In October 1810, the Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria celebrated his marriage in the city of Munich. The festivities were pompous, and the entire city enjoyed the happy event; in fact, they loved it so much that the party was held annually in Munich thereafter! Thus began the biggest and most popular beer festival- Oktoberfest. Millions of tourists visit the Oktoberfest each year to witness the “traditional Bavarian culture”. I have been a part of the millions as well; one cannot stay in Germany and not visit the Oktoberfest!
On arriving at Munich train station, I simply followed a large herd of people walking in one direction and reached the festival grounds. Huge tents were set up on the Theresienwiese grounds in the middle of the city. The elite beer tents (Löwenbräu, Augustiner) were already too full and closed to public by noon. The smaller tents also had long queues in front of them, inspite of the dull drizzling rain. There was enough entertainment in the queue though: watching funnily dressed people, drunk brawls, and some better-than-thou people trying (and failing) to talk their way in before their turn. Once inside the tent, the magic of the fest was evident! A liter of beer was served in thick glass mugs, rightly designed for surviving their banging on the table. Many people were dressed up in the traditional Bavarian costumes (dirndls/lederhosen) and were in high spirits (pun intended). The atmosphere was lively and energetic with happy (drunk) people singing along to a live band playing loud folk songs! Although it was a fun experience to cross off my bucketlist, I feel that its charm wears off in a day. There are many amazing places (I will broadcast a few of them) around Munich that should not be missed.
A general advice – avoid staying in Munich during the Oktoberfest. The prices of just about everything in the city skyrocket during this time of the year. My choice of lodging was Mittenwald, a small town about an hour and half away by train from Munich. Set amidst mountains, this place is quaint, scenic, and affordable. The friendly locals seem right out of a storybook with their traditional costumes-dirndls and lederhosen. It also has some great ‘homemade’ food options. During our visit, one diner owner even played live music and entertained us with his jolly songs. There are two small lakes near the town, which were absolutely stunning with the fall colors setting in. Finishing off a large serving of delicious cake in a cafe with view of the lake was a perfect farewell to this town!
A great place for indulging in some adventurous activities is Garmisch-Partenkirschen. This town has the highest peak in Germany, Zugspitze, which is a popular winter-sports destination. There are several hiking paths, and the peak is easily accessible with a cable car, offering breathtaking views! Also, just half an hour bus ride away from Garmisch-Partenkirschen is the Partnach gorge. A day trip to this gorge worked out great for me. A walk on the narrow path along the edge of the rocky mountain with a waterfall around is an absolutely marvelous experience! Depending on your interest and endurance, you could choose a short or long hike.
Dachau, one of the biggest concentration camps in World War II, lies an hour away from Munich. The World Wars are an important part of the German history. A visit to this place will no doubt subdue your spirits, knowing that there was no happy ending for most. However, the terrible stories raise some necessary questions regarding the power of authority in our lives and the grey shades of human nature. Afterall, facing the ghosts of history is an essential step to avoid the horrors of future.
Saving the best for the last: if you are in Bavaria, you cannot miss the Neuschwanstein castle, which was supposedly the inspiration behind Disney’s Cinderella castle. I had been planning a visit since years, and when I finally did, this fairy tale castle definitely lived up to its hype! As the best part about this castle is its location and beautiful exteriors, I recommend skipping the tour of castle interiors. Instead, use the time to hike about a mile up to a bridge, Marienbrücke, which offers spectacular views of the castle and the valley beyond.
View of the Neuschwanstein castle from Marienbrücke
There are tons of other destinations that I hope to add to my list. Meanwhile, for those of you visiting Bavaria soon, happy exploring!