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Photo: a4gpa

Oktoberfest doesn’t always live up to the hype.

I’M NOT a big beer drinker, and I typically avoid anything that draws a massive crowd. But my husband and I were traveling through Bavaria with his sister during Oktoberfest, staying in a US military “resort” in Garmisch-Partenkirchen that offered shuttle service to and from Oktoberfest on opening weekend. There were exactly three seats left at the time we inquired about it. It seemed like fate.

So there I was, on a bus heading to the Theresienweise — the festival grounds near Munich’s center. It all seemed festive enough. Then our bus driver warned us about people coming back drunk enough to puke on the bus. It all went downhill from there.

Opening weekend

Oktoberfest is a 16- to 18-day festival that always starts in September and ends in early October. There’s a parade on opening weekend that features marching band after marching band from various Bavarian villages and beyond.

We arrived on a day when temperatures were around 90 degrees F, and we gave up on the parade as it was still going on, sunburned and exhausted, after about two hours. Yes, two hours. Of course, by that time, the grounds were swollen with people, and we had difficulty getting around because of it. If only we had just skipped the parade and gone straight to the Paulaner tent.

Ban on outside drinks

If you plan to spend some time in a beer tent, you better plan to do all of your drinking there too. This might not be a difficult prospect for most people — after all, beer is one of the primary draws — but for those of us who aren’t beer drinkers, it’s a bit of a problem. You won’t be allowed inside the beer tent with any outside drink, even if you purchase it on Oktoberfest grounds. To enforce this, there is security posted outside to check your bags.

If you end up buying a beverage outside the beer tent, you either have to guzzle it or walk around the grounds while you finish it. As a result of this policy, I ended up having to separate from my husband and his sister. They went into the beer tent to try to find seats while I stayed outside, banished with my lemonade because I didn’t want to hold them up.

The crowds

Beer hall. Photo by author.

If you’re the casual Oktoberfest visitor who thinks you can just waltz right in and grab a seat, think again. My husband went to every single beer tent and never found a place to sit. In fact, he didn’t even get to drink any beer whatsoever in the five hours we spent there.

The crush of humanity both outside and inside the beer tents was so bad we could only move at a snail’s pace, never mind finding a spot to sit.

If you plan to go to a beer tent, go early or make reservations with that beer tent in advance. If you don’t go early or make reservations, and you somehow get lucky enough to find a seat, plant yourself there for the rest of the day.

The WC

The only restrooms I could find were in the beer tents, and I walked all over the grounds. If there were any others, I didn’t see them. So imagine me with my outside drink, and I felt a sudden need to go, thanks to my huge bottle of lemonade. I had to chug at least half of my drink, return the bottle to get back my one Euro deposit (not necessary, but I’m thrifty by nature), navigate in excruciatingly slow fashion through the crowds, enter a beer tent, locate the restroom, and then stand in line. Plan ahead to pee.

A point in Oktoberfest’s favor: I didn’t notice anybody skipping the WC altogether and finding somewhere else to go.

The size

Munich’s Oktoberfest is one of the world’s biggest and most famous festivals. But keep this in mind: A great number of Munich residents actually flee the city just before Oktoberfest starts, according to my friend who once lived there. Many of the folks around you may very well be from countries other than Germany, even if they’re dressed up in lederhosen and dirndl (perhaps especially if they’re dressed like this).

This is great if you love meeting people from all over the world, but if you’re looking to mingle with Germans while experiencing a bit of the local culture, you might want to look at any of the smaller Oktoberfest celebrations going on throughout Deutschland. They’re every bit as festive and the beer flows just as much, but they’re less tourist-clogged.

Another point for Oktoberfest: Despite the huge servings of beer and the party atmosphere inside the beer tents, there were no shameful displays of public drunkenness that I witnessed. At least until I returned to the bus. And it so happened to be the guy who was seated next to me.

He stumbled onto the bus, sat next to me, announced he was drunk, ran off the bus to puke, and then came back and fell asleep. I was seated next to the window, so I had nowhere else to go, at least for a while. Eventually, someone pointed out an empty seat behind me, and I crawled over him to escape.

Have you been to Oktoberfest? How did it go? Let us know in the comments.

