IT’S A cloudless, sunny September afternoon in Munich and the rooftop of the Mandarin Oriental is an oasis of calm. Floating in the rippling, slim-line pool, surrounded by lavender and lime trees, I take the opportunity to familiarise myself with the city.
Thanks to Munich’s planning laws, which has banned any new buildings exceeding the height of the iconic two-domed Frauenkirche nearby – this elegant Neo-Renaissance-era block is blessed with sweeping views across the rooftops, making it possible to pick out the city’s icons from distance.
Mandarin Oriental Exterior
Beyond the Old Town’s patchwork of spires, I spot the gentle rotation of a big wheel on the horizon, which I learn later gives away the location of the city’s biggest cultural event, Oktoberfest, which is now in full swing.
The world’s largest Volksfest, comprising a beer festival, vast carnival and vivid elements of Bavarian folk culture, it runs over a two-week period that ends on the first Sunday of October – bringing six million visitors to the city each year to celebrate local heritage over litre-sized steins of beer.
Mahjong Roof Garden
Few though, have the luxury of basing themselves at Munich’s premier hotel during the festival’s duration. Just seconds away from the feted shopping street Maximilianstrasse, the picturesque Old Town and the famous Hofbräuhaus brewery.
This formidable five-star has become a refuge for the great and the good since opening in 1990, with football icons and former First Ladies alike opting for the hotel’s sleek, spacious selection of guestrooms and suites.
The addition of a Matshuhisa restaurant, helmed by pioneering chef Nobu Matsuhisa, has given locals and visitors alike a destination for Japanese cuisine.
This week, however, the emphasis is very much on Bavarian cuisine. Upon arrival, I’m greeted with the Oktoberfest afternoon tea, a carnivorous showcase of cured meats, cheeses and breads – reflective of Munich’s traditional fare – albeit it with a high-end Mandarin Oriental spin.
Elsewhere, Oktoberfest has transformed the hotel’s lobby with fresh floral displays adorned with pretzels, pretty retro carts proffering gingerbread hearts and traditional beer mugs giving guests a glimpse of how important the event is across the city.
Checking into my sophisticated room, all muted tones, mountain-inspired artwork and Far Eastern accents, I discover my outfit is awaiting.
Helping immerse guests into the sartorial spirit of the event, authentic attire – cowhide lederhosen and checked shirts for the men and folksy dirndl dresses for women – can be arranged in advance as part of Mandarin Oriental’s Oktoberfest experience.
Further authenticity follows in the form of the Oktoberfest shuttle, which has seen the hotel’s team commandeer a vintage Setra S11 bus originally from the 1950s, whose open glass windows provide a privileged vantage point as we weave our way through Munich’s streets.
Mandarin Oriental Exterior
Thanks to the hotel’s well-connected concierge team, guests are able to secure coveted table reservations within Oktoberfest’s most sought-after tents.
In our case, we’re treated to a lofty mezzanine setting in the atmospheric, striped Shutzenfestzelt, which, despite seating close to 5,000 people, is seen as one of the event’s more intimate settings.
It’s a vivid, thrilling sight to witness and – as deft waiters ferry trays of roast chickens and fistfuls of huge beers produced especially for the event by Munich’s best breweries – a live band delivers a mix of folk classics and “schlager” pop standards to an increasingly euphoric crowd.
While the following morning might have started slowly, a fortifying trip to the Mandarin Oriental’s breakfast buffet – with its immaculate selection of fruits, meats and pastries – proves galvanising and I feel ready to explore Munich’s Old Town.
The hotel’s excellent location places the city’s picturesque squares, soaring spires and small but impressive roster of art galleries within easy reach.
As I witness the intricate daily display of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel clock in Marienplatz Square, with further visitors in lederhosen arriving to soak up the city’s old-world charm ahead of their own trip to the bright lights of Oktoberfest, Munich’s irrepressible character and strong sense of place is everywhere to be seen.
And while this year’s Oktoberfest comes to a close after this weekend, all eyes turn to next year’s event, with my experience of Mandarin Oriental’s Oktoberfest delivering a fascinating perspective of one of Europe’s most charismatic celebrations – as well as a sophisticated sanctuary to retreat back to once the festivities come to an end.
by Ben Olsen
For more details on the Mandarin Oriental Oktoberfest experience visit mandarinoriental.com