It’s officially October, which means the weather is changing, holiday festivities are beginning, and Germany is currently recovering from the biggest beer drinking festival around. Oktoberfest just ended yesterday in Münich, where it drew 500,000 visitors a day who came to witness the massive daily beer consumption (over 112,000 gallons per day) and a glimpse at traditional Bavarian culture.
My brother and I made the pilgrimage to Germany last week, and we were lucky enough to be two of the festival’s international attendees. Oktoberfest has giant tents hosted by all the different local beer brewers in Munich. Outside of the tents are fun carnival games and Bavarian foods like bratwursts and pretzels to enjoy, but all of the beer drinking is found inside the tents. I found myself in the Pauliner tent—one of the many tents that can house 5,000 people at a time—sitting next to a local Munich resident and a couple of guys from Colombia.
At the center of our tent was a German band entertaining the crowd with local songs as well as world-famous anthems like "YMCA" that even our Colombian friends knew. Every 10 minutes, the band leads the crowd a German song that you "cheers" to. The word “cheers” in German is prosit. This is the only word you need to know in German to get by at the festival—and remember: it is very important in Germany to maintain eye contact with others while you toast, otherwise they say you’ll have seven years of bad sex.
Around 6 p.m., once most people have their dinner and are a few beers in, everyone stands up on the benches, sings with the band and waves their beers around. This behavior continues pretty much for the rest of the night. You stand for hours and drink constantly. And to top it all off, each beer comes in a liter-sized mug, which is not your average pint of beer.
To top it all off, men and women alike are dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing—outfits which really only come out for the festival. Men wear leather breeches called lederhosen while women sport a St. Pauli Girl-style dress called a dirndl. You can buy these outfits everywhere in Germany if you want to join in on the costume fun, starting with the airport.
Don't despair, however, if you can't make it to Oktoberfest next year—even though the festivities in Germany are over, Oktoberfest celebrations in Houston run throughout the month. Although the official Oktoberfest party at King's Biergarten already took place this year, the official motto of the German restaurant in Pearland is: "Where it's Oktoberfest all year round." Here, you'll find all the traditional Oktoberfest accoutrements from dirndls and lederhosen to drinking songs and Das Boot, a three-liter mug of beer for $39. Hoist it high and join King's owner Hans Sitter as he sings "Ein Prosit" each night.
Every Monday is Oktoberfest-lite at Bar Münich in Midtown, where you can get a $10 bratwurst combo until 10 p.m. The special comes with a bratwurst basket—your choice of sausage on a soft pretzel bun, topped with sauerkraut—and half-liter of Hofbrau. We like the beer bratwurst (cooked in Breckenridge Avalanche Ale) topped with Bavarian hot mustard, or the cheddar brat topped with curry ketchup (a very German accompaniment).
Just down the street in Midtown, chef Johann Schuster's elegant Charivari is offering a $35 three-course menu in honor of Oktoberfest with your choice of appetizer, main, and dessert. Choose from dishes such as Bavarian potato soup with chanterelle mushrooms and schweinshaxen (pork shank) in a dark beer sauce with sauerkraut and dumplings. Schuster's famous apple strudel is appropriately available as a dessert option, and there's plenty of Spaten Oktoberfest on draft.
Out in Westchase, Rudi’s Lechner’s is holding its annual Oktoberfest celebration every Wednesday through Saturday night until November 1, and reservations are encouraged. Rudi's beloved polka band will be on hand in the evenings providing live music to accompany the giant "heritage dinner" plates—large enough to feed two—that are the big draw here. Hofbrau Oktoberfest is on draft, along with Hofbrau Heffeweisen and Hofbrau Dunkel.
Of course, if you can wait long enough and don't mind a pleasant drive, Wurstfest in New Braunfels begins November 7—and while it isn't quite Oktoberfest, it is one of the biggest celebrations of German culture around. Wurstfest runs through November 16 and offers everything from German food and beer in the Wursthalle and Biergarten to carnival rides, Alpine slides, and all the polka you can handle.