***Explore the world party scene with 101 PLACES TO GET F*CKED UP BEFORE YOU DIE. Part travel guide, part drunken social commentary, 101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die may have some of the most hilarious scenes and straight-up observations of youth culture of any book you’ve ever read.***

* This post was originally published on September 15, 2011.

Culture and Art Festivals


About The Author

Karyn Johnson

Originally from Ohio, Karyn Johnson is currently living and writing near Seattle, Washington. That is, until she moves to the D.C. metro area. She cultivated her wanderlust whilst studying English literature for a summer in Bath, England, and has gotten many stamps on her passport since. Aside from writing and editing, she works as a servant for two ridiculously spoiled dogs.

  • david miller

    sort of seems anti-stoke all around.

  • Carlo Alcos

    My ex-wife is German so I’ve spent some time traveling around the country and Austria as well (I’ve been to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, beautiful area!). We went to Oktoberfest one year…and you’re pretty much bang on. It’s a shit-show…visitors get way too drunk…you can find yourself standing there minding your own business, drinking a beer, while someone is puking right beside you. If you’re young and like beer, it’s a “must-do” just for the party experience…but if you want to enjoy German beer, sausages, and the culture without the shit-showedness, you’re best off finding smaller festivals/parties in the smaller towns. Or just go to a biergarten.

  • Mara C.

    spot on. as a German I would never get near Munich during Oktoberfest time. Rather would visit a smaller city’s festival with less crowds

    • TheTranslator

      Completely agree Mara C.! Try the Rosenheimer Fest. Smaller, nicer and not so crowded.

  • Rowena

    Great article! Thanks for the heads up. It does sound like a party.

  • M Roman

    Oktoberfest isn’t my cup of tea either, but sorry Karyn. Your first  sentence states your not fond of beer and avoid crowds – and you didn’t like Oktoberfest? What a surprise. I’m not gonna jump in a pool and complain afterwards that I got wet. Criticism is absolutely fine and alright, but maybe the critic should be at least a little open-minded.

    • N Greek

      So, you saw the article titled “things that suck about oktoberfest” and after reading it decided to leave a comment complaining that the author wasn’t a fan of oktoberfest?

      • Daniel

        That analogy doesn’t work at all, sorry.  This is like reading a review of Amsterdam’s Cafes from someone who hates weed and coffee.

    • monorojo

      Have to agree with M Roman here

  • Michael Carmichael

    I’m drunk enough to puke on a bus, and all I had to do was go downtoan.

  • Candice

    Giggidy, sounds like my kinda party.

  • Tim

    Oktoberfest was one of the most entertaining and exciting things I have done in my adventures in Europe.  Although the W.C. is tough to find there are a few outside of the tents, maybe not enough for a few hundred thousand people.  I love the fact that there are people from all over the world to attend the event. I think thats what makes it such an awesome time. I would love to go again one day.  In fact, I could write a short book just on the one day I spent at Oktoberfest.  Amazing time….

  • Beef1178

    Your points are accurate but a little misleading.  I suggest if anyone wants to attend the Oktoberfest that they do a little advance planning.  If you don’t have a confirmed table reservation do not go the first weekend and expect to easily find a seat… it is, as the article states crazy.  If you don’t like crowds go during the week when there are less crowds and seats are generally available.  Also, the ban on outside drinks is not that uncommon and really no different than going into a sporting event or concert in the US.

    As for the toilet situation there are plenty of public toilets and they are very clean, much cleaner than anything you will find almost anywhere else in the world (my wife was very happily surprised).  Again, a little research and planning in this area would have been helpful.  There are ‘cupid’ statues positioned above the crowds, the direction the arrow points is the direction of the toilets – easy to find knowing this detail.

    My point is the things that you indicate that ‘suck’ about Oktoberfest are manageable with a little advance planning and research.

