two days. I think an ideal trip would be arriving in Munich, attending the fest, and then heading south the next day to the Alps and enjoying some hiking. From Munich, an hour and a half drive gets you to Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain), the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, or Hitler’s Eagles nest depending on which direction you head.
Tip 1: As long as a train or bus station is in close proximity to your room, you’re golden. You’ll get dropped off right next to the fest anyway. If you can get a place that’s nice and close that works too. Don’t feel like it’s necessary to stay right near the fairgrounds. I’d book early though.
Probably the thing that aesthetically ties in the festival and separates it from other beer-drinking occasions. Let’s talk about the official Oktoberfest getup, the lederhosen. Definitely get yourself an outfit. They look badass and even more so on a well-formed physique. With that being said, keep in mind these Euros have the slim and trim look. Skinny jeans are the soup de jour here, meaning your squat tested quads may have trouble squeezing into the skinny leg holes of most lederhosen. You’ll have no problem ordering lederhosen ahead of time and finding places to purchase online. But this being the fit man's guide, I have a simple warning. Legs that squat and skinny lederhosen are not a match made in Bavarian heaven. I actually ordered some authentic leather lederhosen off Ebay for around 80 bucks, tore that package open and dropped my current pants off excited to try 'em on. Half a right leg was inside when I already felt a squeezing sensation on my thighs. I made it work though; thank god there were buttons near the bottoms to loosen em up.
Tip 2: Maybe size up your lederhosen if you’ve got muscular legs. You’re not required to dress up, but hell, you just flew to Munich. Go all out.
Munich is a great city for an active person. Since later in the day will be taken up by beer-drinking, enjoying rides (yes, there are rides), and tent hopping, the morning is a great time to get out and get a sweat on. Munich has a great system of bike rentals where you “check out” a bike from a station then can return it at another station for a fee. You might recognize a similar set up in your city. Looking around Munich, there are tons of people out biking, running or walking. The weather is amazing this time of year too.
Tip 3: I’m a big proponent of morning fasting and this is exactly what I would do here. Fast in the morning if you’re able to. Even better if you can put in a gnarly workout. A morning workout will go a long way. Easily the best way to experience the city sights is on foot. Since you won’t be at the Oktoberfest tents later, be decisive with your time. This is a great chance to see the rest of the city on bike or foot before the inevitable calorie load to come later.
One option is to walk and check out the Eisbach river and the city surfers. There is a meter-high standing wave which local surf on. Something you won’t see every day. Plus there’s a nice park nearby. Just punch in Haus der Kunst art museum to Google maps and look for the bridge just East.
Oktoberfest has 16 large and different styles of beer tents. Seating works two different ways depending on the time of day. In the morning and early afternoon, you can sit wherever you want and drink as long as you're fixated in the table area (and served quickly at that; the wait staff in impressively speedy). As the night rolls around, the majority of tables are for reservations only, starting usually around 4 pm. If you have a big group of 8-10 people, absolutely snag a table by reserving it early. Reservations are for the entire table and you can’t book individual seats. Seats cost 35 EUR or so but keep in mind, you’ll get vouchers back for beer and chicken which offsets the cost. Each tent has its own website to book on (for example, Hofbrau or Augustiner).
If you have a small group or are attending on a weekday, I wouldn’t reserve a table early. However, the strategy will have to be a little more aggressive. We’ll get to that later. The layout of the fest is easy to navigate so don’t be alarmed when you get there. Make sure to walk around in the afternoon, enjoy some rides, and get a meal before settling into your tent choice later around 3-5pm.
On that note, the food. Besides the beer, you’ll be tempted with ample treats. This is a fair, after all, so with that brings stand after stand of deep-fried this or baked that. For instance, you can’t turn a corner in Munich without seeing the edible gingerbread cookie necklace complete with decorations and ribbon for wearing. Some of the more reasonable options, and actually most popular, is the roast chicken. The calories on the chicken are still high due to skin and oil. Good news is you can curb the damage by pulling the skin off, and if really hardcore, use the paper towel trick dabbed on the grease like your college girlfriend used to do.
Another overlooked trick is just walking out of the fairgrounds to grab some food.
Tip 4: Get to the festival early and get your bearings. Admission to the fest and into the tents is FREE. So, go around to all the tents and at least poke your head in scout out where you might want to “settle in” later. The fairgrounds can easily be covered thoroughly in a couple of hours. Make sure you get some food in you before guzzling brews. I also supplemented with a couple of protein bars while walking around early. Try and attend on a weekday unless you want to fight crazy crowds.
When the sun goes down the crowds go up as does everyone’s level of inebriation. If you didn’t do table reservations you’ll be able to find a table to reside if persistent enough. There are a number of tables that are open-seating the entire time, you just have to find them. We were lucky enough to ask enough waitresses and I guess we looked nice enough (or just looked lost) that they helped us find a seat. Although, you won’t be sitting for long. As the beer is flowing, the music is playing, and I slowly found myself up on top of the table like everyone else around me singing along to the band.
Fair warning, the beer is potent. Supposedly they up the alcohol content a percentage point or so for the event. Bier comes in a massive glass mug which a nice waitress will bring over quite promptly after ordering. I’m 6’3” 220. One liter of beer later I was buzzing pretty hard (I’m not a huge drinker, but I’m no rookie). Two liters later we were chatting up all our surrounding comrades from Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Three liters later, I was on top of the table singing along to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline with the rest of the tent. For some reason, they love that song just as much as Americans.
Each liter estimates to 500-600 calories and costs about 12 EUR. Add that up with a couple chickens and strudel, and my calories were easily at 3000 for a few hours of fun. Another reason to fast and exercise in the morning. Tents stop serving beer at 10:30 pm but you’ll probably be wanting to head out of there prior to last call to avoid some of the sloppier drunks.
Tip 5: Bring cash in EUR and probably know your limits when it comes to beer. The English speaking countries (i.e. England, Australia, and the US) have a bad reputation of getting too hammered and doing regrettable and embarrassing things usually associated with alcohol. Don’t try to get into a beer-drinking competition with a German. You might win the battle, but in the end, you will lose.
Guys, that’s my Oktoberfest run down. You can come out alive with some abs. It’s possible. As with any partying, hydrate before attending. Water is more expensive than beer by the way so you might need to load up early or bring a small bottle. Ride the Bavarian culture wave and good luck!
To see more of Brock's adventures, follow him on Instagram: @buffandabroad