Oktoberfest, an important event in the Bavarian culture, is also one of the biggest funfairs in the world held in Munich, where litres and litres of (not so free!) beer and German food, music gigs, attract visitors from all over the world – over 6 million, to be precise!
Originated in 1810 in Munich as a horse race event to celebrate the wedding festivities of Crown Prince King Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese, it was soon made into an annual event. The festival was later lengthened and the beginning date of the festival pushed forward to September to consider the weather conditions of Munich. So yes, while it is called an Oktoberfest, it technically starts in September.
Oktoberfest is today in its 182nd year and has greatly changed in its character. The days of the horse race are now in history, but the beer has remained (this year, one million litres were already sold on the opening weekend!). But the festival is also a time for families and merry-making, so there are fun rides and family days.
Oktoberfest is surely to be experienced once in your lifetime. You may like it or you may find it too overwhelming, but it sure is something that will stay in your mind for long. Read on, as we bring to you some tips on how you can soak yourself in the Bavarian way – and no, we aren’t talking only about the beer!
Don’t call it the Oktoberfest
Yes, while the festival is known to the world as ‘Oktoberfest’, but most locals don’t call it by that name at all. Instead, you will hear them fondly referring to it as the ‘Wiesn’. The name comes from the location of the fairground where the festival is held: ‘Theresienwiese’ (in honour of Princess Therese).
Dress the part
If you want to truly experience Oktoberfest ‘wie ein Deutscher’ (like a German), then it is really important that you dress the part. Not only because Bavarians love their traditional costume, but also because they look straight out of storybooks! Women typically wear a ‘dirndl’ – consisting of a bodice, blouse, full skirt and an apron. Men wear a checkered shirt, leather trousers (called lederhosen), trachten socks and shoes.
You will find many online and local stores during this time selling the costumes in all styles and price range. Make sure you don’t buy something that will make you feel hot in the crowded tents. Also an important thing to note for dirndls is the way a bow is tied because it is a traditional practice that is taken very seriously and is a code for whether a girl is single or not: a knot on the left means the girl is single, while a knot on the right means she is taken.
Go ahead and get into the character, you’ll feel left out otherwise!
Reserve your place in the tent
You can well imagine what a million visitors on a weekend look like and most tents will be full before the clock says 11! So, if you don’t want your only trip to the Oktoberfest to be spent queuing outside a beer tent trying your luck for a place, reserve your place well in advance. Most Germans make reservations months ahead. It is good to know that there are lots of Oktoberfest tents and all have a different personality (Hofbräu is more popular with the tourists, Augustiner is more authentic Bavarian, Ochsenbraterei offers different oxen specialty and offers some great brass music) and some tents are more popular with the crowds than the others.
Another tip here: If you haven’t made reservations, arrive early at the tents to grab a spot. But tables are shared, so always ask if the table is taken before you take a seat.
Order a beer the right way (and return that mug before you leave)
Yes, Oktoberfest is a festival, but even so there are etiquettes to be followed while ordering a beer. Know that each tent only offers one brand and most tents will serve a Märzenbier, which is a lager specially brewed for the fest and is slightly stronger than a regular German beer.
Beer is served in a Maß (pronounced as Mass) – a huge mug that contains a litre of beer. Prices are on Maß-basis. When you are ordering, always, always, ask for a Maß (Ein maß, bitte). It is also polite to clink the glasses with those sitting around you. Say ‘Prost’ when you toast and make sure you make an eye contact.
You will be required to pay for a deposit for the mug (Pfand) that is returned when you return the mug – which brings us to very important beer etiquette: Do not, and we repeat, do not steal the brewery mugs. It can get embarrassing if the with the security at the exit gate catches you sneaking out with one.
The beer mug sure makes for a great souvenir as a memory of your time at the fest, so purchase it from the many souvenir stalls at the fest, rather than sneaking out of the tent with a beer mug that belongs to the brewery.
The beer song
Oktoberfest is incomplete without the bands that play foot-tapping music, making people to stand on their tables and dance! But if there is one Oktoberfest tradition that you must do is learn a few lines to the essential beer song! ‘Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit’ is the most popular song that is played at regular intervals during the Oktoberfest. The ritual is to sing along the song, count to three and raise your beer mug, and then take a sip (thousands others in the tent will do be doing this every time the song plays).
The song is really catchy and after a few rounds of drinking to it, it will get stuck in your head for a week! I’m still humming it, as I write this!!
Experience the food
Oktoberfest is also a time for great food. Soon as you enter the fairground, the smell of caramelised nuts (mandelen) fills the air. At every corner you will also find a stall of ‘Lebkuchenherzen’, gingerbread cookies in heart shape. Lebkuchenherzen are typical of Bavaria region and are very popular in open air markets, especially around the time of Oktoberfest and Christmas markets. They usually hang from a ribbon and you would see girls wearing it around their neck.
Bretzels are typical accompaniments to beer, and at Oktoberfest you will find these bigger than the size of your head! Sure, Bratwurst and Schnitzels are popular specialities to try, but a crowd seller at the fest is the half-chicken – succulent, roasted to perfection and oh, so tasty!
Don’t miss the chocolate covered fruits. Strawberries, apples, bananas covered in chocolate are sure to give you food coma!