By Emily Haracopos
On a flight’s night of sleep, my weekend in Germany began. A 53-hour European excursion may seem worthless, if not inane, but, any longer and my survival just might have been at stake; my boyfriend and I journeyed to Munich in late September for the sole purpose of attending the world’s largest festival, the legendary, beer-centered Oktoberfest.
The Bavarian tradition started in 1810, as a celebration of the royal wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, complete with horse races and plenty of beer. While the races ceased to mark the occasion in 1960, the beer was never abandoned. Today, Oktoberfest thrives as a continued source of national pride and attracts over 6 million visitors during its 16- to 18-day annual run. The fair’s site, located southwest of the city’s historical center at Theresienwiese, covers 103 acres and just manages to contain its many guests. Women in customary corseted dresses, called dirndls, and lederhosen-clad men gather around beer tents and food stalls, shop for steins at souvenir stands, and spin and swing on carnival rides. For eating at ease, foods sold outside are hand-held, be it bratwursts on buns, half-meter-long sausages in baguettes, or paper cones full of pan-roasted, sugar-glazed almonds.
But, to enjoy some of the 7 million liters of beer served annually, visitors must have a seat inside one of the festival’s fourteen beer tents. A different local brewery operates each tent and only serves its own beer. While the larger tents hold between 6,000 and 8,000 people, seats can be hard to come by; we arrived as the tents opened at 9 o’clock in the morning and saw the tables promptly fill. In the Augustiner tent, the beer is tapped from wooden barrels. Ten euros pays for a liter, and waitresses can miraculously carry twelve mugs in one go. The beer, light golden in color, tasted mildly sweet and had a crisp, refreshing finish. It was unlike any beer I have ever tasted, which is perhaps due to the brewery’s dedication to the German Beer Purity Law. This quality-assuring regulation from 1516, called the Reinheitsgebot, stipulated that beer only be produced from water, barley, and hops, and, though it was officially repealed in 1987, many old breweries in Munich still respect and abide by it.
If possible, the beer tastes even better when accompanied by a plate of juicy, spit-roasted chicken, which is known as hendl, and eaten widely among tent-goers. For more standard German fare, dine at some of the city’s beer houses. Start with salty, soft pretzels, which are best slathered with sweet, whole grain mustard. Sausages can be found on every menu; weisswurst, boiled white veal sausage, is a Munich specialty and a must-have, and links of grilled pork sausages are plated atop a mound of sauerkraut. Spanferkel, suckling pig, and schweinshaxe, pork knuckle, are commonly consumed, and, at Schneider Weisses Brauhaus, ours came braised in Aventinus, the brewery’s dark doppelbock, and was slathered in a wheat beer gravy. Sharing the plate, a fluffy potato dumpling, known as knodel, soaked up and took on the flavor of the gravy. Schneider Weisses TAP 7 wheat beer, still cloudy, with the distinct taste of yeast, rounded out the meal.
As we expected, our trip was over before we knew it, but it is certainly one that we will not quickly forget!