In most countries around the world, Lent is a time to practice abstinence in one form or another, whether that be alcohol, chocolate or ice cream. In Bavaria? Well, not exactly. In true Bavarian style, back in the day the monks found a way to bend the rules and survive the Lent period in style: they created a strong beer which was dubbed 'liquid bread' thanks to its calorific content. God bless the monks, eh? And like all good things involving beer, the Bavarians all wanted to get in on the action – turning it into a festival in the 1700s. The 17-day Starkbierfest is the perfect way to brush away the boring cobwebs of winter, but it's not for the faint hearted, so here are the Top 10 things you need to know before you go:
1. YOU WILL GET DRUNK. ACTUALLY, SCRATCH THAT. YOU WILL GET VEEEERY DRUNK
Rule number one: don't underestimate the power of Starkbier. To do so will only result in tragedy – trust me. Even if you were the champion drinker of your university days, nothing will prepare you for the equivalent of downing litres of wine (unless you were part of the university rugby team, maybe). The beer packs a 7,5% punch, so prepare yourself. And despite the beer being around 700 calories itself, you'll still need something solid like a schnitzel to help soak it up.
2. IT'S BEST TO MAKE SOME FRIENDS FIRST
Whereas Oktoberfest is so huge that even non-drinkers can have fun, Starkbierfest really is all about the beer. Even though Munich is one of the safest places in the world it's still wise to treat it like anywhere else, and by that I mean not going and getting drunk solo in a dirndl in a strange city. With that in mind, make some friends beforehand by checking out some of the unofficial outings run by Munich's various international groups: Toytown Germany, International Friends Munich, The Munich Network and Munich Girl Gone International. Beer festivals are always more fun when you've got a buddy to cling on to after one Maß too many, right?
3. NOCKHERBERG IS WHERE IT'S AT
Starkbierfest takes places at many a beer hall around the city – and each with their own form of Starkbier – but Paulaner am Nockherberg has the best party by far. This big beer hall on the hill serves its famous Salvator Starkbier seven days a week during this 17-day festival, and all to the sounds of several live bands which ensure plenty of drunken bench dancing (and if you don't know what drunken bench dancing is, then you're in for a lot of fun).
4. YOU'LL MAKE FRIENDS WITH UNICORNS
Ok, maybe not quite. But after one or two litres that unicorn balloon floating above the crowds will be the only thing on your mind – and its 8-10 euro price tag will seem like an absolute bargain. Which, in the end it will be, because I can assure you that one unicorn balloon can result in several hilarious Starkbierfest stories that you'll be telling until the end of time.
5. ENTRY IS PRETTY MUCH FREE
Apart from a small fee of 2 euros to enter the beer hall, it's the same principle as Oktoberfest: you pay for a voucher for a 1-litre beverage of your choice. Whether you opt to spend that voucher on a Spezi (Coke and Fanta mixed together) or a Salvator, is up to you...
6. YOU CAN RESERVE, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO
Unlike Oktoberfest reservation madness, you can still reserve a table at Nockherberg even when the festival has already begun. Just pop on over to their website and book online here (beware: the online reservation instructions are in German) Of course, the weekends are always booked out further in advance, but if you're opting for a weekday then you're likely to get lucky (Daft Punk-style). Just remember that like Oktoberfest, if your 10 friends don't turn up, then you'll still need to foot the bill for their empty spaces.
7. THE 'STARK' IN 'STARKBIER' DOESN'T MEAN 'STRONG' IN THIS CASE
Even if you consider yourself a whizz when it comes to the German language, don't make the mistake of thinking that the 'Stark' part of the word 'Starkbier' refers to the beer's alcoholic strength. Of course, you're not wrong in thinking that 'Stark' means 'strong' in German, it does, but in this case it refers to the amount of 'Stammwürze' the beer has. Ok, I know, what the heck are 'Stammwürze'?! 'Stammwürze' is a brewing measurement which indicates the amount of 'solids' in the beer (including sugars, proteins, minerals etc.) A little complicated for the non-beer connoisseur? Maybe. But just think of it like this: Paulaner's Salavator beer has 18.3% per cent 'Stammwürze', which equates to 183g of 'solids' – i.e. you're drinking the equivalent of a loaf of bread. Hence the term 'liquid bread' being used for the beer. Now the science and maths lesson is over, time to get tasting that beer, eh?
8. THERE'S A SHOTS BAR
Although it's 99% about the beer here, there is, in fact, a shots bar. If you're like me, you'll discover this bar on your way back from the bathrooms (because, conveniently, you have to pass by it on the way). And if you're like me, you'll then think that it's a great idea to challenge the others at the bar to a shots contest, on top of the Salvators you've already had (definitely not perpetuating the British stereotype here...). Note to self: don't overestimate your shots ability after one too many beers. Well, I guess on the plus side it's one sure fire way to make some more friends, fast?
9. IT'S JUST AS FUN AS OKTOBERFEST, WITHOUT THE TOURISTS
If you're always in search of the most authentic travel experiences, then Starkbierfest is the one for you. Unlike Oktoberfest, you're less likely to hear slurred American accents here. Be prepared, however, for these to simply just be replaced by slurred Bavarian accents instead, which are even harder to understand! You're also less likely to hear as many English songs strummed out by the band at Starkbierfest, so go and get learning some German classics before you arrive.
10. THERE'S JUST ENOUGH TIME TO RECOVER BEFORE THE NEXT FEST
"What? There's another?!", I hear you cry. Well, you're in Munich, so yes. Starkbierfest ends on 2nd April this year and the Spring beer festival, Frühlingsfest, already kicks off only a few weeks later on 21st April. Just enough time to recover before the next beer, music and friend-filled German fest – but more on that later – PROST!