Monday, May 11, 2015

Oktoberfest! A Weekend in Munich, Germany Via Innsbruck, Austria

In 2015, friends from home joined us in crossing a major item off the travel bucket list: Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. While it would make sense for the festival to take place in October, it actually begins in mid-September and runs only through the first weekend in Oktober. Six million people visit Oktoberfest every year, so it's no surprise that Munich is PACKED. Hotels are expensive and sell out quickly. Trains are full. We were WAY behind when we began planning our trip in July, but we were lucky. Guided by great advice from Matt's German co-workers, we planned a pretty awesome and inexpensive trip to Munich, via Innsbruck, Austria..

Innsbruck, Austria
Innsbruck, Austria
Beautiful Innsbruck
Innsbruck is a three and a half hour train ride from Zurich and a great mid-point stop on the way to Munich. It is also much less expensive, especially during Oktoberfest. We left Zurich on a Saturday, early morning train, which allowed us to spend an almost full day exploring. Since our time was limited, we skipped the panoramic views from the Nordkette cable car and funicular and Olympic ski jumps in favor of wandering around the Altstadt (Old Town), sampling local liquors, eating tasty food and hanging out at an outdoor music festival. 
Culinarium in Innsbruck Austria
Austrian brandy tasting at Culinarium in Altstadt Innsbruck
Hofgarten, Innsbruck, Austria
Hofgarten

Altstadt, Innsbruck, Austria
Altstadt and views from the top of the Stadtturm/City Tower

Munich and Oktoberfest
Sunday morning, a two hour train ride took us the rest of the way to Munich. We checked in and dropped bags at our hotel, then took public transport to Munich's Altstadt for a bit of exploring.

Altstadt, Munich, Germany
Marienplatz and Altstadt Munich
From Marienplatz, we climbed 300+ steps up Kirche St. Peter's tower. The views of Munich we were well-worth the 2 Euro per person charge.
View from the top of Kirche St. Peter Tower
View of the Altstadt from the top of Kirche St. Peter Tower
View of Frauenkirche from the top of Kirche St. Peter's Tower
View of the Frauenkirche from the top of Kirche St. Peter Tower
Kirche St. Peter, Munich, Germany
Kirche St. Peter
Frauenkirch & Heilliggeistkirche, Munich, Germany
Frauenkirch & Heilliggeistkirche
So many churches!

That evening, we made our way to Theresienwiese, the Oktoberfest grounds, to scope out the festival and get our bearings for the next day when we would attempt to get a seat in a beer tent.  I was surprised by how much Oktoberfest resembled an American state/county fair! There were games, rides and food and drink stands; plenty to do and see outside of the traditional beer tent experience.
Oktoberfest Fairgrounds, Theresienwiese, Munich, Germany
Oktoberfest Fairgrounds, dirndl and lederhosen everywhere.
After a loop of the grounds, a ride on the rollercoaster and locating our preferred tents for the next morning, we made our way across town to Chopan, a fantastic Afghan restaurant recommended by a friend, for a late dinner.

Monday morning we packed our things, stashed our luggage in a locker at the main train station, then made our back back to Theresienwiese to find an unreserved seat in one of the Oktoberfest beer tents.

Oktoberfest - dirndl and lederhosen are a must!
We were a bit doubtful, but recommendations were
correct, dirndl and lederhosen are essential
Oktoberfest gear! Ours were purchased at
Aldi in Zurich for a steal.
Beer tents are the quintessential Oktoberfest experience - large semi-permanent buildings with high ceilings and bright decorations, wooden bench tables stretching across the room, a center stage where a loud German band is playing music and a crowd of rowdy drinkers waving beer steins and singing along. A little bit of research will tell you that seat reservations in beer tents are difficult to come by. Getting on a list for the best tents can take years. Open reservations sell out months in advance. We did not have seat reservations. BUT! We knew that each tent has a bit of unreserved space. Some tents only offer unreserved seats until mid-afternoon, when an evening reservation begins and squatters get the boot. Some tents have long, painfully slow lines for a small section of unreserved seats. We planned our trip around a Monday morning visit, expecting the least amount of competition for unreserved seats when the tents open between 10-11 a.m. We were also armed with recommendations from Matt's coworkers for two tents that were likely to have plenty of space, Schützen-Festzelt and Käfer's Wies’n-Schänke.

