One of the planned highlights for my trip to Munich would be the Frühlingsfest, the Spring Festival. Held in cities throughout Germany, Spring Festivals are a way for the Germans to shake away the cold winter and embrace the warm, sunny weather. And drink beer, of course.
I met an American girl on my walking tour and we headed on a reasonably short walk towards the Theresienwise, a large grassy expanse which is home to Oktoberfest in the Fall and the Frühlingsfest in the Spring. This was the site of the wedding between Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hidburghausen (yes, I did have to double check that spelling) in 1810… and Oktoberfest has been held every year to celebrate the occasion. And to drink a lot of beer. This is a pattern in Bavaria.
Virginia, the guide from the walking tour, told us that Australians seemed to be the most enthusiastic Oktoberfest visitors, saving their money for years and descending en masse to the hostels, campgrounds and fields of Munich to partake in the greatest of beer drinking traditions. This, of course, translates into trouble for the poor Australians as they drink litres of beer and generally embrace the Bavarian party lifestyle to the point where they regularly lose their passports. The closest Australian embassy or consulate is actually in Berlin – a long, expensive train ride away – therefore, for the duration of Oktoberfest, Australian diplomatic officials set up a temporary office in the British consulate in order to help their hungover countrymen navigate the passport reapplication process. One interesting tidbit from the walking tour, which I can’t substantiate on Google, is that a group of Bavarian girls have made it their mission to liberate as many Australian passports from their owners as possible with the winner being awarded a big keg of beer to share with her friends.
I found it interesting that Virginia also included a disclaimer, issued specifically to the Americans, warning them that German beer is much stronger than the Budweiser they’re used to drinking at home and that they should know their limits before engaging in any beer related shenanigans.
Frühlingsfest was much more tame, but it was still bustling. The fairgrounds were full of families, snacking on German fair food (think giant hot dogs, sausages, pretzels, fish on a stick) and paying a rather exorbitant €3 or €3.50 per ride. I thought we had it bad at the Quinte Exhibition… although, to be fair, there was a beer carousel where for only €3.50 you could have a bottle of beer and slowly rotate. I suppose that’s the same as a ride, right?
There are only three tents at the Spring Festival, as compared to upwards of 17 at the Oktoberfest. I have trouble imagining quite that many drunk people (they serve litres of beer – any more than one and you will definitely be feeling it) in one concentrated area. The three tents were all busy, with the Augustiner tent seemingly the most packed. Apparently Augustiner is the local favourite and where this is more of a locals festival, it only makes sense that it would be the hardest to find a seat.
Seating is communal, so you could end up sharing a table with a family – yes, people do bring their kids to beer tents – other travellers or locals out for a good time. The servers were dressed in traditional lederhosen (for the men) and dirndls (for the women), however many of the patrons were showing their Bavarian spirit in a similar attire. I know that during Oktoberfest they sell or rent the costumes to visitors and that showing up without traditional dress is like “going to a Hallowe’en party without a costume”, but I was glad to see that this wasn’t really the case for the Frühlingsfest.
We ended up choosing the Hippodrom tent which had a) plenty of empty seats and b) an enthusiastic cover band. Point A was the most important as you need to be in a seat in order to be served a beer in the tents. This rule also exists at Oktoberfest so I am assuming it is a way of keeping things under control.
The beer was – well, it was pricy. The menu price was €8.60 but she asked for €10 and that was what everyone else around us seemed to be paying, therefore I assumed that the €10 included the tip. There was a Canadian couple who were eventually seated with us and he seemed surprised and confused about the pricing, wondering if he was being cheated. I have no idea what the correct answer was, but seeing as how I didn’t tip on top of the €10, I’m going to go with my belief because it makes the most sense. The prices on the rest of the menu were equally high with Munich table water being priced at €3 – it’s like a less violent version of asking for water in the Coyote Ugly bar – and food also facing what can only be described as a beer tent surcharge.
Each beer tent serves only the beer associated with its sponsor, therefore the Hippodrom tent only served Spaten beer. I tried the “Dark Spaten Beer” which was extremely drinkable. The only problem is that the darn beer mugs are really heavy.
It’s possible to order a half litre before 5pm, which is what I tried to do since I wanted to try a couple of different beer types and neither my liver nor my wallet were prepared to drink 2 litres of beer in a quick time period, but what arrived on our table was the full litre. Which is more or less the size of my head. The American girl wasn’t really a beer drinker but wanted to experience the atmosphere so she ordered a shandy which was really sweet but I can see how it would be refreshing under the right conditions. I was more interested in the fact that the shandy, even though the beer was mixed with lemonade, was the same price as my full, normal beer.
We shared stories with the Canadian couple and enjoyed the people watching as kids ran around and the music switched from the cover band to something much more traditional. Drinking songs and nationalistic tunes quickly pumped up the crowd, their giant bottles of beer swinging freely through the air. I think drinking out of these bottles with one hand requires practice – we noticed that the locals seemed to wrap their entire hand through the handle which helped to provide the control required.
Security was watching like a hawk as we left, desperate to ensure that we didn’t steal any of their heavy glass mugs. I can see how it would be a concern but to be honest, these mugs were HEAVY, even when completely empty. Hauling it on another two months through Europe seems like much more trouble than it would be worth. For stop two, I joined the Americans as we headed towards the Augustiner Bräuhaus, conveniently located close to the festival grounds and recommended on my free hostel map.
The waiter was an enthusiastic older gentleman named Sascha who quickly seated us at a communal table which we were sharing with a few older Germans and a young Brazilian traveller who had missed his train and decided to make up for it by drinking beer and eating a massive order of pork knuckle. I’m not sure what things are like in Brazil, but if we were to believe him it’s a lawless country full of kidnappers and murderers and he had a particular joy in writing down murder statistics for our enjoyment.
The beer here was much more reasonably priced and they also served the half litres, which is about equivalent to a pint, for just under €3. I tried the Augustiner Maibock, a seasonal beer, before heading back to the hostel (bypassing the bar and the enthusiastic Scots I had met the night before) and triple checking my alarm to ensure that it was set. I couldn’t miss my train to Salzburg and the efficient Germans definitely wouldn’t wait for me!