Street Festivals

Another favorite way for Germans to amuse themselves is the Straßenfest (street or block party). These are pleasant events organized and sponsored by local governments and local businesses. Though these celebrations differ greatly in size and sprawl, they typically spread over several streets, sometimes a mile or so along river banks. These street parties typically feature stands hawking various kinds of food and drink, games, and public relations or informational services. The larger Straßenfeste also feature amusements for the kids, and everything is accompanied by lively bursts of live and/or recorded music.

A special type of Straßenfest that occurs a little later in the year, as the first harvests start coming in, are the various Weinfeste. These events take place primarily in small towns and villages in the wine-growing areas, especially in the Rheingau. The music, good cheer and food are similar to the Straßenfest, though as the name suggests, most of the stands at a Weinfest offer the latest products of the wine crop, with many local vintners maintaining their own stands.

But what is arguably Germany’s most famous drinking festival is not a Weinfest, but a Bierfest. We’re referring, of course, to Munich’s world-renowned Oktoberfest. Not only is the Oktoberfest the largest of all these events, sprawling over several acres at the edge of town, but it is also the longest, running for two weeks – most of that time actually not in October, but in late September.

The Oktoberfest also offers rows and rows of stands and huge amusement rides such as roller coasters, ferris wheels and carousels. But the key feature of the Fest are the huge tents where the major Bavarian breweries set up makeshift beer halls.

The suds flow ceaselessly for most of the fortnight, served up in the huge liter glasses typical of Bavaria, and are quaffed by the tens of thousands of visitors who sit at long tables and benches and try to keep their conversation a few decibels above the Bavarian bands that fill the tents with their deep-barreled music. The mood can be like Fastnacht, with perfect strangers suddenly becoming intimate in a way totally atypical for German society.

During your stay in Germany, it is expected that you will want to go to the Oktoberfest – at least once. Some people have been quite disappointed, finding it too big, too noisy, and too commercialized. Others love the event and travel there every year.

Your chances of having a good time are certainly optimized if you like drinking plenty of beer and know German fairly well – especially the Bavarian variant. (Though visitors come from all over the world for this one, and you’re sure to run into countless English-speakers too.)