THE BLOG
09/26/2016 03:36 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2017

Video: Soaking Up Oktoberfest

I joined my film crew in Munich this year for Oktoberfest -- the last festival we're filming for our "Europe's Top Ten Festivals" special that will air on public television in 2017. Oktoberfest goes for 16 straight days, usually starting on the third Saturday in September. Here are some thoughts and a few tips after my visit this week:
 

  • It's massive (serving literally millions each year in 16 tents, each filled with about 8,000 people). Each of the leading local breweries has its own tent. The famous ones (Augustiner Bräu and Hofbräu) are most crowded and touristy.
  • It's well organized (they've been at it annually for 200 years).
  • Security is tight as this would be an ideal target for terrorist (a fence is newly added around the perimeter, there are thousands of police and security at each entrance, each tent has its own security, and no large bags are allowed). In spite of the high alert, it all felt relaxed and fun.
  • Anyone can enjoy this. It's busiest late and on weekends, but weekday afternoons and early evenings are a delight when it's family-friendly. (I'd highly recommend enjoying it Monday through Thursday during the late afternoon and early evening; if you don't like drunken brawls, avoid it after dark.) Popular tents do fill up and can have long waiting lines. It's free except for your €10 beers (that's for an entire liter), food, and rides. English works everywhere and people are friendly. It's tradition to sit at any table that can fit an extra rear end. Jump right into the conversation with a clink of the glass mug.
  • It feels local. While there are plenty of tourists, it's estimated that 90 percent of the attendees are Bavarians. Locals love to dress up in traditional garb and gather their friends at their favorite beer tent to enjoy a fun evening meal with drinking and music.
  • The famous beer maids make you think, "Who needs Hooters?". These women are generally amateur servers who take two weeks of their generous paid vacation time to work hard here and make some serious extra money. Each tent considers them independent businesses -- they buy the beer or pretzels or whatever at a wholesale price from the big kitchens, and then are free to sell them anywhere in the tent. And pricing beers at €10.50 makes it hard not to tip (if they were an even €10, I imagine earnings would take a huge hit).
I must close with a political observation. (If that will anger you, you might just stop reading now and leave today's post with nice beer-and-dirndl thoughts.) While enjoying this happy festival, I was struck by how the crowd was 90 percent local and how I felt I was in a country with a healthy middle class. It's fair to say that the vast majority of Germans are middle class. They live in a country where progressive taxation, a $15 minimum wage, one-month paid vacations, and affordable health care are not controversial issues. And they easily afford fun such as this. In my travels, I've observed that when a society's middle class is shrinking and under siege, so is the societal well-being of that entire nation. Over all, Germany and the USA are similarly successful economically. But Germany has more people in the middle and fewer at the extremes, while America has more of the rich and far more people struggling. If I had a red hat with a political slogan to wear, it would say, "Make Our Middle Class Great Again." And I wouldn't buy that trickle-down stuff our big-business elites ("job creators" and their friends) keep preaching.

(Find more of my dispatches from the road on my travel blog and Facebook.)

(This post originally appeared at blog.ricksteves.com/blog/octoberfest-notes.)