Known for, if anything, the Oktoberfest – or Wiesn, as the locals call it – the vast charms of the Bavarian capital have long been overshadowed by its more famous beer-swilling festival. But to a resident, the ‘fest is 60% fun, 40% hassle – imagine heading out for work on Monday morning only to be greeted at by a puddle of vomit at your doorstep or a drunk out-of-towner asking you for directions to McDonalds on the subway. So I’m blowing this shit wide open:(pause for gasps all around) there’s more to do here than sit in a tent drinking beer by the litre (though I’m not knocking it, it is, afterall, an institution in its own right). Herewith, a list of alternatives throughout the calendar year.
Of wigs and weirdos – Faschingsdienstag
When: The day before Ash Wednesday in late February or early March
What: While Cologne’s carnival, or Fasching season hogs most of the space in your Lonely Planet guide book, the Bavarians take this day as seriously as they take beer. Most offices close at noon, and day-workers readily trade suit and tie for outlandish wigs and masks or more well thought-out concept costumes (Sunny and Cher, anyone?). Drinking is largely the focal point, but live music and traditional staged dances keep those not-yet inebriated entertained, amped and thirsty for more
Bonus: Krapfen, krapfen, krapfen. It’s hard to escape these cream/jelly filled donuts (known as Berliners in north Germany) this time of year – and why would you want to? Embrace your inner glutton and sample the lot – but watch out, a popular gag involves a dollop of mustard and an unsuspecting victim, and it could be you.
Tip: Check out the goings-on in the city centre, then seek out your drinking hole of choice (my pick, Killians). It’s cold, it’s crowded and it’s out-of-control out ‘dere. Things are no less crazy indoors – but not as exhausting.
The ultimate flea market – and Bavaria’s largest
When: Late April on a Saturday
What: Each years Munich’s Theresienwiese (the site of the aforementioned Oktoberfest) kicks off the spring with a sprawling flea market, which begins as early as 7AM. From the avid antique enthusiast to the casual shopper, the event’s 20,000-plus visitors roam from stand to stand, all ready to bargain their way into a new coffee stand or a pair of deer antlers and other taxidermy must-haves.
Bonus: The site is comparatively small for the sheer amount of people ambling about, so there’s little-to-no cell phone reception. A welcome excuse to get away from your über-needy smartphone and just enjoy yourself.
Tip: Get there early. I mean really early. Those arriving at 3 PM will be lucky to find a Tamagotchi circa 1997.
The heat is on – the Impark Summer Festival
When: The entire month of August
What: It’s like those traveling carnivals you lived for when you were little, but with a lot more alcohol – and less kids. Set in the city’s gigantic Olympia Park – the site of the 1972 Summer Olympics – this massive festival is anchored by its diverse culinary offerings – which ranges from Moroccan and Asian to traditional Bavarian fare – a handful of admittedly uninspiring rides, and an off-the-charts live (and free) music programme held in the park’s vertiginous Theatron amphitheater.
Bonus: Crappily made but cheap and oh-so-alluring knock-off ballerinas, bags and belts, as well as, duh, cotton candy. Sugar whipped into cloud-like creation on a stick? Yes please.
Tip: Water-skiing. Not to do, but to watch. Find a perch atop the grassy hill overlooking the park’s lake and witness people fall flat on their faces as you tuck into an oversized pretzel and laugh. Ever heard of Schadenfreude? Yeah, well we Germans invented it. And you’re welcome.
Rock out under the rainbow – Christopher Street Day Parade
When: On a Saturday in late July
What: Abs. Abs glistening in the sun. Abs paired with neon-green hot pants. Abs on floats strewing glitter into the hot summer air. I hate to objectify men, but abs. The CSD, or Gay Pride Parade is Munich’s answer to Berlin’s more famous Love Parade, but no less entertaining. Let it all hang out today, because anything goes, and when else are you going to get a chance to slip into the leopard print boob dress in the back of your closet.
Bonus: Because abs.
Tip: You, ehm, might need a bit of liquid courage to get into the mood if you’re not a natural exhibitionist
Street-smart at the Streetlife Festival
When: Two weekends in June in September, respectively
What: Held along two of Munich’s most expensive stretches, the Leopoldstraße and Ludwigstraße, these twin weekend events have got it going on in all the right places. Fancy a geniune Mexican burrito, sangria or toasted almonds? Care to inform yourself in the political goings-on in Germany? Test drive an electro bike? Sky’s the limit here, and the live music has been known to knock people’s socks off. It’s divided into six themes (from climate and city planning to sports and lifestyle) – so it’s pretty hard to get bored: just ask the 600,000 people who make their way here each year.
Bonus: The Guinness tent. There is nothing, I repeat nothing, better than a nice creamy Guinness on a warm summer’s day, especially for those already filled the gills with Bavaria’s acclaimed lagers.
Tip: If you’re a tourist, start at Marienplatz (the city’s central square, also home to its famous Rathaus, or town hall) and walk your way all the way down to Münchner Freiheit, where the festival ends. You’ll kick yourself later if you missed something