A quick peak into both recommended tents at opening determined that we could easily get an unreserved seat for the entire day in either. Jackpot! So we picked the tent we liked best, found a table close to the action, ordered lunch and our first beer (or wine for Krista, who was game for Oktoberfest despite hating beer. What a sport!) and prepared to enjoy ourselves. By 1 p.m. the tent was full, the band was loud and the crowd was sufficiently rowdy.

Ambrustschuetzen, Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
Ambrustschuetzen
Augustiner-Festhalle, Oktoberfest, Munich Germany
Augustiner-Festhalle
Hacker - Bavarian Heaven, Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
Hacker - Bavarian Heaven
Cheers from Oktoberfest 2014, Munich, Germany
Cheers! Giant Beers!
Cheers from Oktoberfest 2014, Munich, Germany
Our tablemates with Brian and Matt. These friendly Germans taught us the words to every song. 
Cheers from Oktoberfest 2014, Munich, Germany
Neighbors singing along
Everyone we met in the tents was incredibly friendly. We started the morning next to an older couple who didn't speak a bit of English, but were kind enough to give us their souvenir coffee mugs. After lunch, they gave their coveted seats to a younger group who taught us the words and motions to every song. Number one rule of Oktoberfest: play along! There's no shame in hamming it up. Everyone stands on benches, sings and dances. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves until about 4 p.m. when we left to catch an evening train back to Zurich, a bit buzzed and very exhausted.

Logistics of an Oktoberfest Weekend:
Transportation - Munich is a four to five hour train ride from Zurich. We split the trip up on the way there by stopping in Innsbruck, which is a little more than halfway between Zurich and Munich. The round trip train trip between all three cities cost about $100 per person.

View from Hotel Tautermann, Innsbruck, Austria
View from Hotel Tautermann
Hotels - In Innsbruck, we stayed at the Hotel Tautermann for $150 a night. Our top floor room had an amazing, 360 degree view of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains. It included a kitchenette and easily slept 6-8 people. It wasn't far from the main train station but was a bit of an uphill climb. I'd recommend finding the bus route (which we never did).

In Munich, we stayed at the Holiday Inn, Munich South for $300 a night. Luckily, for that price, we squeezed all four of us into a standard sized room with two queen beds. We were cozy! The hotel was in a business park outside of the city, so there was NOTHING to do nearby. But, it was AVAILABLE in July (!!!!) for a reasonable price, a block from a Metro station and a very easy ride to the Munich Hauptbahnhoff and to Oktoberfest. It was everything we needed it to be :)

Food - While in Munich we had an AMAZING Afghan meal at Chopan. Well worth tracking this restaurant down.

Food and drinks at Oktoberfest were surprisingly reasonable. We spent about 80 Euros total for two lunches, 1 coffee, 3 liters of beer and a liter radler (a beer/lemon-lime soda mix popular in Europe and critical for marathon drinking at Oktoberfest).
Oktoberfest lunch, Munich, Germany
Oktoberfest lunch. Each tent has it's own specialty, but meat and potatoes were definitely the trend.

Sleachmour Travel Tips (on Making it Cheap and Beer Tents without Reservations):
    Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
  • Increase your likelihood of getting a seat in a tent by planing your trip on a Monday for smaller crowds. Pick a tent that is lesser known (i.e. one without a popular beer brand in the name and/or further from the main entrance). Our friends suggested  Schützen-Festzelt and Käfer's Wies’n-Schänke, both of which had open seats. Finally, arrive when the tents open to have the best pick of seats. Most people spend their entire day in the tent. Few seats open up later. 
  • Oktoberfest costumes are a MUST. We doubted this one a bit, but were glad we forked over the money for traditional dirndl and lederhosen. Everyone else was wearing them and the all Germans we met thought it was fantastic that we dressed up for them. If you can't find one before you trip, buy one in Munich! They're widely available during Oktoberfest. 
  • Save on hotel costs by sandwiching one night in Munich with nights at nearby cities, like Innsbruck, Austria and staying further outside of the city, but close to a metro station.
Special thanks to Krista and Brian for supplying photos for this post. And for visiting us, of course!!

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