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A Bavarian Affair - Oktoberfest 2014

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Mattg

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Being based in Germany this year, the opportunity to visit to the beer capital of the world, Munich, for Oktoberfest was not something I was going to miss!

I believe I promised a trip report at some point... apologies for the slight delay, but I've finally found some time today to share my experiences with the good people of AFF.

I actually made two trips to Munich during the 16 day festival - once on the opening weekend, and then again on the last weekend. As you will see shortly, my two visits were actually very different experiences...


Visit #1

I had been planning for months to go for the closing weekend, but the first visit was not planned at all and actually happened almost by chance. I was in Hamburg that weekend visiting a friend who works for the German airline Lufthansa. We were actually planning to fly to Venice (not Munich!) using his staff travel entitlements. I won't go into the details of the staff travel, but the main catch is that it's standby only - meaning you're not guaranteed a seat if the flight is full.

We had already booked a hotel, tour and even our water taxi transfers in Venice and were really excited about the trip. But it wasn't to be - we couldn't get on any flights that afternoon. We went home after having been at the airport for nearly 4 hours.

We were still keen to travel somewhere that weekend and had a look at other possible destinations for a day-trip on the Sunday. Realistically, our options for a day-trip with Lufthansa were Frankfurt or Munich, and we unanimously agreed on Munich. (Why anyone choose to go to Frankfurt for a short holiday is beyond me.) As if happened, it was the opening weekend of Oktoberfest!

Flight 1: LH2083 Hamburg - Munich
Aircraft: A321 | D-AIDI
Departure time: 06:40
Arrival time: 08:00

The early morning flight down to Munich on Sunday was a most pleasant one - and even more so as I was able to sit in my favourite seat: 1A... which on Lufthansa is in the Business cabin. Let's just say that flying in Business class on this type of ticket was possible for a very reasonable price!

The Lufthansa Business seats on the A320 family are nothing to write home about as they are exactly the same as the economy seats, which means 30 inches of seat pitch and no IFE. The only difference is that the middle seats are blocked. Being in the front row, we did have a little bit more leg room on this flight though.

The soft product was much less underwhelming than the hard product though. The service was friendly and efficient, and a very nice breakfast was served, along with several drinks top-ups as we watched the sunrise out the window.

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You may recognise the second photo as my current AFF avatar. ;)

We arrived in Munich a little early and headed straight into the city on the S-Bahn. We arrived at around 9am as they were setting up for some sort of parade throughout the city. We hung around to watch the spectacle and it was definitely worth it! It turned out to be a parade of people wearing Trachten (Dirndls & Lederhosen - traditional Bavarian costumes) and playing German marching music. The March went through the city and ended at the Theresienwiese, aka. the Oktoberfest fair grounds.

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The carnival atmosphere continued as we made our way to Oktoberfest itself. This was my first time at the "real" Oktoberfest (as opposed to the fake ones every second German and even Australian city seems to have!). I must say, I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the sheer size and just how much there was to do there. I had imagined it would just be a few giant beer tents, but Oktoberfest in Munich is so much more than that! Of course, there were giant beer tents - 14 of them in fact - but also rollercosters and other rides, plenty of delicious Bavarian food, games and plenty of other things to do (and spend money on!). Although it's known as a beer-drinking festival, I honestly think you could say that Oktoberfest is fun for the entire family. As far as I could see, they even let children into the tents & beer gardens.

Unfortunately I didn't have any Lederhosen to wear, and while I didn't quite feel as though I was the odd one out - there were other people who didn't dress up in Trachten - certainly the majority of Bavarians and visitors alike got into the full spirit of the festival and wore the traditional outfits. There were even about a dozen Hamburgers on our flight that morning in Lederhosen and Dirndls. (Even the Lufthansa ground staff and flight attendants we saw at Munich Airport were dressed up!)

This was just a short visit sadly, and we had to get back to Hamburg in time for me to get the last bus back to Berlin for the evening, which meant heading back to the airport around 3pm. Although a fleeting visit, we did manage to fit in a fantastic, refreshing Maß (1 litre) beer each in one of the Biergartens, which was probably the highlight of the day!
 

