Welcome to Munich

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival. More than 6 million people will attend this year’s, which started on Saturday and runs until October 10th. Writer Jesse York will be sending us reports all week. This is the first in the series.

Thanks to inevitable delays at JFK, we didn’t make it to Munich quite as early as we might have hoped, but that didn’t stop the festivities. When we missed our connection in Düsseldorf, we had just enough time to head into town and hit a pub with a few locals for some Sunday morning altbiers, a local specialty that translates to “old beer.” Rarely made outside of the region, they’re beers that combine ale yeast with lager brewing methods, and the result is clean, crisp, and slightly fruity. In other words, it was a great way to spend a layover.

When we finally got to Munich, in better spirits, we were just in time to catch the tail end of the opening weekend activities. Oktoberfest is, in a word, a paradox. Imagine a county fair on steroids, mixed with spring break in Key West, all set in a beautiful tree-lined Bavarian village. Now imagine all of that plus carnival rides. But the whirling, flipping, and spinning of the (admittedly pretty awesome) rides can only hold your attention for so long when there are 14 gargantuan beer tents looming.

The fronts of the tents, which are all sponsored by local breweries, are adorned with things like giant moving wooden statues of oxen roasting on a spit and lions drinking beer. Entering a tent inspires the kind of shock and confusion you’d expect; it’s complete sensory overload, with thousands of people, young and old, clad in lederhosen and dirndls, all swaying and singing in unison to 1980s classics performed by a German Oom-pah band.

Liters of Bavaria’s finest brews are served in steins alongside incredible food, and I’m convinced these two things are the glue holding this disparate festival together—mostly because both are so great. Grilled pork knuckles have impossibly crisp skin that gives way to succulent meat; spaetzle laced with Swiss cheese manages to be both gooey and bouncy; and various types of sausage, kraut, and mustard are so good that they make you forget about all the others you’ve had before.

I’m still trying to get my bearings, but I already know it’s going to be a great week. O’zapft is !

Subscribe to Gourmet