Get the Scoop Behind the Real Oktoberfest

Cologne is known for Carnival, Berlin has its Film Festival, and Munich — where they adopted the beer purity law in 1516 — may be the epicenter of Oktoberfest. Surely, though, those three cities aren’t the only worthy hosts of internationally celebrated events. Of all of Germany’s festivities, my particular interest is Oktoberfest and Nuremberg is a great place to celebrate it.

Full Disclosure

Oktoberfest party dress
Author Julie Callahan in traditional Oktoberfest fashion.

This story may not be the most objective rendering of Oktoberfest celebrations. I have a strong bias as I lived in Nuremberg, a city of half a million people, for nearly two years. Furthermore, the afternoon of my wedding day was spent celebrating among the revelry at Nuremberg’s own local Oktoberfest party. Suffice to say, I have many happy memories associated with Nuremberg festivals, so please forgive and indulge me if I am nostalgic.

Why Nuremberg?

Nuremberg is a mere hour north – by either train or car – of Munich, where the annual 16-day and world-famous party of beer and Gemütlichkeit (congeniality) is held. Running simultaneously and nearly for the same duration is Nuremberg’s Altstadtfest (old city festival), an Oktoberfest in its own right and the perfect alternative to the Munich scene. So, skip the brouhaha and opt for a more intimate and authentic experience of smaller crowds and fewer tourists at Nuremberg’s Altstadtfest Sept. 11-23, 2019.

Sit at a half-filled Biergartentisch, order a Maß (a liter) of Helles Bier (literally: bright beer, essentially: a lager), and soon enough you’ll be seated next to strangers, arm-in-arm, enthusiastically swaying along to traditional folk music.

The Charm (and Beer) of Nuremberg

Lederhosen socks
Men can join in by wearing the traditional high socks for lederhosen.

Atop the Nuremberg Castle are the red and white flags of the Franconian county alternating with the blue and white flags of the Bavarian state. Hops and Lebkuchenherz – decorated gingerbread hearts, given to and worn by your sweetheart – adorn the ceilings of temporary and specially constructed cottages along the city’s Insel Schütt, an island in the middle of the Pegnitz River. The cottages house local restaurants and breweries that have convened in this centralized location. Horn and accordion music floats above the cobblestone streets.

It’s all kitsch all of the time, and it’s in honor of the city of Nuremberg. Here, just as in Munich, women don their dirndl and men their lederhosen, and from 11am to 11pm revelers consume liters upon liters of Franconian beer with names like Schanzenbräu and Zirndorfer.

Nuremberg Food & Drink

Germany might not be an obvious foodie destination, but it has much more to offer than bratwurst, and some of Nuremberg’s regional dishes are among my all-time favorite things to eat. Here are my top 10 that are available year-round, and that I highly recommend:

1) Mohnfladen: a confection with poppy seed paste and sweetness similar to marzipan. It’s topped with buttery streusel. The Hauptmarkt (main market) is the place to look for them.

2) Schäufele mit Kloß: Pig shoulder. Crisped fat sits atop the meat, which falls off the bone. I ate my first Schäufele at the Zwingerbar Biergarten (the beer garden atop the bar/nightclub and along the city walls), and you should too. This is a very regional dish – you won’t find it in Munich!

3) Sauerbraten mit Kloß: Like pot roast, but more flavorful due to the nearly week-long brining process it goes through before cooking. Served alongside sweet apple kraut and a dumpling, it’s best enjoyed when all three items on the plate are mixed together and saturated in the meaty broth. Give it a try at Kaiserburg, where the menu is mostly Bohemian and on which you’ll also find delicious Czech dishes.

4) Drei im Weggla: particular to Nuremberg, this street food is three Nuremberger bratwursts in a bun, topped with mustard. The bratwurst huts among the pedestrian zones sell them for circa 2-3 €.

5) Schnitzel mit Kartoffelsalat: schnitzel is relatively well-known worldwide, and Restaurant Kopernikus (known locally as Krakauer Turm) serves up an especially big and delicious schnitzel. Eaten with a side of potato salad – this region of Germany eschews mayonnaise and prefers vinegar in their recipe – you’ll be stuffed. If the beer garden is still open – they are seasonal, after all – sit outside. The atmosphere is much nicer.

6) Weißwurst Frühstuck: an old-school sweet and savory breakfast (it MUST be served by 11am) of Weizen (wheat beer), a freshly baked Brezel (soft pretzel) – salt optional – Weißwurst (boiled white veal sausage) and Senf (sweet mustard – Handlmeir is my particular favorite). This dish is most commonly served at home. If your hotel room or flat is equipped with an efficiency, you can buy all of the ingredients at any Norma, Aldi or Rewe supermarket chain.

7) Obatzda: cheesy, beery, heavenly. It’s a spread for your bread, and any brewery or beer garden is sure to serve it.

8) Hazelnuss Schnapps: a hazelnut liqueur that is a perfect digestif after gamey Franconian fare. Even though it’s a local specialty, it can be hard to come by.

9) Apfelschorle: Kiddies can toast with a stein of apple juice mixed with mineral water for an amber-colored carbonated beverage, just like everyone else.

10) Rot Bier: Beer in Germany isn’t ordered by brand, but by color and brightness. This bright red beer is specific to Nuremberg, and my preferred beer, so don’t depart without trying it. Drink a Krug (a mug) of it or take away a liter growler at my most-beloved – and organic – brewery in Nuremberg, Altstadthof.

A Few Basics for Sounding Like a German Local

  • Grüß Gott = Good day! Literally, “greetings to God,” and admittedly spoken mostly by older people. It’s still appropriate to say when you walk into the waiting room of the dentist’s office or any small shop.
  • Danke sehr = Thank you very much, best used when you want to be extremely polite or express profuse thanks (say, for instance, used in response to a Franconian’s forgiving patience as you fish for and mispronounce German words).
  • Entschuldigung = Best used as an apology or to excuse yourself.
  • Tschüss! (pronounced like “choose”) = Bye! Always appropriate to say when you’re leaving a small shop or restaurant. Franconians are friendly!

Where to Stay in Nuremberg


Oktoberfest in Nuremberg
Nuremberg seen during Oktoberfest festivities.

Hotel Agneshof is a three-star hotel in the middle of the old city, tucked away on a quiet side street, and within a 10-minute walk of everything interesting and most of the recommended bars and restaurants. The rooms are small, but the hotel is clean, and the rates are reasonable.

Getting to Nuremberg

To avoid layovers, take a direct flight to either Munich or Frankfurt international airports. From those locations, hop on the high-speed ICE train for a quick and comfortable ride to Nuremberg.

The Nuremberg Airport, although international, seldom has direct flights to and from the United States. However, it is darling and, by darling I mean very manageable, small, and navigable. Guten Flug!

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1 Reply to “The Real Oktoberfest”

  • alli65

    This is a great story, thank you for sharing the glories of Octoberfest in lesser known Nerumberg. My mouth was atering reading about all of the regional delicacies that accompany the beer!