So you want to go to Oktoberfest in Munich. You’ve heard about it when you were underage and now as an adult, you dream of consuming your weight in beer and shamelessly flirting with a beer-serving-dirndl-wearing-German gal for an entire weekend. Let me guide you to experience it like a local and make some new Wiesenbekanntschaften <–Oktoberfest Acquaintances.
So, um, what is Oktoberfest?
Oh, only the biggest beer festival in the world!
First of all, let me be clear that even though it says Oktoberfest, it does not occur in October. Well, not technically. So, when does it actually take place?
September 16 to October 3, 2017
As the story goes, it’s because a long time ago October was already a cold month in Southern Germany so to really experience “Wiesen”, they moved it up a month.
What do I mean by “Wiesen”? Allow me to briefly enlighten you with some history. To celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I to Therese of Saxony, the royals invited all the town dwellers to an open meadow to celebrate the occasion which was later renamed Theresienwiese but forever now known locally as “Wiesen”. Ta-da!! That’s the gist of it but wait, there’s more. Oktoberfest didn’t start out with massive beer tents occupied by sexy lederhosen wearing men and oh-so-low cut dirndl clad women. First, there was a small amusement park in the early 1800’s and a small beer stand popped up to quench the thirst of the fun-goers. As they say, from one grows another and another and now with the aforementioned massive beer tents including the carnival park (think Six Flags but more nostalgic).
Each year the town mayor officially opens Wiesen (that’s the German word for Oktoberfest). He uses a chunky wooden hammer to punch the tap into the beer barrel and shouts “O’ Zapft!” which literally means beer is on tap.
So, from now on you should only be calling Oktoberfest by its true German term known as “Wiesen”.
How to Get to Oktoberfest
This possibly is where your wallet will eat most of your travel budget if you’re coming anywhere outside of Europe. Each year, hundreds of beer enthusiasts make the pilgrimage year after year and new ones are joining in. However, the best way to get to Oktoberfest is undoubtedly by plane into Munich airport. Lufthansa has many direct routes from the U.S. which makes it comfortable.
So, a few things to keep in mind while planning and booking:
-It’s EXTREMELY popular with foreigners and locals alike. Plan your traveling to arrive in Munich a few days early.
-Booking your hotel should be the first thing you do.If you’re having trouble finding accommodation in the city, try searching close suburbs as public transportation in and around big cities are excellent in Germany. Just be sure to find something near a metro station or bus stop that takes you to Oktoberfest.
-Map out your plan of assault for the weekend! If you get lost, carry your hotels business card or write down on a piece of paper the address of where you’re sleeping and put it in your wallet. ‘Cause ya never know.
Pre-gaming tips before you arrive at Oktoberfest
In order for you to blend in like a local, it’s best to observe some deep-rooted etiquette that Germans like to stick by:
It’s not cool to stand on the tables. Just because you’ve seen it on TV doesn’t give you permission to do it yourself. By all means, stand on the bench but standing on the table is just uncouth.
Expect to make eye contact. With the amount of toasting you’ll be doing, which is actually not only mandatory but expected, you’ll need to maintain eye contact with everyone you’re toasting with. Otherwise, you’ll have bad sex for seven years. No kidding, this is actually a superstition they will happily tell you about.
Toast from the bottom at a slight 45-degree angle. Accidents happen and beer is sticky and smelly when you’re wearing it. In addition, the bier steins aren’t actually that strong to withstand multiple toasts. By clinking at the bottom at an angle you’ll get the nod of approval from locals.
Don’t steal the glasses. You’ll just end up getting it seized by the security guards. But remember to take a lot of pictures of them before you get smashed.
Tent crawling is not recommended. People literally queue up WAY early to get a piece of prime real estate that is bench space. It gets crowded early on so once you’ve got your seat be prepared to stay there. Firmly plant yourself on that bench and get cozy and comfortable.
Leave your credit cards at home. But don’t forget to go to the ATM to get some Dolla-Dolla bills, yo! Ok maybe not Dollars but definitely get yourself some nice, crisp Euros in cash. It’s unlikely that places will accept a credit card. Plus it’s easier to over spend with a card so consider it an effective budget cap if you take out a certain amount.
Wear comfortable shoes…that go with your outfit. More on the outfit later. Either way, be sure to keep your shoes sturdy and without open toes, ladies. Accidents happen.
Don’t monopolize the benches. As I mentioned, it is a hot commodity so be sure to have your own comfortable space but leave the rest for the other Wiesen enthusiasts and make some new friends.
Only take with you what fits your pockets. Seriously, as the day progresses, it gets harder to keep track of and hold on to what you brought with you. Be smart and take only the essentials: cash, ID, phone and whatever else you can’t live without that can live in your pockets comfortably.
Remember that this isn’t a drinking marathon. Pace yourself, man. It’s going to be a long day, weekend, three weeks of beer drinking. This beer this brewed with a slightly higher alcohol content so drink an equal amount of water or order a Radler which is a mix of lemonade and beer.
Find which brewery companies have tents. Get onto the official website and see what kind of beer brands will be represented and if you have a favorite, stay there as each tent only serves one type of beer.
Be prepared to drink A LOT of beer. During Wiesen, beer is served Maß which is a liter. Have fun!
