Just came back from a marathon three day session for the opening of Oktoberfest (aka, the “Wies’n”).
above: Oktoberfest Opening Day Parade of Landlords and Brewers
It was between 20-25C degrees and sunny every damn day. Opening parade was great. Opening lunch at Hippodrom was even better. The evening was the best. We had an “in” to get back into Hippodrom, but the weather was far too nice. Also hit Augustiner and sat outside of Armbrustschuetzenzelt and Kaefer: it was all good. Read the explanation of the tents below to find out why. If the weather’s nice, I’ll sit almost anywhere so long as it’s outside. But, you can never depend on the weather, so nowadays there’s only a few tents I’d go to.
Here’s the down low on the above tents (based on the excellent map at http://www.oktoberfest.de/de/03/):
1.) Hippodrom – Atmosphere: Great (if you have a seat); Beer: Good (Spaten) Food: Excellent; the Ladies: top notch
A few years ago, I really really loved this tent. Everyone was friendly, the band was great, and it was generally a relaxed, hilarious time. Now, it has the feeling of a moneymaking operation rather than a festival tent. This is because they rotate you in and out of the tent based on the color bracelet you’re wearing. If the time slot on your bracelet has expired, they kick you off your table, and security reserves the right to boot you out. What’s worse, they’ve shortened the afternoon lunch slot to make way for a “Happy Hour” slot before dinner is served (in order to make more money, you see). This means you either leave your table early and ingratiate yourself into another table (see rule #5 from my previous post), or suck in that gut and stay out of security’s way. Despite this development, I still like it Hippo. The band is great (one of the best at the Fest), the food is good quality, and the eye candy is enough to keep the attention of even the most severe ADD sufferer. The Munich celebs (aka, Promis) always show up here with their trophies, Playboy Germany books here, so do the major German media outlets like ProSieben (with their talent, of course), etc.
2.) Armsbrustschützenzelt – Atmosphere: so-so; Beer: Good (Spaten) Food: Good; the Ladies: Who?
That mouthful translates as “Cross-bow archer’s tent” if I’m not mistaken. The motif inside is hunting, and giant boar’s heads decorate the coats of arms on the walls. That’s about it. The food was good, but not great. The crowd included a lot of kids, and way too many drunken Italians (more on la mafia bevuta later). We reviewed our video from two year’s ago, and saw one, maybe two good-looking girls, that’s it. The band was pretty funny, but pretty lazy. They played short sets and took a lot of breaks. I do have to say that the service outside this past Sunday was great. She was one of those dependable, built-like-a-Leopard tank older women – easily carrying eight Masskrüge at once, and taking crap from no one.
3.) Hofbräu – Atmosphere: Medieval; Beer: So-so (not a fan of Hofbraeu); Food: Barely Passable; the Ladies: absent or toothless
The first two years I hit the ‘Fest (when my German was a bit rusty), I lived at this tent. Why? Because it was the drunken outpost of the English-speaking world deep in foreign territory. The Aussies and the Kiwis, doing their backpacking tour of Europe, generally made up the backbone of the outpost. Most of them had already met at Pamplona during the San Fermin festival, so they were already best mates. Then you had the English and Scots flying in from the UK to get pissed, the Irish ex-pats already living in Munich (this is 1996-98, just before the Irish economy exploded and they all moved back home), American soldiers from bases in Augsburg, Stuttgart, etc., Americans and Canadians from overseas, and then a sprinkling of South Africans, and – no kidding – (white) Zimbabweans. It was like drinking with 1,000 of your best buddies, and bonds were strengthened by exchange of pop-culture references, sports (the classic “Who’s tougher? English rugger, Yank football player, or Aussie rules footballer” debate is still not resolved), and jokes and sealed with liters of beer. (It was at HB that I was introduced to the haka, and to this day still say “this is going straight to the pool room.”) Security never dared stray into the center, preferring to stay on the edges and grabbing the weakest of the herd. When they did go into the center, it was in a LRRP-style patrol of six guys armed with leather saps. Ah, memories!
What changed? Well, the Italians showed up. They come in camping vans, park near the train station, and stay there until they’re finished making complete asses of themselves. The difference between the Italians and pretty much any other ethnic groups is i) they cannot hold their beer, and ii) they are mean drunks. They get louder and louder, and then finally fists or blades start flying (or they pass out). The last time I was in HB was 2003 (hey, it was Saturday afternoon and we were desperate), when one of them threatened to stab a buddy of mine because he was taking to a girl he fancied. Quite brave of him, since my buddy was twice his size (and sober), but these punks are never that brave, as they’re always backed up by a group of friends waiting in the wings. Fortunately, you’ll always know who his buddies are, since they always wear those stupid souvenir hats and customized t-shirts with pet names on them.
4.) Hacker Festzelt – Atmosphere: lame; Beer: crap (Hacker is even worse than Löwenbräu) Food: no idea; the Ladies: Who?
The beer alone is enough to keep you away, and there’s little inside to keep you hanging around. Only cool thing is the “blue sky” effect they achieve with the ceiling.
5.) Schottenhammel – Atmosphere: Consistently Great; Beer: Who Cares? Food: Good; the Ladies: Cute as hell, but jail bait
I love Schottenhammel. For a while, I couldn’t figure out is that every year the girls got younger. I only figured out a few years ago that the girls aren’t getting younger, I’m simply getting older. It’s mostly young pretty girls and their metro-sexual boyfriends. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun – especially on opening day, since this is where the mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Christian Ude ceremonially taps the first keg (“O’Zapft is!”). We did opening day there during German federal elections a few years ago. The CDU/CSU candidate, Edmund Stoiber (also President of the State of Bavaria) was there on opening day, apparently enjoying a Mass the day before everyone went to the polls. It turns out he was drinking non-alcoholic beer. No wonder he lost the election, the big sissy.
