November 21st, 2023
This year marks the 188th Oktoberfest, the world’s largest Volksfest, which encapsulates traditional German festivals combining cultural heritage celebrations with carnival-style attractions, all underscored by a hearty focus on food and drink. Oktoberfest is renowned for its vibrant atmosphere, exuding warmth and featuring a delightful blend of rides, stalls, music, and ample opportunities for socialising over a beer. It draws a diverse crowd, attracting people and families from around the globe.
Naturally, many people wander – can I attend Oktoberfest if I don’t drink? Is it worth a visit, even if I’m sober?
What Is Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest was first held in Munich in 1810. It was initially a five-day festival to celebrate the wedding of the Crown Prince of Bavaria and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, Princess of Saxony. Since then, the festival has swelled, drawing around 6 million people yearly to a range of beer halls and tents erected specifically for the event.
Whilst the event now tailors for tourists, Oktoberfest stays true to its heritage, paying homage to traditional German music, beer and cuisine.
Where is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is held in Munich. The festival ended with a horse racing event on what is now known as Theresienwiese (meaning Therese’s Green). Since then, the festival has occurred in Munich’s one-hundred-acre meadow in the Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt district. It is close to the city’s old town and is steeped in rich history.
When Is Oktoberfest?
The festival is held for two weeks in September and October each year. This year’s Oktoberfest will run between Saturday, the 16th of September and Tuesday 3rd of October. This time, it will run for a full eighteen days, meaning you can enjoy three extra days of festivities, with the event finishing on Tuesday instead of Sunday to incorporate German Unity Day.
The festival officially begins at noon on Saturday, 16th of September, with a traditional Wiesn tapping. Once the tapping has taken place, beer begins to flow, and drinks can be purchased. The Mayor will toast the festival with “O’zapft is! To a peaceful Wiesn!” to kick off the festivities.
The growth of sober drinking culture
Oktoberfest is synonymous with beer. Britannica reports that around 2 million gallons (75,800 hectolitres) of beer are drunk at the event by festival-goers each year. The festival is known for celebrating German lagers and pilsners, malty wheat beers with distinct biscuity aromas that Oktoberfest themselves describe as ‘amber nectar’.
Whilst many people may see Oktoberfest as a pilgrimage for beer drinkers, the festival has lots to offer for those who don’t drink alcohol. A 2017 survey by the Office of National Statistics records that around 20.4% of British adults do not drink.
Going beyond Britain, several YouGov surveys found that almost half (48%) of young adults (aged between 18 and 24) in Germany do not drink. It looked at the drinking habits of a range of young people in other countries, finding that:
- 39% of young adults in France
- 37% of young adults in Austria and Bulgaria
- 33% of young adults in Poland
- 32% of young adults in Belgium
- 30% of young adults in Switzerland and Portugal
all choose to remain alcohol-free.
Non-Alcoholic Alternatives at Oktoberfest
This indicates a shift in drinking culture, particularly in the younger generations – and Oktoberfest has recognised this and adapted to cater for this growing movement of sober living.
For a festival known for its beer, Oktoberfest offers a fantastic range of non-alcoholic options.
On their site, Oktoberfest advertise a range of non-alcoholic drink options:
- Mineral waters
- Kracherl (a sparking sweet drink)
- Spezi (a mix of orange lemonade and cola)
- Apfelschorle (apple spritzer)
- A range of non-alcoholic beers
What is Non-alcoholic Beer?
There has been an increase in the number of non-alcoholic beers on the market, both in Germany and beyond. Non-alcoholic beers have little or no alcohol within them. They have a similar taste, smell and mouthfeel of standard beer with a reduced alcoholic content.
In the UK, non-alcoholic beer is labelled according to specific ABV percentages. ABV refers to alcohol by volume, and it explains how much of the drink is pure alcohol.
- ‘Alcohol-free beer’ has a maximum of 0.05% ABV
- ‘de-alcoholised’ has a maximum of 0.5% ABV
- ‘Low alcohol’ has a maximum of 1.2% ABV
It’s important to note that any beer below 0.5% ABV can be marketed as alcohol-free in Europe. If you are sober and do not drink at all, you may request to see bottles or ask for percentages of non-alcoholic beers before consuming them.
Oktoberfest and food culture
Oktoberfest isn’t just known for its drinking culture – it’s also known for its food. Whether grabbing lunch in a beer garden or being tempted by a hearty meal in one of the many tents at the festival, the event has a range of food options for all diets.
In these tents, the food menus often rotate, bosting different options each day, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices.
Some popular options available at the wiesn include:
- Cheese spaetzle
- Bread or potato dumplings
- Vegetable potato patties
- Potato gratin and spiral potatoes
- Weißwurst sausage
- Roasted chicken
- Suckling pig
Munich is known for its warming, hearty food as much as it is for its refreshing beer. For that reason, Oktoberfest is a pilgrimage for foodies as much as for drinkers.
Things to do at Oktoberfest
Volkfests put a lot of emphasis on eating and drinking – but they also tap into a family-friendly festive atmosphere in other ways – with rides, market stalls and the traditional opening ceremony, Oktoberfest is a feast for all the senses.
There are a range of rides that have become iconic symbols of Oktoberfest. Thrill seekers can try out the toboggan, ghost palace, Olympia looping roller coaster, and over twenty other rides.
If you’re less adrenaline-fuelled, you can enjoy the stunning sight of The Wellenflug, an ornately decorated swing carousel as it twirls through the evening sky.
Oktoberfest also has a range of booths for you to explore.Purveying gingerbread, branded Oktoberfest merchandise and souvenir photographs, the market booths are a great place to find the perfect object to remind yourself of the festival’s magic. They can also be a great place to escape from the beer tents.
Oktoberfest is steeped in history. From the dates it is hosted to the tapping ceremony and the food served, the festival vibrates with the energy of Munich’s heritage. Members of staff and locals often wear special clothing to the event, meaning you can enjoy the sites of beautifully crafted traditional fashion and dress.
Practical Advice: How To Stay Sober at Oktoberfest
Enjoying Oktoberfest, even while recovering from alcohol addiction, can be a wonderful experience of camaraderie and celebration without compromising one’s commitment to sobriety.
Some options to replace alcohol include:
- Opt for non-alcoholic options
- Visit with friends and family who respect your choice to stay alcohol-free
- Be honest with your loved ones if you feel triggered or tempted to drink
- Plan your days to avoid empty time that can lead to temptation
- Spend time away from the beer tents – explore the festival stalls and attractions
- If you need a break, you can leave the festival and visit Munich’s Old Town for a change of scene
Savouring the traditional Bavarian cuisine, engaging in folk dances, and relishing the sense of togetherness can help individuals in recovery find joy and fulfilment without alcohol. Oktoberfest serves as a reminder that celebrations can be enjoyed responsibly, and the journey to recovery can be rewarding and enjoyable.