Springfest—or Früehlingsfest as it’s known in its native German—is Munich’s best-kept secret. It’s occasionally referred to as Oktoberfest’s little sister, and that’s a pretty apt description. For two weeks at the end of April and beginning of May, the festival celebrates the best of Bavaria’s food and drinking culture, just on a slightly smaller scale than its behemoth elder sibling. The event also takes place in the same location as Oktoberfest, Teresa’s Meadows (or Theresienwiese, as it’s locally known, though it only takes up about one-third of the fairgrounds). It’s been happening for over 50 years since 1965 and yet most Americans have never heard of it.
Oktoberfest averages six million visitors a year, but Früehlingsfest’s attendance tops out at just a few hundred thousand. As a result, it’s not overridden with frat-boy tourists in lederhosen, and it still provides an expansive offering of beer tents, live music, and carnival rides in an authentic setting. It’s a way more manageable experience for those prone to panic attacks, especially among drunken crowds, like yours truly. And this year I got to experience it for myself.
Trust me, even in its reduced size, it can easily take up an entire boozy day of your European vacation. For those of you who may seem underwhelmed at this prospect and doubt you’ll get the effect of Oktoberfest‘s real deal, take solace in knowing the beer lines are way shorter.
When it comes to navigating the fairgrounds, there are three main drinking spaces you’ll want to take note of—the Munich Beer Garden, Festhalle Bavaria, and the Hippodrom. The latter two are massive indoor beer tents. All are free to enter and a liter of beer (which works out to a little over two pints) will only cost an average of 10 euros. Depending upon your drinking proclivities, it can be an incredibly cost-efficient or prohibitively expensive way to spend an afternoon. Regardless, it’s a great way to soak in the local culture with the tents’ bustling atmosphere and lively oom-pah bands. If you don’t gain a newfound appreciation for accordion after two beers, shame on you!
As someone who doesn’t even like beer that much (a venal sin in Germany, I know), I literally spent hours in the Festhalle Bavaria. All of the drinks served in this particular tent come courtesy of Augustiner, which is Munich’s oldest brewery (founded within a monastery in 1328!). It’s hard to fathom drinking something with a history that predates Christopher Columbus, the Protestant Reformation, and the internet, but it gets easier with each sip.
My far more sophisticated travel companions also insisted that it was the finest of all the region’s brews and I’m prone to agree. I even found a beverage I adored—a radler. It’s a combination of lager and lemonade and/or grapefruit soda—way sweeter than a shady and smoother too. It was the perfect refresher on an unseasonably warm spring day.
In terms of food options, you can never go wrong with a massive pretzel. You can practically feel their doughy goodness soak up any vestiges of alcohol lingering in your stomach. For those craving a heartier meal, go with a roast chicken or knuckle of pork, which are also served within the tents. Smaller stands throughout the fairgrounds also sell bratwursts, burgers, ice cream, and other carnival food favorites.
Also, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t. Leave your cutlery at home. While traditional lederhosen do have dagger-sized pockets called Messertasche that are meant to contain knives, don’t bring any with you. They might work as a historically rustic accessory, but they’re technically banned from the festival grounds. That goes for Oktoberfest too.
But do wear your lederhosen or a dirndl (you know, those cute Bavarian dresses that adorn bar maids). Traditional attire is encouraged, and if I had to estimate, at least 50 percent of the crowd looked like Hummel figurines come to life (that’s the ultimate compliment, by the way). It wasn’t limited to the older generation either. Young folks also embraced these old-school looks. At the very least buy a feathered Alpine hat to get in the spirit.
Once you’ve imbibed plenty of beer, there’s only one thing left to do. Go on lots of spinning rides! This might result in disastrously vomitous results, but the Germans seem to think it’s a grand idea. Maybe you’ll muster up the courage to go on some of the tallest swings I’ve ever witnessed. (I didn’t!) But I did go on Rio Rapids because I can’t resist the siren call of a South American-named water slide at a Bavarian beer festival.
Or maybe you’ll drink while you ride. That’s a feat only possible on the Bierkarusell, which is exactly as it sounds—a literal beer carousel. The bar slowly rotates as you order and drink. Again, maybe not the smartest idea, but it’s an experience that’s almost as dizzying as the festival itself.
Header image courtesy of Bill English.