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The annual Munich celebration of beer, brauts and general Germanness known as Oktoberfest starts September 22 and runs through October 7. The Lord Mayor of Munich taps the first barrel of the strong, dark, special Wiesn beer and cannons are fired to mark the start. The first day is marked by a procession of publicans and brewers, and no motorized vehicles are permitted. Through the official website (www.oktoberfest.de) you can view the photos of the festival's construction, sign up for an e-newsletter, and preorder your souvenirs -- hats, pins, steins, and the like -- for this year's festivities. There is also some practical information listed under FAQs, such as how to book seats through individual tents, and when the best time might be to visit the beer tents (see the Wiesn barometer on the site), along with how to get there by car, public transit, etc. And it's best to get to the tents before noon, as you're merely one of six million people in attendance, making Oktoberfest probably one of the only experiences in which it is advisable and socially acceptable to start drinking in the morning. Without a seat, waitresses cannot serve you beer. If you're traveling on your own with a group of ten or more people, it's necessary to make a reservation -- many of the group tours we've listed here will do just that (contact information is available at www.oktoberfest.de/en/03), but it's also becoming increasingly difficult to come by spots, so you may want to try Empire Tickets (tel. 800/725-0112; www.empiretickets.com), according to Munich tourism.

If you're putting things together à la carte, flights to Europe for fall are on sale thanks to a number of providers. 1800FlyEurope.com (tel. 800/359-3876; www.1800flyeurope.com) has an early-bird special for fall , valid for travel September 10-October 31. Sample fares to Munich include New York from $499, Boston from $527, Miami from $539, Chicago from $557 and Los Angeles and San Francisco from $669. United Airlines (tel. 800/UNITED-1; www.united.com) offers an early fall sale for flights to Europe, valid if you purchase tickets by August 13 and travel August 21-October 28, on Monday through Thursdays. A Saturday night minimum stay is required. Sample one-way fare, based on round-trip purchase, includes Boston-Munich from $306. With or without sales, flights are not going to be cheap -- a departure on United from Newark on the Wednesday before Oktoberfest, returning the subsequent Monday, is about $750 roundtrip, so it's worth searching carefully; if your travel dates are flexible, you'll do even better.

The official tourism site for Germany (tel. 800/651-7010; www.cometogermany.com) lists details about Oktoberfest on a special page. . The Munich tourism site (www.muenchen.de) is useful for information and tips on where to stay if you can't find a room in the city -- there are links to popular campgrounds nearby (Obermenzing and Thalkirchen) and the city even sets up more parking spaces, perfect if you are traveling by motor home, for example. If you don't mind a little commute, Hotel Schlossberg (tel. 866/833-1251; www.petergermany.com/schlossberg/) located in a Munich suburb of Starnberg, does not raise its rates of 125-175 € during the festival. The hotel is located a few minutes from public transportation; trains depart to Munich from Starnberg every 20 minutes and the ride to the grounds is less than half an hour. The hotel is located on the edge of Lake Starnberg and accommodations include full buffet breakfast and taxes. There is a three-night minimum required during Oktoberfest and the hotel does have some scattered availability, perfect for those with a flexible schedule.

In terms of tour packagers, Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) is offering a six-night trip that incorporates Munich, Salzburg and Vienna priced from $1,029, although that departure reflects travel after the fact -- November 1-24. Travel September 10-October 31 is priced from $1,199 including airfare, based on departures from Boston, New York-JFK or Newark, NJ. Your accommodations are standard in the three cities although you can upgrade if you want, but you must book the trip by August 16. Additionally, Continental Journeys (tel. 800/601-4343; www.continentaljourneys.com) takes you to Vienna and Munich and you spend your last two days in Munch. The trip runs September 22-29 and the escorted package is priced at $1,699 for seven-nights first-class accommodations, four dinners, motor coach transportation, welcome cocktail, daily breakfast, luggage handling, hotel taxes and service charges and sightseeing and entrance fees per itinerary. Airfare is not included. There is still availability, and it is possible to extend your stay in Munich from $89 per night, including breakfast and taxes.

If you don't just want to focus on Oktoberfest, Ludus Tours (tel. 866/343-6133; www.ludustours.com) has something you might be interested in. Based in Austin, Texas, Ludus organizes trips to the world's top cultural festivals and sporting events, whether it's the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, or more immediately, Oktoberfest . Three-night packages start at $995 per person, which includes accommodations at three or four-star hotels near the grounds, airport transfers, German buffet breakfast, beer tent reservations, an orientation tour of the city, Neuschwanstein Castle Tour, and 24-hour tour assistance. There are three dates for this trip: September 21-24, September 28-October 1, and October 5-8. The company has availability for all three weekends, and generally speaking, if you book an additional couple of nights you can also get another beer tent reservation.

More to the point, Beer Trips (tel. 406/531-9109; www.beertrips.com) has just two slots left for its Prague, Bamberg and Oktoberfest trip, September 13-23, priced at $2,595, land only. The cost covers nine nights of accommodations in centrally located hotels, travel by private coach, rail and public transport, brewery visits, beer tastings, entrance fees, daily breakfast and four dinners (with beer, of course) and three beer lunches, and a trip leader. The trips are designed for those who want a combination of free time and guided tours. Company president and founder Mike Saxton suggests another trip (one with limited availability, too), Countryside Beers of Franconia & Bavaria, which overlaps with Oktoberfest, running September 27-October 2, and is priced at $2,445. Saxton says that frequently guests will come early or stay later for tours, and he helps as much as possible to help them book rooms, flights, and excursions.

Huron Valley Travel (tel. 800/392-6689; www.huronvalleytravel.com) runs an "Affordable Oktoberfest" trip September 21-26, September 25-30, and September 29-October 4, priced at $1,681 per person, including airfare. The price is based on departures from New York or Chicago (call for other cities). You'll stay at a three-star hotel for four nights in Munich, and the package includes nonstop round-trip flights (air taxes are additional), an Oktoberfest orientation seminar, private motor coach transportation, welcome dinner upon arrival, breakfast daily, one reserved beer tent evening (dinner and beer), a local bilingual guide and free time to explore. You can upgrade to a four-star property for an additional $169 per person. Availability is limited, so book as soon as possible.

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