Mattg

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Some photos from Oktoberfest:

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Inside one of the beer halls:

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Enjoying a refreshing cold beverage in one of the beer gardens:

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This particular beer was the "Pschorr Bräurosl Wiesn Maß". (Anyone care to try to pronounce that?!)
 
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Mattg

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The Löwenbräu tent:

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So, that was my first experience with Oktoberfest. I had a great day and wished I could stay longer. Which is why I was really, really looking forward to returning in a fortnight for the last weekend!

Flight 2: LH2074 Munich - Hamburg
Aircraft: A320 | D-AIPR
Departure time: 15:45 (Actual: 16:15)
Arrival time: 17:00 (Actual: 17:25)

The return flight was also good. We were served a small sandwich and slice of cake in Business:

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Curiously, the flight attendant spoke to all of the other passengers in German, then when she got to my seat she asked "Can I get you anything to drink?" This is something which keeps happening, not just on planes but anywhere customer service is involved - as soon as someone picks up on my accent, they will revert to speaking in English with me, even if I am speaking perfect German. I actually find it quite annoying as firstly, one of the reasons I'm here is to practice and improve my German, and secondly, I find it almost a little bit insulting. It's like the person is saying to you "My English is better than your German." But in this case I hadn't even said a word to her yet, and in fact was reading "Der Spiegel". I politely asked in German why she had spoken to me in English and she was a little taken aback, but told me she had seen my name on the passenger list and it didn't look German. Which is true. Either she was genuinely trying to provide good customer service, or just a little bit racist. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt here and go with the first option.


Visit #2

The second time round I was flying from Berlin on an airberlin sale fare. I was departing mid-morning on the Saturday, and returning first thing on Monday morning to go to work.

I tried out the BA Galleries Lounge at TXL on the Saturday morning, which was nothing special, although still better than the BA Lounge in STR! There was a small selection of food such as yoghurt and cold meat, as well as tea, coffee and of course free wifi. The highlight appeared to be the wide selection of alcohol available, although being 9.30am I chose not to partake!

Flight 3: AB6189 Berlin (Tegel) - Munich
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 | D-ABMB
Departure time: 10:40
Arrival time: 11:55

Airberlin has become my airline of choice in Germany for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they're in oneworld... enough said, really. But secondly, they are extremely consistent so you know exactly what you are getting, and thirdly, their route network out of Berlin is much more vast than Lufthansa's (which is basically just Frankfurt, Munich and the odd flight to Dusseldorf).

Although a full flight, my AB flight down to Munich was excellent. The service was friendly and efficient as always, and each passenger was predictably offered a complimentary sweet or salty snack (a chocolate wafer bar or packet of chips) & a drink. The snack offering has not changed a bit since my first AB flight and I don't expect it to change anytime soon.

It was a great day to snag a window seat as the views after take-off, and en-route were spectacular.

We took off from Tegel Airport towards the east, then did a 180 degree turn, overflying the city:

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If you have eagle eyes and/or are familiar with Berlin, you may recognise the TV tower, Museum Island, Reichstag, Hollocaust Memorial, Hauptbahnhof and Tegel Airport.

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And overflying Nuremberg en-route:

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The Nazi rally grounds can be seen in the bottom-left corner.
 
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Mattg

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Although it was a beautiful day in most of Germany, it was cold and overcast in Munich that day. Sadly, that pretty much sums up the day that was.

I got the S-Bahn into the city and arrived at about 1pm. The plan was to store my bag in a locker at Hauptbahnhof, then meet my friends who had been in one of the tents since 9am that morning. (One of them had actually been there since 5am, and joined the front of the queue in order to snag the best table in one of the best tents.)

Not surprisingly, Munich was absolutely packed with tourists but even more so that day as it was a long weekend. Every single locker at the crowded Hauptbahnhof was taken. I went to the bus station to see if there were any free lockers there, but once again had no luck. I wasn't sure what to do so just headed to the Oktoberfest anyway. It's only a backpack, I thought.

When I arrived, Oktoberfest was completely packed; even more so than the first visit. It took 5 minutes just to get out of the U-Bahn station at Theresienwiese.

