It's easy to associate Oktoberfest in Germany solely with beer, but there is more to the festival than drinking countless one-litre steins.More food-and-drink travel
Eating great food, frolicking in traditional German dress and flying on carnival rides all contribute to the event, which attracts people from all around the world.
Oktoberfest goes back to the King of Bavaria's wedding 202 years ago, which all the citizens of Bavaria were invited to celebrate. Over time it has progressed from a horse race, gained elements of a carnival and become more about beer. Beer served is brewed specially for the festival and is slightly more alcoholic than usual.
Enormous tents are erected on the Theresienwiese grounds representing German breweries, each with its own character. The Hofbrauhaus tent has a crazy party vibe and is the only tent with a standing-only area, whereas some consider Augustiner the best tent as the beer is still served traditionally out of wooden kegs.
My boyfriend Jason and I had been travelling through Europe since July and Oktoberfest was a must-do. While our travels had mostly been DIY, we thought Oktoberfest with a tour group would make the most of the spirited festival and provide some structure on a short stay in Munich. Booking in July, there was not much availability, but we managed to get the last spots on a Contiki six-night Concept tour, staying in a hostel quad-share room on the last tour over the 16 days of Oktoberfest.
Contiki tours are for travellers aged 18 to 35 and offer a tour guide, accommodation, some meals and a mix of included and optional activities. They are notorious for burning the candle at both ends with jam-packed days and big nights out - which seemed perfect for the festival. According to our guide, Evana, 2012 is the first year Contiki has offered a package for Oktoberfest.
There is also a hotel option (which was sold out when we booked) and camping (which wasn't for me). At $559 per person, the Concept tour includes transport from Contiki headquarters in London to Haus International hostel in Munich, four nights accommodation (breakfast included), a walking tour of the city, visit to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and limited transport in and out of the Oktoberfest grounds.
It begins with the 18-hour transit, which includes a ferry from Dover to Calais around midnight and coach through France, Belgium and finally, Germany.
Unfortunately we don't get the opportunity to "speed date" and move around the bus to meet others, though the paperwork suggested we would.
When we finally reach Haus International on Thursday afternoon, we meet our lovely tour guide Evana and check in to our room, which has a private bathroom, two bunk beds and lockers. We share with another male and female.
Though there is a fair bit of noise during the nights, the accommodation has everything we need - spacious, clean rooms, good breakfast, free wi-fi, late-night bar in the basement and easy access via public transport.
Some choose to go straight to the beer tents the afternoon we arrive, though we go on the walking tour into town, which fizzles in drizzly weather after seeing the Glockenspiel. Though we are on a budget, in town we buy outfits to wear for the festival - a dirndl (traditional dress) and apron for me costs ($A87), while Jason chooses a detailed white button-up shirt and suspenders to wear with jeans, rather than the lederhosen (men's leather shorts) which cost between $125-$185.
Friday is the big day in the beer tents. While Contiki does not reserve tables for the group, the shuttle takes us in for the tent openings at 10am to pile on to benches in Lowenbrau. If you're not seated, you won't be served.
Astonished by the size and construction of the tent, we lag behind taking photos and miss out on seats at the group tables. I am initially disappointed not to mingle with others on our tour, but it means meeting people who have travelled to Oktoberfest from Canada, Italy, Ireland, London, Austria and other parts of Germany.
Everyone wants a good chat and chant - the main song is Ein Prosit which ends with a salute, though they love DJ Otzi's Hey Baby and The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army - and the one-litre beers go down quicker than you'd expect.
It can easily become an expensive day; one beer is around $12 and the servers rely on tips so if you don't tip well you won't get served again. Evana advises us to start around $18 and decrease throughout the day.
The food is great in the tents. The "half hendl" (chicken) is my favourite but we also try schweinehaxen (pork knuckle), brezl (giant pretzel), bratwurst (sausage) and schnitzel (crumbed veal). Before we know it, we are waiting for the first Contiki shuttle bus to the hostel (there are three each evening, at slightly different times).
While many decide to go back to the beer tents on Saturday, we use the day to look around.
We sign up for the optional Mike's Bikes city tour at $20 per person. While the tour is fairly basic, it's a great way to see Munich on the only clear day we have. Guide Kyle knows his history and the Australian sense of humour.
That gives us the afternoon to head to the Oktoberfest grounds and experience the carnival, which reminds me of the Royal Show. We devour a gingerbread heart cookie and chocolate-dipped fruit kebab, before jumping on the Olympic Rings roller-coaster.
There is no chance of getting into a tent in the afternoon, but at the Augustiner beer garden, a short walk away in town, the beer is a little cheaper and we can enjoy the weather.
We spend Sunday in the beer tents, not wanting to miss the last day of Oktoberfest.We continue to Austria, electing not to take the coach back to London with the group. Our roommates are up at 5am to pack and, as they head out, I smugly roll over on my top bunk.
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