It started slowly. High up in the bandstand, arms raised above his head, he clapped. A short silence, and a resounding boom echoed back. Then it got faster and faster until all 10,000 people were standing on the benches cheering, howling and applauding in delight. It was right then that I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary weekend.
The music kicked in – a jubilant, thumping oompah band, and the soundtrack to the most German event of them all: Oktoberfest, the world’s biggest beer festival.
This famous Munich festival, known locally as Wiesn, originally started as a wedding celebration for King Ludwig I in 1810, but has since spawned similar celebrations across the globe. Nothing, though, can compare to the original. I mean, can you really compete with golden beers as big as your head, steaming plates of pork knuckle and seven million merrymakers who drink the equivalent of three Olympic-sized swimming pools of beer each year?
This year, I made my beer dreams come true with Topdeck.
Our adventure began as the coach pulled us closer to Munich. We woke to the smooth sound of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ as our legendary guide John gently informed us we were about to be part of a Bavarian tradition dating back generations. After donning our lederhosen and dirndls, we were soon surrounded by similarly attired folk striding through the gates and passing the Bavaria statue that looks down protectively over the festival grounds.
As far as the eye could see, theme park rides shot into the sky, and the air was rich with the smell of roasting meats as vendors sold sizzling bratwursts, chicken and crispy fish. The beer tents were as large as cathedrals – fitting, considering the many thousands who come on this most holy beer pilgrimage.
Keen to dive into the deep end, we headed for the notorious Hofbrauhaus, the largest tent at Oktoberfest with 10,000 drinkers. In this one tent alone, over 700,000 litres of beer are guzzled each year. There are 14 main tents (and a few smaller ones), each with a distinct personality. For example, Ochsenbraterei Spatenbräu serves spit-roasted ox, while Hacker-Festzelt, with its blue and white painted Bavarian sky, is the most Instagram-friendly.
Once we’d grabbed our table, a valiant fräulein arrived to serve us an armful of golden beers.
Day 2 of Oktoberfest. I start to realise how awesome group travel is. After travelling from London with @topdecktravel our coach finally arrived in Munich. This guy is our awesome coach leader John, who woke us up with Marvin Gaye's 'Let's get it on' and then joined us in the beer hall. This pic is taken in the Hofbrau Festhalle, the most notorious tent where 10,000 drinkers enjoy the strongest beers at Oktoberfest.
Soon everyone was grinning from ear to ear, flush with good feeling. The beer (‘ein Maß’ if you want to order like a local) is strong yet drinkable – so take your time. As I guzzled down the amber nectar, I was reminded that I was tasting a brewing tradition dating back almost exactly 500 years. In fact, German breweries by law only use three ingredients: water, barley and hops, thanks to the 1516 German Beer Purity Law or Reinheitsgebot.
From brass bands playing ear-pleasing oompah to crowd pleasers like Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’ and Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’, it isn’t long until the benches become full-on dance floors. You’ll laugh, you’ll say cheers (prost in German) and you’ll make friends with everyone around you.
Giddy like schoolchildren, we decided to check out the awesome theme park rides (the roller coaster is my top tip) before hitting the hay. We had two full days in the festival grounds, as well as a half day spent exploring Munich on a walking tour that offers some fascinating insights into the history of the city.
Smelling faintly of beer and pork and with folk songs ringing in our ears, all too soon we had to say goodbye to the hallowed grounds of Wiesn. We left behind the twinkling lights of the fairground rides, Ferris wheels and gingerbread houses. As the merry roar faded into the distance, I knew my drinking buddies and the crazy stories we’d made were something I’d treasure for many years to come.
Chris is the writer behind Make New Tracks, a travel blog with a focus on unique adventures around the world. If you're looking for something a little different or want to experience something a little away from the normal, Make New Tracks is your guide to quirky, unusual and lesser-explored destinations.