Darek & Ilona Take the World: Drinking & Singing at Munich’s Oktoberfest Mary Zakheim October 3, 2016 Travel Stories On Monday, October 3rd, we saw the end of the amazing Munich-based beer festival, Oktoberfest. A two-week extravaganza, the festival is an all-out celebration of all things beer: the grounds are stuffed to the brim with branded tents, bands, attractions, and, of course, liters and liters of ale. Most intrepid travelers list Oktoberfest as a “must do” activity — and it’s not hard to see why. We spoke with Ilona and Darek, our favorite traveling couple, to get the down low on all things Oktoberfest! They ventured to the Bavarian capital in the middle of the festival for the weekend of September 23th — 26th. It was their first time there, a fact that seemed to surprise even them! “Seriously I don’t know why [we haven’t gone there before] because my birthday is exactly in the middle of the festival,” Ilona said after their whirlwind weekend trip. “It’s a mistake that we haven’t been there before,” Her husband, Darek, chimed in. After looking through their pictures, we can see why! The festival is a raucous, but organized celebration — complete with overflowing steins, huge pretzels, and generous locals. The pair marveled at how such a huge, alcohol-filled fest could be so well maintained. “It’s the biggest festival in the world and they managed it perfectly. I was surprised that such a big crowd was having fun without any accidents,” Ilona said. A curious feat, as standing up on the narrow benches and waving steins full of beer around in a normal occurrence in the tents. “For me the best memories are from the tent where we were dancing on the benches, meeting people from around the world, and singing German songs that we had no idea what we were singing about. But it was fun and I will never forget it!” Ilona said, remembering her favorite parts of the festival. Darek, however, has a different favorite memory. “I liked that the smallest and only size of the beer was one liter. I was thinking that my beer will get warm before I finish. But I was wrong – there was no time for that!” He said. During Oktoberfest, visitors from around the world (and, of course, from Munich, the host city) roam the festival grounds, weaving in and out of the famous Bavarian brewery tents — singing along to German drinking songs and trying to get a seat at one of the crowded tables. “You cannot buy beer outside of the tents. So, of course we had to go in. It wasn’t easy [to get a table], but I wouldn’t call myself Darek if I couldn’t get a table for my wife’s birthday!” Darek said, noting how hard it can be to get a bench without reservations. A lot of visitors and locals alike dress in the traditional Bavarian costume: dirndls for the women and lederhosen for the men. Did the two of them dress up for the festivities? “No,” Darek says, but added, “It will be the first and last time that I go there without the proper attire.” “First I thought that not a lot of people would dress up,” Ilona said. “How wrong I was! Almost half of the crowd had on the typical Bavarian outfits.” We wondered, after drinking so much beer for four days straight, if the couple had any tips for first time Oktoberfest attendees. “Yes!” Ilona said. “Food is important, so make sure you have a nice dinner. Luckily, German cuisine is pretty fat and hearty. So we were good.” “If you are on any type of diet – screw that, it’s not a place for that,” Darek added. “You will thank me later.” The pair also traveled to the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, a 19th century castle in southwest Bavaria, and wandered around Munich’s laid-back streets. It was something other than the region’s fairytale charm that captured the hearts of our intrepid travelers, though. “What I like the most – I think the food. I really enjoyed food at the Hofbräuhaus!” Ilona said, after Darek noted the city’s more practical assets, like its bike-friendliness, cleanliness, and medium size. After a four-day trip to the world’s most lauded beer festival, we asked the couple if there was anything that those who want to attend Oktoberfest in the future should know or keep in mind. “Two things. First: learn how to dance on the wet, sticky, narrow bench with the full mug of beer,” Darek said. “Second, know how to say ‘Cheers!’ in as many languages as possible. You will meet people there from around the world.” “Prost!” Ilona cheered. All images courtesy Ilona Maslanka.