Munich’s Fruhlingsfest, Oktoberfest’s “Little Brother”
When I decided to spend the Spring in Europe, one of the first things that I did was look up the different festivals and events that would be occurring in order to plan my trip around the ones I was most interested. I came across Munich’s Fruhlingsfest, which means “Springfest”, and discovered that it occurs every Spring from mid-April to the first week of May and is a celebration of the arrival of warmer weather.
Unlike Oktoberfest which takes place in almost every city in Germany (and has even spawned events around the world), Fruhlingsfest can only be attended in Munich or Stuttgart. Since Munich was high on my list of places to visit in Germany, it was a no-brainer to align my trip with the dates of the festival. I planned to attend during the last weekend of the festival (April 29-May 1) for 2016. The festival takes place on the same grounds as Oktoberfest, located in Theresienwiese, conveniently located right by a metro station. While the festival is done on a much smaller scale, with only 2 beer tents as compared to 14 for Oktoberfest, it did not feel small or “tame” at all.
In addition to the beer tents, there are a variety of amusement park rides, carnival games, and food vendors. It would be easy to have a great time without even setting foot in a beer tent! (Although I would strongly recommend doing so!)
I got in touch with my friend Vanessa, who lives in Southern Germany near Austria, and made plans to meet up with her and her friends on Saturday. I met Vanessa back at Angkor Wat and we toured the temples together, along with her boyfriend Dave, and our friend Annika. When I arrived to the beer tent, I discovered many people were wearing the traditional clothing of dirndls for the women and lederhosen for the men. We met in the Augustiner tent, named for the only type of beer they served (in one liter mugs!) The crowd was a fairly young crowd and most were excitedly speaking German to each other. Vanessa explained that for many locals and Germans, they consider Munich’s Fruhlingsfest to be the big celebration as opposed to Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest is way too expensive and touristy for their liking, as a person has to book out a table for a specific tent, time, and date, over a year in advance! Fruhlingsfest has the same atmosphere, but tables are available on a first come, first serve basis, and are possible to snag even on the weekends, if you arrive a bit early. Luckily some of her friends were able to grab a table right in the middle of the tent, right in the action!
I was able to squeeze in next to them and right away a server stopped by the table, plunking 8 or so full liters of beer on the table. Vanessa explained that the it cost around $9 Euro for a liter, but if you asked for the $1 Euro back in change, the server would not return to your table anymore. Regardless, $10 Euro for a liter of beer (about 30 ounces) is not a bad deal. Vanessa and her friends were very helpful in explaining all of the different traditions, including how it is customary to “Cheers” everyone seated at your table before you drink, by saying “Prost!”, and looking them in the eye. While most Germans only don the traditional clothing of dirndls and lederhosen for large festivals such as this, in the state of Bavaria, where she is from, it is much more common to see people wearing them more often, especially on Sundays.
As the afternoon turned into the evening, the tent became increasingly more raucous. The beer servers were very attentive, and one was never left with an empty mug for more than a few moments, before a server delivered a stein brimming with beer. I wish I had taken a picture of these servers, as their skills of carrying 8 or more liters of beer at a time without spilling or dropping were impressive!
There also was a live band that alternated playing traditional German songs with more mainstream music. But of course, the main song, “Ein Prosit”, was played every 15 minutes. This catchy song ends with a countdown where everyone is required to take a big gulp of their beer, shouting “G’suffa”, which translates to “take a big drink!”.
Soon everybody transitioned from sitting nicely on the tables to standing up on the benches. Standing on the tables was strictly forbidden and was grounds for removal from the tent. Here is where things started to get a bit crazier, and the whole tent began to join in the singing. This was definitely exactly as I had imagined it would be like to drink in a German beer tent, and boy was it a blast! Various shenanigans ensued (which I won’t go into details), until the tent closed down at 11pm. Normally early for a Saturday evening, we were all pretty tired from the long and fun-filled day packed to the brim with drinking and good times. I’m grateful to Vanessa and her friends for showing me this amazing tradition!
Reasons why Fruhlingsfest is better than Oktoberfest:
- Less expensive (Beers are a couple Euro cheaper, and hotels and accommodation don’t rise their prices like they do during the Oktoberfest season).
- Frequented by more locals. Oktoberfest is considered by many Germans to be for tourists only. Many have only been once or twice, or sometimes not at all!
- More intimate environment. As there was only 2 beer tents to choose from at Fruhlingsfest, we chose the younger, livelier, party tent, which was filled with fun and enthusiastic patrons!
- You don’t have to plan in advance and can just show up and sit down at an empty table. At Oktoberfest, one has to book a table in a specific tent, time, and date, often a year in advance!
- Fruhlingsfest is celebrating the coming of spring and summer, while post-Oktoberfest brings colder weather and the dreary winter.
With that being said, I had so much fun that I would definitely like to attend Oktoberfest someday!
Has anybody attended Oktoberfest before? How does this compare to your experiences?