A Real Bavarian Beer Festival

We went to Munich “one month too early,” as one traveler we met put it. He was backpacking around Europe and planned to arrive in Munich in time for Oktoberfest, and seemed surprised that we wouldn’t also plan accordingly. Well, sometimes life just doesn’t work out that way. It’s not that the idea of drinking vast quantities of beer and eating pretzels while listening to an oom-pah band doesn’t appeal to me. It does. But our return flight is from Paris and the timing is just too tight to make it to Oktoberfest and also see Paris. I told Bob that I would like to go to Oktoberfest, someday, maybe for my birthday one year.

Then I logged into couchsurfing one day and I saw this message, titled HerbsFest Rosenheim, posted under “Nearby Events”:

Not everyone knows that the Oktoberfest in Munich is not a German tradition but only a Bavarian one. But only a few persons know that there are more Beerfestivals like the Oktoberfest in Bavaria. The Oktoberfest may be the biggest and most known Beerfest in the world, but is it really the best?

I, as a bavarian, know many of those festivals, and I say: No. The Oktoberfest is just to big, to crowded, to expensive and their are too many tourist. I put this event into couchsurfing to give you the chance to see a traditional and real bavarian beerfestival as it should be.

Well. I really did not know just how many beer festivals were held all over the country. Good on you, Germany! The town of Rosenheim is only 40 minutes from Munich by train, and it just so happened that the first day of their annual autumn festival, or HerbsFest, would be our last day in Munich. A real Bavarian beer festival! No question about it—we were going to go.

I’ve heard that Oktoberfest has something of a fairground atmosphere, and HerbsFest was no different. Actually, it reminded me of the Arlington County Fair, although with more beer. There were rides, carnival games, and food stalls everywhere, and a few large beer tents.

Hotzinger-Brau tent

There were also PEOPLE. Lots and lots of people. Our couchsurfing host, who had accompanied us for the afternoon, told us that this was unusual on a Friday but it was probably only because today was the first day. The weekends are crowded, she said, but the weekdays are not too bad. I asked her about Oktoberfest. “Oh, it’s crowded all the time,” she said. “It’s like this every day.”

HerbsFest beer tent

We sat for about fifteen minutes and tried to flag down a waitress. Some of them made eye contact with us, but shook their heads no. There were way too many people in this tent. We moved to another one and got our beers within five minutes. They only serve one size of beer at  Bavarian beer festivals: masse, or one liter. The mugs are heavy on their own, and filled with beer they’re a little painful to lift. Drinkers need to adjust their grip accordingly. Cheers!The proper way to do it is not to grab the handle, but rather to slip your hand around the mug, balancing your thumb on the top of the handle. Then you can comfortably hold your beer one-handed– especially necessary during the many, many rounds of “Ein Prosit.” Our host told us that the waitresses at beer festivals need to be able to carry ten mugs of beer at once. I wonder if they have to prove their strength during the interview? I did see some of them carrying that many, but they move so quickly that I wasn’t able to get a picture. I also noticed most of them wearing wrist braces.

I was delighted to see how many people dress up for the occasion. I wasn’t expecting to see that at all. The number of people in dirndls and lederhosen far outnumbered those in street clothes. It wasn’t only the older people, either; almost all of the younger people were dressed up, and I even saw toddlers in tiny lederhosen. It was just great.

Men in lederhosenWomen in dirndlsLederhosen and dirndls

The thing that really completed my beer festival experience was the band. I’d known there would be beer and pretzels and carnival rides, but each tent also had their own live band. They were pretty good, not too loud, and just generally gave the tent a good atmosphere.

HerbsFest band

We were only able to stay for a couple of hours, but it was a great afternoon out. Now I feel like I don’t need to go to Oktoberfest—if it’s really as crowded as everyone says, I probably wouldn’t have a very good time. Maybe HerbsFest doesn’t have the name recognition, or as many beer tents, but the locals still seem to like it fine. And we liked it too. It had a lot of local flavor, and a fun, relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. By the end of it, we too were singing along to “Ein Prosit” and clinking glasses with anyone sitting near us.