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My friend said to meet him in the "Schützen-Festzelt" and when I arrived I saw a tent called "Armbrust-Schützen-Festzelt". Assuming it was the same thing, I joined the queue to get in. Now, calling it a queue is a little generous, actually. It was a disorderly scrum full of many drunk people. The security staff were particularly rude and rough too when it came to crowd control. They were letting random amounts of people in, at random intervals and wouldn't say how long we could expect to wait. After around an hour, I finally got to the front of the line but was told I couldn't go in with my bag. Damn.

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Queueing to (try to) get into the tent.

I eventually found a place near the entrance where I could leave my bag, but now of course I had to go back to the back of the queue. I waited nearly two hours to get back into the tent. But once in, I was only in the Biergarten outside the tent and couldn't even get into the tent itself! The sign said it was "closed due to overcrowding." Some of the security staff said it would be closed for the rest of the day, while others said it might re-open in an hour or two. Ordinarily I would have probably just given up at this point, but I had flown all the way from Berlin to join my friends in that tent, so I wasn't just going to give up. I waited with a bunch of other people outside the tent for nearly three hours in the hope they would start letting people in. In that time, they let in less than 10 people, and I suspect that some of them bribed the guards. I saw more drunk people getting thrown out by security than let in during that three hours. By the time I gave up and left, there must have been over a hundred people waiting in scrum-like conditions, but it seems we were waiting in vain as I don't think they ever did actually re-open. It was already 7.30pm and I had not yet even drunk a single beer that day.

After I left I was walking around the fair grounds when I noticed a different tent on the other side of the Fest called "Schützen-Festzelt". It was then that I realised my stupid mistake: My friend had been in that tent all day, not the one where I had been waiting! Now, I will admit that that was entirely my mistake for not checking which tent it was properly. I didn't think there would be two tents with "Schützen-Festzelt" in the name, but apparently I was wrong.

Now, as it happens the other tent was also closed due to overcrowding, so there is a good chance I wouldn't have been able to get into that one either. But still, I had flown in especially and wasted the whole day.

If there was one consolation, some of those rides were pretty good!

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By the time I eventually found my friends it was late and they were ready to go home.

That day was pretty much wasted, but the trip itself was not a total waste! We ended up going out on Saturday night, and I actually had a pretty good day on Sunday. But as much as I hate to say it, Oktoberfest itself was a let-down the second time round.


Flight 4: AB6184 Munich - Berlin (Tegel)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 | D-ABMD
Departure time: 06:15
Arrival time: 07:25

I booked the first flight of the day back to Berlin on Monday morning as it was cheap and I needed to go to work that day anyway. But I'm really not a fan of those ridiculously early flights. It was a 4am start to be at Munich Airport by 5.30am.

I was really looking forward to a coffee and something to eat at one of the airport lounges, but it didn't eventuate. I didn't have a lot of time anyway, but the oneworld lounge situation in Munich is seriously confusing. If anyone would like to clarify which lounge/s I would have been able to use, I would appreciate it so that I know for next time. Once I went through security, the only thing I could find that resembled a lounge was airberlin's "Exclusive Waiting Area" which was only for Business passengers or topbonus status holders. Not that it looked like I was missing out on much.

The flight itself was not memorable and I think I slept for half of it. I was able to pick my favourite seat (1A) when checking-in online, which was nice although on AB this is just an economy seat, and I actually found the legroom a little restrictive with the bulkhead. As on every early morning AB flight I've ever taken, a Laugenstange (pretzel bread stick) and a choice of drink were served for breakfast.


To sum up my Oktoberfest experience, I think I will give the festival the benefit of the doubt here. What happened to me on the second weekend was unfortunate, and hopefully was a one-off. The general atmosphere was great though, and on the first visit I really did have a fun time.

Naturally, everything was quite expensive, but that's to be expected and, the quality of the beer and traditional Bavarian food was second-to-none. For anyone who's wondering, a Maß (1 litre of beer) would cost €10 plus tip, although the price varies slightly depending on the tent or beer garden.

