“In Mϋnchen steht ein Hofbräuhaus,” the oompah band bellows from the stage in the middle of the beer tent. The thousands of guys around me, arms linked, beer mugs clutched tightly and swaying to the beat of course, join in: “Eins, zwei, g’suffa”.

Welcome to the Oktoberfest’s Gay Sunday. It is barely noon, but we’ve been at the Bräurosl tent for over two hours and I have already seen the bottom of three beer mugs, known locally as a “masskruge”. “How will I ever keep this up for another eight hours?,” I think to myself. You see, not only do the Oktoberfest mugs hold a massive one litre of the special Oktoberfestbier – that’s nearly two pints! – it also has a significantly higher alcohol content than what I am used to back home, measuring in at an impressive 6%.

Cause for a celebration

Contrary to its name, the world’s largest folk festival actually kicks off in the middle of September and lasts until the first Sunday in October. In 2010 an additional day is added to the festival because it is a special celebratory year. Munich’s mayor will open the Oktoberfest for its 200th anniversary on 18 September in the traditional manner, by tapping the first keg using a wooden hammer and then shouting “O’zapft is!”, as in “it is tapped”.

For the 16 days that follow, until 4 October, the Theresienwiese fairground will be a riot of mug-clunking, beer-swilling and sausage gobbling action as more than six million visitors flock here. During that time a staggering seven million litres of beer (that’s nearly three Olympic swimming pools filled with the brew) will be gulped down and around 300,000 pork sausages guzzled. It’s not for the faint hearted.

The very first Oktoberfest took place when Bavarian crown prince Ludwig married princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on 12th October 1810. As part of the celebrations Munich’s residents were invited to join in the festivities, which were held just outside the city gates in the fields named Theresienwiese (Therese’s fields) in the bride’s honour. Officially the fields have kept their name, but the locals have since shortened it simply to “Wiesn”.

Although the fourteen local breweries’ beer tents form the mainstay of the Oktoberfest, there is plenty more to keep visitors entertained – including death-defying roller coasters and rides (not recommended after you’ve had more than one mass beer, I can add on good personal authority), stalls mostly selling traditional German knickknacks and an agricultural fair.

Going at it the gay way

If you are anything like the some 8,000 gay men surrounding me at the moment, however, it is unlikely you will venture much further outside than the entrance to the Bräurosl beer tent. The Bavarian brew is clearly a social lubricant of undisputed success.

Take the tanned and handsome Swiss boy across the table from me, for example. Minutes ago he ripped the sleeves off his traditionally chequered shirt with his bare teeth to better exhibit his chiselled biceps. Or the two lads from Nuremberg near the entrance, both dressed in snug-fitting lederhosen, dancing shirtless on the table to the tune of Heidi.

The Gay Sunday in the Bräurosl tent is hands down the biggest gay attraction in Munich after Pride, but it is by no means the only. Several other events are scheduled for the two weeks that follow the opening of the festival. Most notable is the RoslMontag on Monday 20 September from 15:00 in the Bräurosl tent and the Prosecco-Wiesn from 13:00 on Monday 27 September in the Frischer Vroni tent.

A breath of fresh air

Not sure you’ll be able to maintain your momentum of indulging in Bavaria’s finest? Keen on some solid R&R to nurse your mammoth hangover? Then look no further than Berchtesgadener Land. Situated one and a half hours from Munich near the Austrian border and bang in the heart of the Alps, this is as jaw-droppingly spectacular a destination as Europe can serve up.

Especially the Königssee Lake is well deserving of a visit. Surrounded by towering Alpine peaks, the narrow fjord-like lake stretches for 8km into the narrow valley. If you have enough energy, consider hiring a rowing boat and heading out towards the picturesque Catholic pilgrim’s church of St. Bartholomew – one of the most popular images on German postcards. Alternatively you can also hop onto one of the electric boats which depart from the village every 30 minutes.

There is much more to the Freistaat Bayern than just beer, but there can be no doubt that the Bavarians take their “liquid bread” very seriously indeed. If you needed anymore proof of that you’d simply have to take in your surrounds in the Lufthansa business class lounge.

In March 2010 Lufthansa created a traditional beer garden in cooperation with Munich’s Franziskaner brewery, where visitors can relax and admire the panoramic Alpine backdrop. This beer garden, which has been integrated in the refurbished Business Lounge in the Schengen departures area, comes complete with traditional beer tables, draught beer tapped from the barrel and Bavarian pretzels. Ask the waitress to skip the oompah CD forward to “In Mϋnchen steht ein Hofbräuhaus”, have another beer and do you best to remember exactly what happened in the Bräurosl tent.

Where to stay

Munich: The Anna Hotel is perfectly located in the heart of central Munich, just 500m from the main train station and a short stroll from Munich’s most famous sights like the Frauenkirche, Marienplatz and the bustling Viktualien market. As can be expected, accommodation availability is extremely limited during the Oktoberfest, but the Anna Hotel still has a few rooms available during the festival period.

Berchtesgadener Land: Situated some 3,281 feet above sea level, the InterContinental Berchtesgaden Resort boasts jaw-dropping views of Mount Watzmann (the third highest mountain in Germany after the Zugspitze and Hochwanner) and the surrounding Alpine landscape. If it is a luxuriously relaxing environment you’re after, then this InterContinental resort won’t disappoint. Especially highly recommended is its Mountain Spa – complete with outdoor heated rim-flow pool which makes the most of the resort’s stunning panorama.

How to get there

As Lufthansa’s secondary traffic hub in Germany (after Frankfurt) Munich is extremely well connected from the UK through direct flights from London Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester. The Star Alliance carrier flies seven times every day from London Heathrow direct to Munich, 19 times every week from Manchester and 16 times per week from Birmingham. Earlier this year UK travellers voted Lufthansa their favourite short haul leisure airline in the Condé Nast Traveller 13th Annual Readers’ Travel Awards, awarding the airline top marks for punctuality, efficiency, service and staff.

Handy hints

For more information on Munich and the Oktoberfest visit Munich Tourism’s official website. The Rosa Wiesn website is also a great source of information on all gay Oktoberfest events, though you’ll have to brush up on your German first as it has no English translation. For general info on gay hotspots in Munich – clubs, bars, saunas and even gay beaches in the Bavarian capital – check out the Munich gay city guide on TomOnTour.

Sightseeing

An excellent addition to any Munich trip is BMW Welt (if only for its cutting-edge architecture) and the neighbouring BMW Museum. Opened in 2007, BMW Welt is an opulent glass palace, showroom, cultural stop-over and playground for boys of all ages rolled into one. The ground floor is home to the company’s latest cars and motorbikes to drool over, while the Technical and Design section helps you get a better understanding of the BMW products through interactive displays.

Oktoberfest lifesaver dictionary

Ten crucial words to help you get by on the Wiesn

1. Dirndl (n) – A traditional Bavarian dress

2. Hendl (n) – Roast chicken

3. Mass (n) – One litre of beer

4. Radler (n) – Beer shandy

5. Bieseln (v) – Taking a leak

6. Fluppe (n) – Slang for cigarette

7. Brezel (n) – Prezel, a great accompaniment to a mass

8. Sekt (n) – Sparkling wine

9. I’ mog di – I like you

10. Schnackseln (v) – Shagging

JD Van Zyl writes at www.jdvanzyl.com