In Germany, it is estimated that five billion litres of beer is produced each year, therefore it’s no surprise that hundreds of festivals have popped up to celebrate it. Naomi MacKay highlights some of the best
September 19 – October 4, 2015
Oktoberfest in Munich is the biggest and most famous of all the German beer festivals. It kicks off with a grand parade of the Munich breweries and beer tent proprietors at 1045hrs on September 19. No trip to Oktoberfest would be complete without observing the horse carts decorated with flowers, waitresses hefting massive beer steins, the big brass bands and the beer wagons decorated with garlands, and carrying the huge wooden beer barrels. Monday to Thursday and Sunday evenings are the least busiest times to visit and will allow space in the more popular beer tents.
Munich's biggest park is larger than New York’s Central Park. There’s plenty to do, from renting a paddleboat to taking a stroll around its wooded paths. Stop off at one of the traditional beer gardens or watch the German equivalent of surfing - Eisbach.
One of the first concentration camps, Dachau is situated 10 miles from Munich. It was used as the model for all the following camps. Guided tours take the visitors on the same path the prisons took – through the baths, barracks, courtyards and crematorium. Tours take two and a half hours and are available in English and other languages. Tours cost €70 per group (up to 30 people).
Hotels near to Central Station are close enough to walk to Oktoberfest – and back. Five-star luxury is available at the Bayerischer Hof with five gourmet restaurants, six bars and spa with rooftop pool. For more information visit www.bayerischerhof.de
Camping is offered at the Olympic Horse Riding Stadium in Riem during Oktoberfest.
Choose from tents and caravans. The S-Bahn is five minutes’ walk away.
September 25 - October 11, 2015
Oktoberfest’s biggest rival is Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest - also known as ‘Wasan’ - which is far easier to pronounce after a few steins of beer. Around four million revellers make their way to this event each year. This is a far less touristy affair than Oktoberfest, with many more German natives in attendance. One of its landmarks is the Fruit Column – a huge wooden pillar decorated with fruit - which stands 26 metres high and weighs 3.5 tons. If you’re thirsty, you can choose from one of seven large beer tents, then take a ride on an indoor rollercoaster at Europe’s biggest funfair, or ride the white water flume and choose something to eat from 95 food stands.
One of Stuttgart’s most beautiful places is Karlshöhe - a 343-metre high mountain. It is possible to climb up through the vineyards using stairs called Stäffeles to enjoy a stunning view over the city – ascend in the evening to enjoy the sunset.
Stuttgart is the home of German motor engineering and car fans have the double delight of two auto-themed museums. At the Mercedes-Benz Museum, guided tours are available in a number of languages. Several free coach-parking bays are available next to the Mercedes-Benz Museum. There is a separate group ticket counter upon arrival and discounts for pre-booked groups of 10 or more.
The Porsche Museum houses more than 80 vehicles, including iconic vehicles such as the 356, 550, 911, and 917. The museum visit can be combined with a factory tour.
Petrol heads will love the car-themed V8 Hotel in the Bauhaus-style airport building outside Stuttgart, managed by the Motorworld classic car restoration complex. A number of rooms have been decorated to allow you to sleep in a Volkswagen, Cadillac, Mercedes or Morris Minor. For more information visit www.v8hotel.de/en
Berlin steers away from the traditional lederhosen-led atmosphere in this three-day event – hardly surprising for such a happening city. Don’t expect local German beers here – there are somewhere in the region of 2,000 beers from around the globe on offer instead, including craft beers and ales from microbreweries, as well as the more mainstream brands. Look out for the mini stein that allows you to taste as many beers as you can manage. Stretching further than two kilometres, the festival is known as the ‘Biermeile’ (or Beer Mile). Entry is free.
The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most iconic attractions and is one of a number of old city gates. Adjacent is the Pariser Platz, home to many of the city's important buildings.
The Berlin Wall Memorial includes a surviving section of the wall and watchtower, which allows visitors to get a feel for how the border worked.
With a history dating back to 1035, Bremen Freimarkt is the oldest fair in the country. Four million visitors pay a visit to the Bürgerweide - minutes from the historic city centre - for what is thought to be the biggest festival in Northern Germany. As well as beer tents, fairground rides and entertainment, the second Saturday sees the Freimarktsumzug (Free Fair Procession). If you fancy a quieter pace, head to the Little Freimarkt in Market Square, where there are nostalgic stalls and tasty treats such as fried pastry, roasted almonds and liquorice sweets.
The Fallturm drop tower at Bremen University is 146 metres high and has a 110-metre tube that allows experiments to be carried out in zero gravity. It also offers spectacular views across Bremen and can be hired for functions – the Panorama Room has been described as the ‘James Bond Lounge.’
The Schulschiff Deutschland is a fully rigged museum ship and former naval training vessel. Residents sleep in cabins with bunk beds and there are shared bathroom facilities. It is possible to book a whole deck of the ship.
T: (0) 49 421 30 800 10 W: www.schulschiff-deutschland.de
August 9 – 19, 2016
Gaubodenfest is held at Straubing and is the second biggest folk festival in Bavaria (after Oktoberfest). There are seven beer tents - the largest can hold up to 5,000 people. The 200-year-old event always starts on the Friday before the second Saturday in August and lasts for 11 days. Traditional and pop music is on hand to entertain and plenty of the 1.25 million people who visit wear traditional costume. Beer is specially brewed for the event and only breweries from Straubing or the district Straubing-Bogen are allowed to serve beer there. The festival begins with a Bierprobe or beer tasting and parade.
Straubing is a medieval town with plenty of history. The Stadtturm Tower is the town’s most famous landmark and from the top affords a great view of the town itself from a height of 223ft, stretching out to the Barvarian forest beyond.
First settlements can be traced back to 6,000 BC at Straubing. A reminder can be found in the Gäubodenmuseum, where Roman treasures discovered during construction works in 1950 are on display. There is a 25% discount for groups of 12 or more. For more information visit www.gaeubodenmuseum.de
July 25 to August 2, 2015
The Bamber region - situated in northern Bavaria - has the highest concentration of beer makers found anywhere on the planet. ‘Beer Week’ always begins on the last weekend of July, therefore must be worth a visit for fans of the ale. This is a more low-key affair than some of the others – the focus being solely on the beer rather than rides and parades. The event is organised by the Kulmbacher Brewery, which produces one of the strongest beers on the globe – the Kulminator 28. For more information visit www.kulmbach.de
Once your group has sampled the beer, take them on an educational voyage through the world of beer. At the Bavarian Brewery and Bakery Museum, you can watch the master brewers at work and listen as they explain step-by-step how to brew beer. You can also find out about the art of baking and dough preparation.
Not your average museum – this is the largest of its kind in the world – showcasing 300,000 individual figures set in 150 dioramas portraying the history of mankind.