We say “Oktoberfest” and you think “beer.” That’s no accident.
The annual festival is internationally famous for dancing, partying, dirndls and other Bavarian accoutrements, and most of all, beer, beer, beer.
People flock to Munich from all over the globe to take part in the time-honoured tradition of spending Oktoberfest in Germany. You can do it too, and with our help, you’ll know what to expect. Here’s our quick and easy guide to one of the most spectacular festivals in the world.
A Few Fun Facts and Vocabulary
It’s Not in October
Yes, the name is very clear. Unfortunately, it’s also very misleading. Every year, Oktoberfest in Germany is held in… September. In fact, this year (2015), the festival will begin on September 19th and will end on October 4th. Don’t give us that stink eye. We don’t make the rules.
It’s Not Even Called Oktoberfest
So now you think we’re truly off our rockers, but it’s the truth. The only people who call it Oktoberfest are the hordes who flock to the festival from other countries. Locally, it’s known as Wies’n (pronounced Vi-Zn). And while we’re at it, Munich is called München in German. It’s always practical to know that when you’re trying to buy train tickets!
The Beer There is Beerier
There’s only one beer at the Oktoberfest celebration in Germany: Märzen. It’s brewed especially for the festival and is stronger than regular beers (about 5.7% alcohol by volume). And it’s served in larger quantities, too: the Bavarian Maß (pronounced Mass) mug contains a litre of beer.
There’s More than Just Beer
You also can partake in a few spirits, which are also served at Wies’n. They call them Schnapps.
Wear it Proudly
Lederhosen (literally, “leather pants”) are the traditional Bavarian costume for men, just as the Dirndl is for women. Do you have to wear them to participate? Of course not. But the real question is this: why wouldn’t you want to give them a try? After all, “when in Rome…”
Ladies, when putting on your Dirndl, make sure you tie your apron on the right side! One side is for single women, the other is for the “unavailable”!
What’s on Site?
While Oktoberfest is primarily associated with beer drinking, and plenty of it, there are also other attractions that are more than worth your time.
In Germany, Oktoberfest is an intergenerational festival. From toddlers to elders, everyone can find something fun and fantastic to do in the Theresienwiese, the square where the festival takes place in Munich.
Every year during the festival, the square is full of rides and games of skill. It’s like a county fair! There are rides of all kinds, and children have a blast going on the Ferris wheel, the Balloon Race or the kiddie rides. It’s even possible, if you’re lucky enough to be on the Ferris wheel on a clear day, to see the Alps in the distance.
Plenty of Souvenirs
Souvenirs of all kinds are available at Oktoberfest. Whether you are looking for something serious or kitschy, Oktoberfest has it all. You can buy a Maß, teddy bears, horrible party hats of all kinds, trinkets, cookies in the shape of a heart… there is even a special temporary post office from which you can send postcards to your friends!
Eat Your Fill
While beer is the main highlight of Oktoberfest, the food is not to be missed. Try the white pudding, or Weißwurst, of which Munich is the world’s capital. Sample the wares of dozens of sausage stalls which offer some of the best meats in the world. Pretzels are obviously ubiquitous, just like sauerkraut. Don’t be shy!
But there are two specific dishes you absolutely must try. Overlook these to your own detriment:
First, the Bavarian roasted chicken (Brathendl), which is sold in gargantuan quantities (almost 500,000 chickens will be devoured during the 16 days of the festival). Second, the Steckerlfisch, a big fish that is skewered whole, salted and roasted over hot coals until it is surprisingly succulent and juicy.
Beer, Beer, Beer…
More than 7.7 million litres of beer are drunk each year at Oktoberfest in Germany. Some festival-goers begin very early in the morning: young people arrive at the gates of the festival before its opening with their own cases of beer. They’ll sometimes finish the case before even getting on site!
Only a select few German brewers are authorized to sell at Oktoberfest. Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Augustiner, Spaten, Löwenbräu and Hofbräu-München are the only ones brewing the Märzen for the event.
Get There Early
During the evening, every table is reserved. They’re expensive, at least 300 euros to reserve a whole table, so don’t think you can squat at an empty table for long. When someone who booked shows up at their table, you’ll be asked to leave. This means that the only way for you to sit at a table inside one of the huge tents at the event is to be there before 5 p.m.! Many companies will reward their employees by getting a table in one of the tents, so usually the older crowd shows up around that time. Traditional bands start playing, and after a couple of litres, people get up on the tables to dance and sing!
At night, the party goes on both inside and outside of the tents. Then, at 11:30 p.m., the party shuts down. There will be no question that it’s time to go: closing time is indicated by the shutting off of all the lights. Some of the partygoers will then light up the place with their lighters and smartphones and keep singing without the music, finish their beers, and head for the exits.
When the festival site closes, all the pubs and clubs of the city fill up quickly, as the festival goers that want to drink some more hit the town. On the weekends especially, every single bar makes a lot of money. Some people even party until the sun rises and the gates of Oktoberfest open again!