6.) Winzerer Fähnd’l – Atmosphere: Good; Beer: Great (Paulaner); Food: Good; the Ladies: Not bad
Also not my first choice, but we stormed in their for the “Running of the Tables” one year. It was a Saturday morning, we had seven guys, and no reservation. Two of us took it upon ourselves to get to the Wiesn early (8:30 am) to score a table. To our horror, all the tents were already full – except Winzerer Fähnd’l. Why? They hadn’t opened their doors yet. The two of us managed to storm in and score a table. The staff was great, I have to say. The guards opened the door for my friends that came later (noon), and politely refused me when they wouldn’t or couldn’t (4 pm). I tried a little bakshish, but the bugger wouldn’t budge. Our serving wench was great as well. A cute gal who busted our chops for not drinking fast enough, and when one of my light-weight friends yakked under the table, she didn’t bat an eye. She simply announced “Wer hat gespueckt?”, threw down some sawdust, and carried on serving. It got pretty rowdy there, and an acquaintance hooked up there, liplocked with a gal for six hours. That was four years ago, and they’re still together.
7.) Schützen-Festzelt – Atmosphere: Consistently Great; Beer: so-so (Löwenbräu); Food: Excellent; the Ladies: Great
Guns and alcohol. Finally, a mix I can understand. Background is that this tent is for German Shiessvereine (“shooting clubs”), so there’s a target range at the back of the tent! (It’s mercifully walled off, and it’s only for plinking with air rifles.) This is technically a “small” tent, as it’s tucked in behind Bräurösl and in the shadow of the Bavaria monument. It’s also a great freaking party. The crowd is wild (albeit young), and the band is good, and hats off to them for pulling all the pretty girls on stage. This place always delivers. Always.
8.) Käfer’s Wiesn Schänke – Atmosphere: Awesome; Beer: Great (Paulaner); Food: Top Notch; the Ladies: Great
For those not in the know, Käfer is a gourmet food store in Munich, similar to Zabar’s in New York City. For this reason the food is high quality (and not cheap). They have one major store in Munich, they used to have a café they sponsored, and they have the Käfer “Zelt” at Oktoberfest. I put “Zelt” in quotation marks as it’s not really an open plan “tent” at all. Every year, they construct and break down a rustic, multi-story restaurant – complete with balconies, snugs, and a beer garden. It’s pretty impossible to get in the restaurant unless you have a reserved table (and you’re wearing your bracelet). Not to worry, as there’s two or three outdoor bars as well as the beer garden. BIG BONUS: although most of the Fest closes at 11pm, Käfer is open until 1am. This is so key if you’re not ready to leave yet. People flood the place once they get kicked out of the other tents. The guards eventually block off entry to the beer garden as well. You might try your luck at the secret entrance (a seemingly closed fence to the left of the main entrance after the swing set), but they even lock that up occasionally. (It’s still your best chance to get in though if it’s crowded. You already win points with security if you know where this entrance is.) You gotta love the souvenir coffee mugs as well.
9.) Weinzelt – Atmosphere: Great; Beer: not applicable; Food: Good; the Ladies: Great
The “Wine Tent” is short for this Nymphenburger Sekt-sponsored party house. The focus is – naturally – wine. They do have Weissbier available, but that’s it. Don’t let it put you off. Alongside Käfer, this is a mega-trendy place to see and be seen. Additionally, it’s the only band on the Wiesn that will be play “Highway to Hell”. Beer and AC/DC. Even a better combination than beer and firearms. BIG BONUS: They’re open ’till 1am! (But you gotta get there earlier than 10pm on the weekend if you want to get in.)
10.) Löwenbräu- Atmosphere: Okay; Beer: so-so (hey, it’s Löwenbräu); Food: Good; the Ladies: present
Not my favorite beer, but a pretty good tent. I’ve been in a couple of times when nothing else was open. It did the job, to say the least.
11.) Bräurösl – Atmosphere: Okay; Beer: Great (Paulaner); Food: Good; the Ladies: Present, not Accounted for
A fun tent, but not my first choice. Had a lot of fun nonetheless. I was too locked to remember much, so that can’t be bad.
12.) Augustiner – Atmosphere: so-so; Beer: the Best (Augustiner wins among Bavarian brews, hands down); Food: Good; the Ladies: Good
The only big tent where you can hear a pin drop during the day. Although I love Augustiner Edelstoff, the Augustiner Zelt is not my first choice at the Wiesn. Bavarians and Upper Bavarians/Müncheners in particular are conservative by nature, and words like “Patience” or “Tolerance” do not leap to mind when I think of their most prominent qualities. As long as you blend in, you’re fine. Just last weekend, we had a Korean girl and someone with tattoos in our group. The stares and dirty looks were downright uncomfortable.
13.) Ochsenbraterei, 14.) Fischer-Vroni, Bodo’s Café, etc. Atmosphere: no idea; Beer: no clue; Food: probably fine; the Ladies: not applicable
There is a respectable number of smaller tents specializing in fish, ox, chicken, etc. They are more like family-style restaurants than proper tents. I accidentally walked into Bodo’s once. Otherwise, I never bother.
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