Germans are not the biggest beer drinkers in the world. The Czechs guzzle much more beer per capita, and Americans and Russians tank up on much more beer in terms of overall volume. But none of these other countries can dress up beer like Germany can.
Lush Teutonic women wearing dirndls and face-splitting grins, cuddling half a dozen beer mugs against their ample bosoms – this is the quintessential image of the Oktoberfest, which takes place in September every year. Why September? Because the festivities that started in October 1810 to celebrate the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, were later moved up the calendar to the warmer days of September, so that merrymakers could enjoy the outdoors. But to honour the tradition, the last weekend of the fest always falls in October.
This year, the Oktoberfest is from September 20, 2014, to October 5, 2014 (www.oktoberfest.de/en). There will be a total of 13 large tents in Munich, the capital of Bavaria and the epicentre of the Oktoberfest. The oldest and the most traditional of these tents is Schottenhamel, which takes its name from a family that has been represented at the Oktoberfest since 1867. Thefest formally starts from the Schottenhamel tent, with the traditional tapping of the first keg of beer by the Mayor of Munich. Among the dozen other tents, Augustiner-Festhalle is known for serving beer from the oldest brewery in Munich; Hackerbräu-Festhalle has the most spectacular decor; and Kufflers Weinzelt makes wine drinkers feel as much at home as beer lovers. Each tent has its own characteristic and unique offering.
The fun spills over to Vienna, Austria
Outside Bavaria, the Oktoberfest has its mirror – and a friendly rival – in the Wiener Wiesn Festival of Vienna, Austria, from September 25, 2014, to October 12, 2014 (www.wienerwiesnfest.at/en). The celebration made its debut in 2011, and the atmosphere is pretty much like the Oktoberfest – the beer, the dress, the food... Vienna is just a few hours’ train ride from Munich, after all. The Wiener Wiesn Festival begins and ends a week after the Oktoberfest, so if you haven’t had enough beer in Germany, just hop over to Austria. Or do both cities anyway.
Both Munich and Vienna are connected to major Indian cities by several airlines. Since this is the festival season, the airfares are relatively high, in the region of Rs 55,000-65,000. After landing in Europe, you can go from one city to another by Deutsche Bahn (www.bahn.com), taking the Munich-Vienna ÖBB railjet (high-speed train), which runs every two hours. The Eurolines coach service (www.eurolines.de) has buses between the two cities.
The Schengen visa (www.schengenvisa.cc) is good for both countries, but you have to apply at the embassy of the country where you plan to spend more time. In India, VFS Global (www.vfsglobal.com) handles the Schengen visa processing for various countries. VFS offices have dedicated country-wise desks. The fee may vary slightly depending on the embassy.
Where to stay
Hotel rates in Munich shoot up during the Oktoberfest, so you could consider staying just outside the main city. Within Munich, a five-night stay in a double room at a decent hotel will cost approximately Rs 75,000-Rs 1 lakh. Tariff details and hotel listings for Munich hotels are on www.oktoberfest.de/en and www.muenchen.de. Hotels in Vienna are a tad cheaper, so you might want to divide your time between Munich and Vienna to keep costs down and sightsee in two different cities.
What to see & do
Besides eating and drinking at the beer tents, the highlights of the Oktoberfest are the traditional costume parade on the first Sunday of the fest, which is on September 21, 2014, and the traditional brass bands concert on the second Sunday of the fest, which is on September 28, 2014. Top tip: Tuesdays that fall within the Oktoberfest schedule are ‘family days’, so rides and performances cost less.
What to buy
Go native in a traditional outfit. A dirndl costs about €100-150 (Rs 8,000-12,000 at current rates), a man’s waistcoat about €90 and a pair of traditional knee-length trousers about €140. Cool hats start from €20. Collectibles such as Oktoberfest-themed mugs and beer glasses cost €7-12.
What to eat
Don’t miss the pretzels. Some of them are more than a foot in diameter at the beer tents. Warning: there may be a pretzel shortage this year – Bavarian bakers have revolted, threatening to go on a strike, demanding a pay increase. Keep your fingers crossed that the dispute is settled.
Children below six years of age must leave the tents after 8pm, even if accompanied by parents. Smoking is not allowed in the tents.
The Backpacker Co. makes it easy for soloists and friends in search of the right co-travellers with a package that offers clean dorms, travel to Vienna and Prague by bus and train, sightseeing and advice, as well as a reserved table at the Schottenhamel. Cost: Rs 59,000 per person, excluding airfare and visa; thebackpackerco.com). Dates: September 19-26, 2014.