Mar 29, 2017

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Munich Starkbierfest: What we’ve learned

Munich Starkbierfest: What we’ve learned

So here we are again: we’ve been in Munich for a few days in March and have a headache – it must be the Strong Beer Festival, or Starkbierfest. We’ve been coming every year for quite a while now. At first tentatively, on the recommendation of Munich insiders who called it the “little Oktoberfest” and said that it’s actually better because it’s a more authentically local thing (and because, as the name suggests, the beer is stronger).

While we’re not sure that the Strong Beer Festival is better than the Oktoberfest, we liked it enough to keep coming back. Now that we’ve been going for a few years, we thought we’d share with you what we’ve learned in a fun, five-point format. So here goes!

1. Starkbierfest = “Strong Beer Festival”: The name can be misleading


Paulaner am Nockherberg: When the weather is right, the beer garden is a popualr part of Starkbierfest

The beer is strong, yes, but the word “festival” from the German Starkbierfest immediately makes everyone from outside Munich think of the Theresienwiese and lots of tents. But there are no tents!

That’s because the Strong Beer Festival is held in the brewery beer halls and beer gardens, which are spread across Munich: there’s Paulaner on the Nockherberg hill in the south west of town, considered the original location, and famed not just for its beer hall, but for its quiet, buccholic Biergarten – and for its affiliation to Bayern Munich football club. Then there are  Augustinerkeller and Löwenbräukeller, ornate and stylish beer halls in the centre, just north of the main station, with smaller, but cosier beer gardens, as well as countless other smaller locations serving strong beer with or without accompanying music. So there’s no one single “Strong Beer Festival” to head for; the whole thing requires a bit more research and some local smarts.

2. “Strong Beer Time/Season”: It’s on for longer (but not always on)


Löwenbräu’s Starkbierzeit goes on for a full month, but there’s never much going on on Mondays or Tuesdays.

Each of the three main locations decides which evenings to put on a party with bands, cabaret, and other activities: Nockherberg offers entertainment on every single day of their three-week festival, while the two beer halls – although serving strong beer for most of Lent – only book bands and such like towards the weekends. That’s why they have an even longer strong beer serving period than Nockherberg, usually encompassing four weekends. One way to look at it is to examine the German words Starkbierzeit (Strong Beer Time) or Starkbiersaison (Strong Beer Season) in contrast to Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival or Party). The Strong Beer Season runs for most of Lent and means that you can get the special brew in most pubs and restaurants; the Strong Beer Festival is composed of single dates within this calendrical period when the breweries decide to offer something more.

3. STRONG Beer Festival: Be careful

Although the overall feel is, due to the timing and organisation, less crazy than the Oktoberfest – there aren’t countless tents and huge crowds, and once the beer hall you are in decides to close, that’s it for the night – the beer is, of course, incredibly strong. The difference between 6% and 9% alcohol might not sound like much, but measured in a Bavarian Mass, i.e. litre, it is a lot. If you’re used to drinking five or six litres over the course of the day at the Wiesn, be prepared to drop to four tops here.

4. Starkbierfest: Real Munich


A real Munich affair: barely anyone without lederhosen

Especially if you head to Nockherberg on, say, a Monday afternoon when everyone else in Munich is on their way home from work with another four days ahead of them, you’ll encounter a lot of other tourists who, of course, don’t have to go to work on Tuesday. Yet generally, the Strong Beer Festival really is a Munich affair: you’ll see even more lederhosen, dirndls, and other Bavarian garb than at the Oktoberfest and even less people will come from outside of Munich – even a lot of Bavarians or Germans from elsewhere don’t know about Starkbierfest or don’t take the same interest in it that Munich residents do. We love this aspect of things, but it can make it harder to get involved in conversation at tables: lots of groups there will have grown up together and been doing Starkbierfest as a team since they were old enough to go.

5. Strong Beer “Season”: A great place to get fashion tips


This year’s ultra-traditional Starkbierfest look

As it is such a specifically Munich event, though, the Strong Beer Festival is the perfect place to get a heads-up on the kind of fashions that will be big at the Oktoberfest later in the year. This year, people are either going seriously retro – longer dirndls for the girls, full get-up for the boys (including loden blazers and silk waistcoats) – or moving away from the typical combinations into jeans and Country-inspired fashions. You’re very welcome!

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