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Octoberfest

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ABOVE: Hippodrom is the smallest beer hall at Oktoberfest, with tables for 3,400 guests. It attracts a youthful crowd and is popular with German film and TV celebrities.

My evening at Oktoberfest

I've never been a fan of loud parties, large crowds, or hangovers, so I made a point of avoiding Oktoberfest (and Munich during Oktoberfest) until last year, when the marketing staff of Munich International Airport invited me to join a small group of journalists for an evening at the Hippodrom beer hall. I dutifully met my colleagues at Munich's main railway station in the late afternoon; from there, we followed the crowd to Wiesn, which was about a 20-minute walk from the station.

The grounds were mobbed when we arrived, and the atmosphere was best described as "state fair meets Bavarian fraternity party." Many of the locals were in traditional costumes, which Müncheners often wear to work--not just to the fairgrounds--during Oktoberfest.

  • Fashion tip from a female Munich resident: If you're going to display cleavage with a Bavarian peasant blouse, remember to pack your Wonderbra.

The crowds were well-behaved, for the most part, with unruly drunks in the minority. This may have been the result of good policing: Cops and security guards were everywhere, and drunks who got out of hand were hauled to "sobering up" tents, locked in detention cells, or expelled from the grounds.

We wandered around for an hour or so, peeking into tents and checking the sideshows and souvenir booths, until it was time to claim our reserved table in the Hippodrom. The so-called "beer tent" turned out to be a solidly built hall with a vast main floor, a balcony surrounding the perimeter, and an elevated band platform where German oompah music alternated with German pop hits and American oldies. (You know you're living in a global economy when you hear several thousand beer drinkers singing John Denver's "Country Roads" in a host of European accents.)

For the next several hours, we swilled liters of potent Märzen beer and gorged on Bavarian specialties such as pretzels, radishes, Obatzda (a spiced appetizer of cheese, quark, and butter), duck, chicken, sausages, and--for dessert--Kaiserschmarren, or pancake slices with raisins. Every so often, the band would lead the crowd in a chorus of "Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit," which resulted in much glass-clinking at our own table and with the friendly group of Romanians at the table behind.

When we finally left the Oktoberfest grounds between 10 and 11 p.m., many other fairgoers were also on their way home. And as we took the S-Bahn back to our hotel at Munich International Airport, we saw police lined up on the downtown station platforms to make sure that tipsy passengers stayed on their homebound trains.

  • Important tip for the tipsy: Make sure that you're traveling with a teetotaler--not just to keep from getting lost on the way to your hotel, but also so you won't be like the unfortunate man who fell off a station platform and lost his legs under an S-Bahn train during one recent Oktoberfest.

Next page: Planning your trip to Oktoberfest


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