Volksfest, Frühlingsfest, Altstadtfest and almost anything ending in the word fest in Germany equals one thing to a foreigner (like myself) and that’s a beer festival. Whilst such festivals are not (necessarily) celebrating beer but Das Volk (the people), Der Frühling (the spring) and Die Altstadt (The old town) one of the constituent parts of any festival for the grown ups is beer, and the experience of a German beer festival is one that you won’t forget.
How to get there
Don’t drive. Germany has wonderful public transport network and festivals will generally be easily accessible without the need for a car.
What to wear
Practical footwear, believe me you’ll see a lot more flats than heels at a beer festival and an awful lot of converse. This is not the time to wear stilettos or flip flops, lots of people mixed with lots of beer and your feet could end up black and blue.
Wear anything you are comfortable in and it’s a plus if you can wash sweat, beer and vomit off it if necessary. Or something that doesn’t need to be washed like your lederhosen!
A small cross body bag that zips or closes securely is really useful, the table and floor aren’t places you want to rest your bag and you won’t lose it in a crowd.
Your beer will be served by the litre or ‘Maß’ in a stone or glass mug, you will pay a deposit (pfand) for the mug which you will receive back on its return.
Weissbier/Weizen (wheat beer) a cloudy alternative to the beer served by the Maß, will usually be served in 0.4l or 0.5l measures.
Radler is a refreshing alternative to a full beer. Half beer and half lemonade and served by the Maß these are not just for girls! The only indication of what is inside your Maß is sometimes a straw, you can get rid of the straw and no one will be any the wiser.
Wein/Weinschorle, if beer just isn’t your thing wine is your alternative and the most refreshing way to drink it is as a schorle. A 0.5l serving mixed with lemonade for a Suß and sparkling water for a Sauer. Red and white are common, rosé isn’t.
Apfelschorle is a delicious mix of apple juice and sparkling water, served by the 0.5l measure or sometimes the Maß if the weather is hot.
Sparkling drinks rule at beer festivals, flat alternatives can be hard to find.
Take plenty of cash. Festivals can end up being expensive and even if there is a cash point nearby odds are it will run out of money pretty quickly.
Don’t forget to add a pfand (deposit) onto of the advertised price, when you return the mug you get your pfand back. Additionally, if someone else returns it they will get your pfand back, be wary of strangers looking to take advantage.
Beer at festivals is likely to be stronger than average, pace yourself (and eat).
Dance on the bench all you want but don’t dance on the table, it’s bad form and likely to get you shouted at by security.
Be prepared to share, your beer benches that is, festivals can get pretty cozy especially in the evenings and on weekends. Time to leave your personal space at home.
Check out the ‘Anstisch’, the tapping of the first barrel and official opening of the festival, the first couple of barrels get given away for free, you might get lucky particularly at a smaller festival.
Eat the food, look out for local specialities like Schweinhaxe and Obatzda in Bavaria and Spätzle in Baden Württemberg, and there is always roast chicken and chips for the less adventurous.
Rounding up the price when paying is an excellent way to avoid ending up with a whole load of change at the end of the day. And your server will be happy with the trinkgeld (tip).
If you are visiting with a large group, go early, lots of seating can be hard to come by later in the day.
For groups visiting larger tented beer festivals eg.Oktoberfest and Cannstatter-Volksfest it is advisable to book tables, generally this happens by purchasing tokens which are redeemable for food and drink, your seats are guaranteed this way and you can choose which tent (and most importantly which kind of beer) will suit your group best.
If you want to take photos with an expensive camera, go early. Later on take something that fits in your pocket and that you wouldn’t be distraught if it got damaged.
Festivals in Germany are generally very family friendly but if you will be taking the family, kids or even just people who aren’t into drinking it’s worth doing a little research about the particular festival you are planning on going to. Going early and on family days (Familientag) are good ways to keep everyone happy, later in the day festivals tend to get more raucous.
There isn’t just beer available at Festivals, there is plenty too for the non drinkers. Rides and amusements are a big part of any festival, there are plenty for littles and big kids too!
More on wine festivals later 😉