I’ve been to Germany more than any other country, but I’ve never visited in that very special time of late September/early October. I’ve never gotten to see, in person, the spectacle that has become the biggest festival in the world. That’s right, I’m talking about Oktoberfest.

It’s that time of year again. As you’re reading this, guys in lederhosen and ladies in dirndls are serving up giant steins of beer and pretzels bigger than your head. People from all over the world are wandering around the fairgrounds, dining on traditional Bavarian eats with awesome names like Schweinebraten and Steckerlfisch (that would be roast pork and fish on a stick, to us English speakers).

The party started way back in 1810. The first Oktoberfest (before it got that official name) was a celebration of the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. All of Munich was invited to the bash, so it’s always been a “the more, the merrier” type of event. And now, over 6 million revelers find their way through the tents and attractions every autumn. Over the years, there have been horse races, parades and agricultural shows. And of course, there has always been beer. There’s even a special name for the beers that are served there: Oktoberfest beer. Only six local breweries are allowed to provide it.

But first things first, the festival has to be officially opened. That honor goes to the mayor of Munich who, at noon on opening day, taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. And then, with a cry of “It is tapped!” the festivities are officially on.

However, there were a few years when the festival lights remained dim. Oktoberfest was canceled during both World Wars, and a few times due to cholera epidemics in Munich (in the 1800’s). But for the most part, Oktoberfest has been a reliable Bavarian good time.

I’ve been to Mardi Gras, and I’ve always wanted to get to Oktoberfest, too. There’s a very specific kind of energy that comes with these huge festivals that morph into a giant party. I’m grateful to have done Mardi Gras when I was younger (I don’t know that I’d have the patience, or stamina, to do it now). But bring on Oktoberfest. They keep the music turned down until 6 pm, to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere. It’s a nice gesture for folks who want to attend, but don’t want to be surrounded by drunken idiots.

And Oktoberfest is so much more than beer. There are roller coasters and Ferris wheels, carnival games and (I’m sure) unrivaled people watching. But the fun doesn’t stop when the sun sets; the rides light up and the neon glow beckons, tempting you with one more ride.

Munich is one of my favorite cities ever, so when you add a giant carnival atmosphere (tents! games! rides! food!), I think it must make a great city about a million times better. So I think it’s high time I start planning a trip. Oktoberfest 2014, who’s with me?!

Have you ever been to Oktoberfest?

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