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The best way to get the Oktoberfest Experience without the crowds? :)

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I'm visiting Germany during Sept 16-20. I know that Oktoberfest starts Sept. 20, and as much as I'd like to experience it, I don't have reservations, and I'm not a fan of huge crowds.

1) If we visit Munich during the days leading up to Oktoberfest, will there be too many people already?
2) I heard from somewhere that Hofbrauhaus is the next best thing to Oktoberfest. Will they be open during Sept 16-19?
3) If Munich pre-Oktoberfest is a bad idea, are there any similar celebrations going on in other parts of Germany, that I can attend?

Thanks everyone :)

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