The 200th Oktoberfest just wrapped up in Munich and if you were not there, the bad news is you missed it. The good news is you missed it.
I am just back from Munich and the closing weekend. It was my second Oktoberfest, but much different from my first just a few years ago, thanks largely to record setting crowds and revelers bent on celebrating the Bicentennial within an inch of their lives.
The thing that impressed me most about the world’s largest party is how peaceful and organized it is. Sure there are drunks, but the drinking ends relatively early, German society is very orderly, and for the most part if felt very safe and welcoming.
Not this year.
Oktoberfest 2010 set all kinds of attendance records and sales records, especially the Saturday of closing weekend, the bustiest single day out of more than 3000 days in the history of the festival. Unfortunately these crowds brought mayhem, rampant drunkenness, fights and most impressive of all, frequent beat downs from the vast numbers of riot-geared cops.
So on one hand, this may have been a party to miss. On the other, I’m still glad I went. I had a good time and none of the many people I know who went had any real trouble.
The question is what will next year bring? I am predicting a return towards normal Oktoberfest but not quite all the way, because now that an extra 1.5 million visitors, give or take a few thousand, have tasted it, I am sure it will continue to draw larger crowds. And it is already hard to get a spot in one of the may tents, the only paces you can drink beer (along with the associated outdoor but enclosed beer gardens). There’s really no point going if you can’t get a tent seat.
So here is my advice: Book early and make sure you reserve tables. This is harder than it sounds but possible. Each tent is individually owned and operated, so you have to contact them directly, ideally more than 6 months in advance to make arrangements. All the tent info can be found at the official Oktoberfest website. Ditto for your hotel and air, since everything sells out. I booked mine through Delta Vacations, which bundles hotel rooms and airfare together and then sells them for less than you can buy them separately on your own, and these packages work especially well for sold out events like O-fest since they block rooms and seats for resale in advance. (Hey, Delta Vacations works great for golf trips too!) Next year’s dates are 9/17-10/3, 2011.
Here’s my final piece of inside advice: This was the 200th birthday of Oktoberfest, but due to cancellation from war, crashed economies and the occasional cholera outbreak, it was not the 200th Oktoberfest. That’s the next biggie, so mark your calendar for fall 2023.