Editor’s Note – We tend to associate Oktoberfest with beer-drinking, table-dancing, and all-around adult fun. However this time-honored tradition is actually enjoyed by many Bavarian families. Kathy and Maria have teamed up to help you assess whether to take your babies, toddlers or school-age kids to the biggest party in town.
That time of the year is finally here: no, it’s not the happiest time in Munich. Actually, if you live in the city, it just might be the two weeks you dread all year long. Yes, Oktoberfest is fun and, if you like beer and singing, a fantastic tradition. But it also means overcrowded public transportation, a swarm of tourists and a lot of drunk people walking aimlessly around Munich.
For a mom with a pram, this can be extremely challenging…and what if your kids are teenagers who want to join the fun? Cue the “talks”: about beer, about money and about safety. In all honesty, Oktoberfest can be a tough sell if you have a family. However, it CAN be fun for all. So, if you live in town, you might as well check it out. However, there are some recommendations worth following and we’ve tried to sum them up here.
Newborns and babies
Some might say it’s a big no-no but as with everything else, we all have different bandwidths. Some might say, “take your baby only during weekdays”, “avoid the second crazy weekend”; or “get out before the sun sets”. In reality, the most important thing to take into account is that bringing a pram along is a bad idea. As long as you’re wearing your baby, you should be able to wander around somewhat easily. The little one won’t really care as long as he or she feels cozy and you will be able to enjoy most of the outdoor fun. Remember, prams are forbidden into the grounds after 6.00 p.m. and on Saturdays anyway.
If you decide to go into a tent, avoid the ones which cater to groups of single people or which are famous for rowdy banter (check Karina’s primer on tents to learn more!). In any case, do consider buying sound-blocking headphones. Tents can get very loud and you want to protect your LO’s little eardrums. Keep in mind children under six years have to leave the tents after 8.00 p.m. Some would say that’s when the serious fun starts.
This might be the age where Oktoberfest is most dangerous for children. If they’re too big to be carried but too small for a pram, they might wander. Losing your child at Wiesn is a really frightening prospect. However this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Oktoberfest with toddlers. There are two very good options: either go on a Tuesday or limit your visit to the Historical Oktoberfest (Die Oide Wiesn).
As the Oktoberfest official website states: “There are two days during the Oktoberfest that are all about families. On the two Tuesdays during Oktoberfest, there are reduced prices for carnival rides, game booths and concession stands in the afternoons so that the children can have a really good time without burning a big hole in their parents’ pocket.” Now, that’s thoughtful! In general, Tuesdays are less full and families are sort of expected so only tourists, not “in-the-know” will frown at you for drinking beer with your kids in tow.
The other option, the Historical Wiesn, is also great fun. You do have to pay extra to go in since it’s inside a closed-off area, but this means it’s harder to get lost and there are fewer people wandering around. The rides are antiques, which run slower and are more appropriate for younger children. Traditional food and drinks — from beer to Apfelschorle — of course, can be bought inside.
By the time our children are school age we know (in theory!) what makes them tick and also our own coping mechanisms for dealing with days out, overexcitement and exhaustion. So, drawing from experience, here are a few thoughts on how to make Oktoberfest for older children work. Hopefully every member of the family will be able to enjoy it while remaining on civil terms.
Before you go!
- Set expectations. Oktoberfest is truly a sensory overload: you will find rides and snack (sweet and savoury) stalls galore. Ideally, before you leave you should talk to your kids about how many rides, which rides, how many snacks, etc. will be allowed to avoid the mother of all pesters whilst you are there.
- Plan your route. This is one of those times when you should have a plan regarding how to move around the site: check out the map and pinpoint the start and end of your visit, as well as safe meeting spots in case your children get lost. If they are older, discuss previously whether they can go off by themselves, where to meet and around what time they should be there.
- Consider setting a budget for everyone. All the rides and the snacking can come up to a hefty bill.
- Safety – this is the busiest place in Munich. It’s big, crowded and noisy. Consider getting armbands with your child’s name and your phone number in case you get separated. Discuss safety rules: what to do if they get lost, who to approach and what to say.
- To tracht or not to tracht? This is up to you and your children. Many (locals and foreigners alike) do and enjoy the experience, but there is nothing worse than starting the day off with a grumpy child who wanted to wear their choice of clothes and not Lederhose! So play it by ear. It is all about enjoying the atmosphere and not necessarily about what you’re wearing.
Timing your visit
- Getting there early helps to beat the queues and some of the huge crowds.
- It’s true Tuesdays are family days, but it might be harder to take advantage of them with school-age children. Therefore, weekends might be your only option. If that’s the case, Sundays (especially in the morning) are normally quieter than Saturdays.
- Even though the Historical Wiesn is better value for money, it is geared mainly towards younger children. Your older kids might want to explore the normal rides!
While you are there
- Enjoy the experience, there is truly nothing like it!
- If you get there early, you should be able to find a tent to soak up some of the atmosphere and have a quick bite before heading to the rides. Take the opportunity to teach your children about Bavarian traditions: the way people dress, the songs and the history behind the biggest beer festival in the world.
- Remember, you don’t have to actually go into a tent. If the weather holds, you can sit outside and enjoy some traditional Brezen and other Bavarian traditional dishes -or even something healthy! You can also go inside the Café Kaiserschmarnn tent, which is calmer and more family-oriented but still has music, singing and the best sweets in the whole fest.
- Confirm with your children ONCE AGAIN what to do if you get separated and where your meeting point is. Better to be extra cautious!
- Leave the pram at home: a carrier is definitely your best bet
- Plan – when and what you will do (the Oktoberfest official website is really helpful!)
- Remember Tuesdays are family days
- Children under six are not allowed in tents after 8.00 p.m.
- Check out the Historic Wiesn: you have to pay but it’s less crowded
- Set expectations – yours and theirs: enjoying Oktoberfest as a family requires some compromises
As you can see, having children does not mean you have to avoid or fear Oktoberfest. There’s no reason for you to miss out, although you will probably enjoy it in a different way from the adult-only trips. It may take a couple of visits before you find your footing and discover what works for you and your family but we hope that some of the tips here will encourage you to enjoy Wiesn. This Bavarian tradition is close to the heart of many in Munich. It is also truly a delight to see your children discover it for what is hopefully the first of many more times to come.
Kathy Bryan is a stay at home mum with 11 ½ years experience. She and her family moved to Bavaria from the middle of England in March 2016. Her current challenge is learning enough German to help with homework as well as keeping up with her 3 children! She previously worked and lived in London; rugby was her sport of choice. In her free time she tries to run regularly and continues to try to settle and make friends in Germany.
Maria Diaz is a multimedia project manager turned unwilling cook and cheerleader for two tiny, demanding humans. Her previous experience left her woefully unprepared to deal with complaints about the wrong-colored bowl. Originally from Costa Rica, she’s been in Munich for 4 years after a 5-year stint in Italy, where she developed a strong aversion to overcooked pasta. As the editorial manager of LMBB, she enjoys working on Excel sheets no one reads and writing about her passions.