Bucket List Travel Dreams: Oktoberfest in Munich

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Nobody told me Oktoberfest was a big carnival for families. Something I could find  in my hometown of 15,000 riverside residents along the muddy banks of the Missouri River. The kind of place where the caravans quietly come in overnight and transform the place into a mini-amusement village before dawn.

As I walked down the main festival walkway at Munich’s famed Oktoberfest for the first time, all I could feel was childhood déjà-vu thousands of miles from home.

Funnel cakes and cotton candy wafted every turn. The carousel of pastel-colored horses marched in a constant circle. The screams and rusty swirls from the Tilt-a-Whirl drowned out the giggly, and somewhat creepy, clown house music that spewed from busted speakers inside the children’s rides.

Lining the main walkway were the same rigged squirt-gun and ball toss games that took my money years ago when I desperately had to win a stuffed Tasmanian devil. Oddly, or not oddly enough, the same hastily made prizes that started in Chinese factories apparently headed east across the U.S. amusement park circuit and continued around the world.

“This is it?” I thought.

This is Oktoberfest?”

“Where’s the beer?”

The only thing separating this scene from a Midwestern county fair was the lederhosen. Everyone was wearing them. It was myself, my boyfriend, his brother and his cousin standing out in our combination of jeans, polo shirts and flowing, flowery tops among the stampede of historic garb.

“You vant beer tents?” said a friendly German man strolling by in white and green lederhosen. He sensed we were lost American puppies looking for our drinking bowls.

“Ova dare,” he continued, pointing to our left.

Following his lead, we saw it. Jutting off to one whole side of the family fun fest was the adult entertainment – the booze.
Oktoberfest in Munich

Beer tent after beer tent. The word “tent” is highly misused. These glorious wooden beer mansions stretch two-stories high and reach back far enough to house 10,000 people. The insides are hallow. Straw covers the floors and long-bench tables are the only occupants besides the people.

Every major brewery in Munich has a branded tent.

Spatenhaus. Hofbrau. Paulander. Lowenbrau. (I forget the rest.) The tents themselves all have patios with long benches of people to give you a preview of what is inside.

Spatenhaus. Hofbrau. Paulander. Lowenbrau.

As we walked closer, the carnival music was replaced with polka favorites. Then when we went inside, the polka favorites became American classics sung by a choir of the world’s finest drunks. Sweet Caroline. Country Roads. Hey, Baby. We knew we were in the right place.

The Hofbrau tent spilled over with people standing and dancing at waist-high tables. Our wide-eyes kept looking around the room like an overstimulated freshman a their first college party. Good thing a German beer maid in a blue and white dirndl spotted us the second we walked in.

“You want some beers, yes?”

We bobbled our heads up and down.

“Come, I seat you.”

Our aggressive escort grabbed my boyfriend and tugged him into the crowd. We followed. She found us a table that looked like it had room for one, but she managed to smash all four of us in there. We quickly introduced ourselves to the Irish, Australian, Swiss, and German table mates before the contagious polka numbers had us all dancing, cheers-ing and spinning each other around. Hours later, the beer, the revelers and the music were still going strong. We forgot there were almost ten other beer tents just like this one filled with almost the same amount of people.

If there’s hope that the world can get along one day, I’d put my money where my mouth is and buy the world a traditional Bavarian-style beer.

HofbrauhausBlurry, like some of my memories.

Munich’s Oktoberfest goes on for the last two weeks in September. On average, six and a half million people make the beer pilgrimage each year to help Munich consume 30% of it’s annual production of beer.

If you plan on going, I suggest:

  • Staying in a hotel within walking distance to the fairgrounds/beer tents.
  • Buying lederhosen in America – much cheaper than the 300+ Euro outfits in Munich.
  • Taking a detox day off from the tents to visit the nearby wonders of Munich: Besides the city, you can rent a car a drive to Walt Disney’s inspiration for the Cinderella castle, Neuschwanstein.
  • Extend your trip a few days to take the train, a Europe travel must-do for all sightseeing romantics, to either Prague, Austria or Switzerland. These lush mountain town countrysides offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

Of course, if you can’t make it to Germany, there are plenty of local Oktoberfest celebrations to seek out in your hometown. Now that I kicked Munich Oktoberfest off my bucket list, but loved it so much, I am trying to go back to Germany next year to experience Oktoberfest in the lesser known parts.

What places are on your bucket list to travel to?

Oktoberfest Food


  • Kathryn

    I like funky, off the road places like Gaylord Michigan-a small town where almost everyone knows each other. Gaylord is an “Alpine Village” where the host an annual festival in July called Alpenfest and your story reminds me of it: http://www.gaylordalpenfest.com. There is also Mount Angel, Oregon which was settled by German pioneers in the early 19th century and eerily resembles the Bavarian countryside and they have an Octoberfest: http://www.oktoberfest.org. Another one is in the majestic Cascade mountain range with the most enchanting village called Leavenworth in Washington.. At noon on about the second Saturday in May you can hear an Alp horn open the annual Maifest celebration. Love them all.

  • Scott Busenbark

    Fill my feeding tube with beer
    Fill it with what I hold dear
    Let me smile and greet my fate
    Tube me with beer, now that’d be great

    Skip the Ensure, don’t like the taste
    Tube me with beer, now that’d be great
    Only want food if I can chew
    Don’t want a sandwich from a tube

    Fill my tube with beverage malt
    Keep it coming, please don’t halt
    I feel St. Peter’s gettin’ near
    Sure hope he’s at the gates with beer

    Don’t cry ‘cause I won’t be ‘round
    Let me go, I’m Heaven-bound
    Send me on my way with love
    And perhaps, a little buzz

    Fill my tube with beer, don’t fail
    Fill it with lager, fill it with ale
    As I go travel that last mile
    Let me do it with a smile

    Fill me feeding tube with beer
    Fill it with what I hold dear
    I see the light, it’s getting near
    So fill my feeding tube with beer

    Something’s wrong, it’s hot in here
    Better fill my feeding tube with beer

  • I went to one in the middle of the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, or simply Expo ’86 in Vancouver, British Columbia. My mother and boyfriend ran everywhere to try and see everything to the point where my step-father looked at me in irritation, pointed to the Oktoberfest pavilion and said, “Can I buy you a beer?”

    We spent the best two hours drinking beer, eating sausage and singing with people from all over the world while my boyfriend and my mother went to look at the Pavilion of Promise or some World’s Fair exhibit. My step-father and I were convinced we had the better time.

    It must have been those big mugs of beer.

    Great story!