  • Bev Hendricks

    I’ve been to Oktoberfest in Munich eight times and enjoyed each and every visit.  I’m not much of a beer drinker either, but here are some keys to a successful Oktoberfest experience:
    1) Take the train so you can come and go as you please. Arrive early, leave before everyone gets off work.
    2) Do not go on the opening weekend. Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday at opening time.
    3) If you go with a group, even a small one, make reservations at your tent of choice. This could be determined by your beer of choice or location on the fest grounds. Reservations are usually done in advance and involve buying tickets for one fest chicken and two liters of beer.
    4) There are WC’s available outside of the tents. I’ve used them. Ask someone if you can’t find them.
    5) On the way back there is a wonderful Italian Ice shop across from the train station that has the best chocolate ice on the planet. Have some, then go find your train. The same shop is a leather store in the winter.

    Follow the instructions above for a pleasant experience.  And geez, stop your whining.
    Personally, I prefer the atmosphere of the fests in the smaller towns, but I never had a bad time at the big one.

  • PAYE

    We just returned from two weeks in Munich and left the day that Okotberfest started because we did our research and knew for a fact we did not want to be there.  If the author had done even a tiny bit of research, she would never have been in the situation.  Munich was a wonderful city and you can find great beer experiences without Oktoberfest which is clearly for the very young.  Sort of like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  Mostly out of towners.

  • Steve

    This is the first time I’ve been truly disappointed, seeing and reading this article on Matador. I was at this years Oktoberfest for the opening weekend, and had an incredible time – the key was to socialize with the locals. Or anyone, for that matter. Even without doing so, it’s difficult NOT to have a good time as a traveller of any experience level. For your article points:
    Opening weekend / The Crowds / The Size – Oktoberfest is a world class festival. Crowds are expected.The Ban on Outside Drinks – I wouldn’t bring lemonade to a beer festival. Nor would i want my friends/family to hold on to my outside drink while i go into a beertent by myself.

    The W.C. – there are coloured directional signs with bold print posted on the lampposts to the general W.C.’s outside the tents. Asking anyone there would also provide some guidance.

    Being Asian, I didn’t fit in at all at first glance. But being a traveller with an open mind and a good attitude, the conversations I had with local/traveller strangers of all sorts while there made my experience at Oktoberfest far exceed any expectation i ever had, AND helped me and a few of my friends experience the best this festival had to offer, WHILE walking away with new friends to visit on the next visit to Munich. 

    The type of traveller mindset I’d come to expect of articles on this site differs in a massive way to this article. With that, I don’t believe this article belongs on this website.

  • guest12

    the author of this article is such a loser

  • Cluana

    I lived in Munich for some years and after the first year I was DONE with Oktoberfest but I always knew what to expect. Last year I worked in it and discovered two sides: the drinking-traditional-Bavarian fest (yes, it is a tradition but on their own German way) and the rollercoaster riding-food-down-your-throat bonanza. As M Roman said: perhaps you need to be quite open-minded  when entering the biggest drinking party of the world. Oktoberfest is the biggest party of Bavaria, appreciated not only by the beer drinkers but families and seniors than can be seen strolling in the grounds from early morning to closing hours at 10. Just like any other carnival in the world it depends a lot on the spectator to make the party fun.
    A quick note: Tents also serve Radler (mix between beer and sprite), wine, wineschorle, juices, water and schnapps.

  • Prakasht Getfriday

    Oktoberfest : I have found some banks that don’t charge the fee. You can find more details on blog


  • Pat Bowers

    We went on the bus from the same resort but had a blast. We went on a Tuesday and got seats at four tents. We had no problem getting a seat early in the day as most people that reserve go in the evening. We loved it and passed out on the bus home but can’t wait to go again.

  • Ann Lewis

    Interesting post… Thanks a lot! Oktoberfest is coming soon).
    Check out this article about must-do things during Munich Oktoberfest:

  • Travis Mitchell

    I stopped reading when you said you didn’t drink beer.

