Since Munich has a good and reliable mass transit system, subways, light rail and busses should be your first choice. As for accommodation, the more adventurous might opt for camping, but even in that case, it is advisable to make reservations as early as possible. Also, there are some accommodations in private homes available, often a very good alternative, especially if you don’t want to stay for an extended time. Once these issues are settled, you will need to determine what exactly you want to do at Oktoberfest, which by the way in Munich is commonly refered to as the “Wies’n”. The most common activity is - of course - beer drinking and to do so, most people want to visit one of the so-called tents, of which there are almost 30, some smaller and some as large as a ballpark with up to 10,000 seats. Guests can just walk up to the tents but there are days when the more popular ones will close due to overcrowding. In the larger tents, there will always be some live music played, usually of the traditional Bavarian variety, which is easier to take when you drink beer. The beer you’ll get is of a special variety specifically brewed for the occasion and containing a higher level of alcohol than generic beers (6-7 %). Beer is sold in special mugs called “Mass” which is supposed to equal one liter but is most often less. Oktoberfest waitresses are famous for their ability to carry several of these heavy mugs at once. Beer prices reach new record heights each year and currently is about nine Euros for a Mass. To make up for the beer consumption, some traditional foods are served within the tents. Among those, you’ll find whole chicken (called “Hendl”), pork knuckles (“Haxe”), and grilled fish on a stick (“Steckerlfisch”). Apart from these, a few varieties of sausages, large pretzels and dumplings can be found. Within the tents, a strict smoking ban is enforced since 2010. All tents must close by 11 pm. If, after leaving the tent, you still feel not dizzy enough, you have a choice of about 80 thrill rides, including rather spectacular rollercoasters. In addition, some novelty shows and various fair booths can be found. The giant ferris wheel, a staple of Oktoberfest since the 1960s, affords a good view over the entire area.
Security and visitor safety is always a big concern at Oktoberfest, especially since in 1980 a bomb planted by right-wing extremists killed 13 guests. Apart from measures initiated to prevent terrorist attacks, Munich police and fire fighters, along with EMT staff set up their own location on Theresienwiese and provide a number of valuable services. A large gathering of people always draws a bunch of those who are not only looking for fun and visitors should be aware the Oktoberfest is no exception to that rule. Pickpockets probably know better than anyone else that there’ll be a large number of careless tourists waving wallets and cameras, some of which are obviously under the influence. Also, the alcohol tends to bring about aggressive behavior in people and unfortunately, brawls and fistfights are common. Women should note that there is a special security center for girls and women at Theresienwiese.
The Oktoberfest tradition goes back to the year 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese celebrated their wedding and invited the people of Munich to attend the festivities which also included a horse race. The race drew a lot of attention and it was decided it should be held again the following year - the beginning of the annual tradition now lasting for more than 200 years, although there were a few years in between when no Oktoberfest was held for various reasons. Examples include a cholera epidemic in Munich in 1854, Bavaria’s involvement in wars against Prussia in 1866 and 1870 and the years of the two World Wars.
Although the horse races were discontinued in 1960, quite a few traditions have survived and have become defining cornerstones of Oktoberfest. The most famous of these traditions concern the opening ceremonies. Festivities begin with a parade of the tent hosts and brewery carriages, followed by the tapping of the first keg by the Munich mayor at noon. Only from that moment on, after the mayor drafts the first beer for the Bavarian Minister-President, will beer be available in all of the tents.
If you are in town for the first weekend of Oktoberfest, make sure not to miss the Trachten- und Schützenzug on Sunday, which is a parade with several thousand participants, almost all of whom are clad in historic dresses. The parade gives a pretty good impression on how important traditions and customs are and how they are cultivated until today not only in Bavaria but also in neighboring areas. In the past, the fact that Oktoberfest is first and foremost a traditional Bavarian institution and not a giant amusement park had become more and more forgotten. In 2008, the organizers tackled the issue by introducing new rules aimed at carefully reducing the party atmosphere at least a little, which have proven quite successful.