The main thing I learnt from my second experience was that it pays to get there early! And if possible, avoid German public holidays and weekends!

Would I go back another time if I had the chance? Absolutely. I don't think it's possible to have two bad experiences somewhere as awesome as Oktoberfest!

Oh and by the way, in case anyone is wondering, we did manage to get to Venice on the weekend before last. And we had a great time there. ;)
 

medhead

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Good report. Really great to find out about the airlines. Also your impression of octoberfest.

I've not been to octoberfest. In large part because my brother lived in Munich for 10 years. He has been very negative about the whole thing. So I'm not sure it should be given the benefit of the doubt.

If your still there in 6 months the starkbierfest might be worth googling.

My one other comment will no doubt get some people shirty at me, so be it. While I don't get racism from the FA speaking English to you. I agree that Germans can come across as racist. I base this on our family experience entering Germany a few years ago. I entered with the oldest child who has tanned skin, dark hair and dark eyes. I had to lift them up for inspection. My wife, on the other hand, travelling on her German maiden name with the blonde haired, blue eyed child was welcomed back like a long lost soul returning to the fatherland. No inspection of the child, whose name was Germanised. Yes, I'm stereotyping, yes I probably got an immigration officer who did their job properly. But race could also explain the different reactions.
 

jastel

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Doesn't seem to have changed much then...crowds and drunks...but fun.
I did it on a Contiki Tour 10 years ago (OMG!)
We were only there for 1 night but we all had fun.
I didn't even realise there was a sideshow area until the next day when someone mentioned the rides.
My group found a seat and didn't leave...except for bathroom breaks...until closing.
Somehow we found the train back to the suburbs where we stayed.

You needed to have a seat to get a beer or something I think, there was no "bar" as such, the waitress took orders and brought them.
Is that still the case?
 

RB

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I must have missed this Trip Report at the time-thanks for the effort, seems you are enjoying your time over there. I was also there in 2004, travelled independently. Didn't have tent tickets but went in the morning & found tables where the reserved seats indicated what time the bookings for those seats were from. I recall one of our days there coincided with family day when there were discounted rides. Posting a few photos to show that some things haven't changed much in 10yrs

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Fantic125

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The majority of the tables in the beer halls are booked pretty well 12 months in advance, and usually by the same groups (according to my German ex-colleagues, a number of whom go every year for usually an entire week).

The last few days are particularly hectic and crowded as you described. There's also an Oktoberfest that happen in Stuttgart a few weeks beforehand and is less crowded and a bit more civilized.

The Cabin Crew talking to you in English isn't a racist thing; they have no idea what your German is like and its much easier for them to default to English for any non-Germanic name rather than speak in German, get a blank look, then have to repeat in English. There's more nationalities that go through Germany who don't speak German than do. There's also quite a difference between spoken High German and Schwabian, enough that it can be difficult for one to understand the other.

If you like the German beers then I suggest heading over to the Franconia region And spend a few days trying the local beers, particularly in Bamberg.
 

medhead

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The majority of the tables in the beer halls are booked pretty well 12 months in advance, and usually by the same groups (according to my German ex-colleagues, a number of whom go every year for usually an entire week).

The last few days are particularly hectic and crowded as you described. There's also an Oktoberfest that happen in Stuttgart a few weeks beforehand and is less crowded and a bit more civilized.

The Cabin Crew talking to you in English isn't a racist thing; they have no idea what your German is like and its much easier for them to default to English for any non-Germanic name rather than speak in German, get a blank look, then have to repeat in English. There's more nationalities that go through Germany who don't speak German than do. There's also quite a difference between spoken High German and Schwabian, enough that it can be difficult for one to understand the other.

If you like the German beers then I suggest heading over to the Franconia region And spend a few days trying the local beers, particularly in Bamberg.
I can highly recommend Bamberg as well. Amazing town. Something like 60 breweries.

Now that I think of it, I can't remember a single beer hall in Munich that had a bar as such. Beer gardens have a service area, but not a bar the rest is all table service.

You reminded me of my old man's story about trying to use his high German to talk to an old lady that was hitch hiking around the Black Forest area. Not a chance of understanding each other.
 
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