  • drunk concerned american

    fuck you kayrn johnson… first off, you spelt kayrn wrong… dumbass. secondly who the fuck goes to oktoberfest to drink lemonade? you suck. i severely regret that you are from the U.S. and have disgraced our people so badly throughout the international community with this post and your presence on earth. thirdly, fuck you. obviously the size of the festival is going to be insane and it will be crowded being that it’s the biggest festival in the world. you’re ugly. also the picture of the girl at the top of this post is way way too ugly. you should put your dogs down and stop spoiling them you’re breeding bad table manners. your smile offends me. your offense against the outside drinks is misleading, because who would ever try to take lemonade into a beer tent? again, you’re a dumbass. hope your ex-husband enjoys his new girlfriends that don’t look like whales. stop posting shit when you are there for all the wrong reasons, like your meaning on this earth. just go away.

    a concerned american…


    if you ever do move to D.C. that whole size issue for you will become a HUGE problem… everyone there is black and black men have huge dicks… good luck trying to fuck. and ohio sucks

  • Beamer’s Sauce

    I don’t like this article. Most of your complaints are things that you should have known before hand, and honestly, it’s kind of annoying to hear you complain about them. A suggestion: Instead of writing about “5 things that suck about Munich’s Octoberfest”, write about 5 things that rock about Munich’s Octoberfest. I would have rather read that.

  • guest

    Whiny, entitled and totally misinformed!

  • Anna

    Such a shitty article!!!

  • Tobi

    Banned outside drinks: Tell me which cafe, restaurant, pub or club allows to bring in drinks from other shops?

    No toilets outside the tents: There are lots of them. Some people leave the tent to avoid the line in front of the inside toilets.

    Less German people in the tents: Not true, there are lots of Germans, not only tourists. You’ll allways find someone in town who doesn’t like festivals, or partys. Most of the locals are proud to be part of the Wiesn!

    No space left in the tents: If you don’t wanna go early, you should try to visit the Oktoberfest during the week. You’ll allways get a table. If you go on a weekend, you should be prepared for the masses.

  • brucetonbryfield

    You sound a joy to be around. You miserable swine.

  • Dar

    Your first sentence tells me this was not going to be a good experience from the start. I have been to Oktoberfest 5 times and most recently 9/25 & 9/26 (2013). You really do NOT need a reservation if you go during the week and go somewhat early. Crowds..Yes it is crowded BUT there has always been a seat available. You just need an open mind and ask if you can join a table. NEVER been turned down!! As far as bringing in a drink from another area of the fest…I can’t think of any establishment that will allow that, even in the States. The WC’s are plentiful outside and inside the tents. Not everyone who attends Oktoberfest goes into the Beer tents. There are also many visitors from different countries that you can talk to (even about our politics) to get their perspective, you get to party with many different people and it is great fun. I feel this is the best party in the world.
    BTW: I am 64, husband is 68 (he was stationed in Bad Aibling, Bavaria for 3 yrs in the late 60′s) and we sat with Germans, Italians and Swiss and a few Americans from 18 to 80 years old and drank, ate, danced and sang. We had a blast.

  • someone

    If you don’t like beer, then why were you at Oktoberfest? 0.o

    Please don’t write articles like this bashing something you know nothing about. You seem like the typical American housewife that hates alcohol and has nothing better to do. Some of my last great memories with someone who was very dear to me were at oktoberfest and we had a blast!

  • Steve

    “I dont like beer or big crowds” – worst review ever!!!

  • Carolina Brandt

    I live around the corner and I have been there 7 years on the row. If you are smart enough, you always get a seat…. at least I got it. Toilets are everywhere, there are signs with little angel babies with an arrow that show you the way. Public peeing is also very common, specially around the statue of Bavaria. That area can also be tricky because I heard of raping and stealing while the drunken are taking a nap. Plus, the whole city smells like pee and vomit and you have to walk through the city as if you were jumping from stone to stone in order to avoid stepping in it. The parade is on saturday and it´s a classic…That´s where everything starts since the mayor is the one to serve the first beer. Banned outside? I always managed to bring in and take out whatever I want. I have a Maß collection home. I never saw anybody checking the bags (hence, I took my Maß with me). Germans are everywhere, but people of Munich try to avoid it on the weekends. Shameful displays are to be seen EVERYWHERE!!! It happened so often that I saw room to sit and then realized it was full of puke. There is also a lot of accidents and fights with Maß flying all over the place. I have two friends who got hit on the head with the one kilo glas. And last but not least….. it is very very strange to have 90°F for that time of the year in Munich…. Its fall.

  • Mark Nicholas

    The only problems at Oktoberfest when we went there were the “Ugly Americans”, complaining, no brains, and most in the US Military. Sorry, but this was true, so true I told people we were Canadians.

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