Tips on Drinking during Oktoberfest
Yes, I know, you’ve dreamed of walking into this giant beer tent to be greeted with various taps, giant beer steins and gingham plaid table cloths but it can be quite confusing for the people who aren’t in-the-know. So, read up and follow up:
-To be served you must be sitting. A waitress or waiter will ignore you until you are sitting down.
-You don’t have to make a reservation, but be prepared to queue up early in the day to snag some prime bench seats. Fear not, this year they have 14 tents. You can also try your luck at making a reservation by individual brewery that is representing. You can find that here.
-Beer comes in one size. A Maß. If this is too much for you, then you can also drink juice, but why when it will cost the same if not more than the beer itself.
-Never ever forget to mind your P’s and Q’s. In other words, don’t forget to say “Please”, and “thank you” and be friendly.
What to Eat
It is quite common that beer in most local breweries across Germany is served with a pretzel. While Oktoberfest is no Michelin star outdoor restaurant, they do have some traditional food that is commonly accompanied a good beer.
- Bratwurst – sausage of various varieties
- Weisswurst – white sausage
- Spätzle – German style Mac N Cheese
- Brezelen – pretzels
- Kartoffeln – Potatoes in all their glory
- Schweinshaxe – roast pork knuckle
Crash Course in German to Survive Oktoberfest
German is crazy and difficult and annoyingly backward in sentence structure. I’ve been learning it for the last two years and it’s bee a painfully long journey leading up to my B2 proficiency level exam. Wish me luck. Anyways, to convince locals that you’re part of the “In Crowd”, I strongly encourage you to learn some useful German. Trust me, when you say anything in German, being a foreigner like myself, the locals light up with pride. Here are some key phrases and words you should master:
Noch einmal, bitte
I would like…
Now let’s put some of these words into useful phrases:
Ich nehme ein Maß, bitte.
I would like a glass of beer please.
Noch einmal, bitte.
I would like another (slightly raise your glass up to indicate what exactly you want, in this case a beer)
How to experience Oktoberfest for Non-Drinkers
While I’m only a social drinker, beer makes me incredibly sick. Thank you, Celiac’s! Just because you don’t drink or you’re like me and literally can’t, the world isn’t going to end because of it. Oktoberfest offers many alternatives for non-beer drinkers and children.
· You can always order apple juice. It closely resembles beer but without the foam on top.
There are carnival games and rides, food stands, parades, contests and more.
What to wear to Oktoberfest
Tradition is king here. If you don’t follow through on wearing traditional garb, at least make an effort to DIY it from your closet. If you dress like you would normally, you’ll stick out. So what is considered traditional? Well, there are a few options for both men and women, all of which have a traditional streak. Honestly, who hasn’t thought about wearing leather pants or a “German beer hostess” outfit. This is the place.
-Lederhosen – leather shorts with or without matching suspenders. They are beautifully embroidered and some have laces at the legs. Super sexy.
-Wool knee socks – usually in a neutral color like beige or gray pulled up just below your knee.
-Gingham button down shirt – in any color be it green, blue, red, purple, orange. You can even pull off wearing a plain white shirt or any plaid as well.
-Comfortable shoes that go with the outfit. Your white New Balance sneakers can stay at home.
-A felt Bavarian hat. Plumage is optional and the hat can also be optional but it does make the outfit.
-Wool knit sweater. This also should go with the outfit and if you have trouble finding one in your home country then fear not, you can always step into a store in Munich where you are bound to find one.
-Cropped undershirt with sleeves to your liking. You can find puffy sleeves or straight sleeves or without sleeves even.
-Dirndl. A corseted and laced bodice strategically designed and cut to lift up your assets with a nice knee length full skirt
-Apron. It is PARAMOUNT to know which side to tie a bow in your apron. When tying the apron, be sure to cross at the back and bring the lengths back to front and tie into a bow on either the left or right side. It is PARAMOUNT to know which side is correct for you:
- Left: Single and open to mingle
- Right: Married or taken
- Middle: Young Woman/Virgin
- Behind: Widowed
-Mary Jane type shoes. Or any type of shoe with closed toes that goes with the outfit
-A little cross-body bag to fit only the necessities.
-Fitted jacket to complement the Dirndl.
(optional): ankle socks, knee high socks, lace knit tights.
All of these can easily be found in various shops for every type of budget but be prepared to drop at least 100 Euro’s on one. Trust me, it is worth it. At least you’ll have an authentic costume for next years Halloween party.
Tours and Reservations
If you’re not one to plan anything from start to finish, there are plenty of tours offered that can accommodate the laziest hands-free traveler to the super planning tourist alike. Some of my favorite sites I book tours from are:
Viator is good for all age groups and offers a wide range of tours
Topdeck is for travels between the ages of 18-30 and great for solo travelers offering 3, 4, 5+ day adventures.
Airbnb also offers “experiences” and it is possible that you can find an interesting tour offered by a local through Airbnb.
And sometimes even Groupon has some good deals worth checking out, like this one.
Fun Facts and Tidbits
-There are over 6 million liters of beer served
-500,000 portions of roast chicken
-The Hofbrau tent is the most popular with visitors
-Average tent capacity is around 10,000
Do you have any tips to experiencing Oktoberfest?
Please note, I have not been reimbursed to promote any sites and/or companies mentioned in this article. I had included them as a paying customer that I would gladly refer others to. Therefore, all are personal opinions and recommendations.