Oktoberfest in Munich is perhaps Germany’s best-known event.
The three week festival sees Germans and tourists alike donning their finest tracht (lederhosen for the men, and dirndls for the women) and spending their days, nights and all their money drinking beer, eating pretzels and dancing in giant tents.
You couldn’t make it up.
The thing is, most Germans from elsewhere in the country haven’t actually been to Oktoberfest – something I learned when living in Bavaria for a year.
As any intrepid Germanophile would I, naturally, bought myself a dirndl and was keen to whizz down on the train to Munich from my small town in upper Franconia (in the north of Bavaria, but don’t call Franconians Bavarians) to join the party.
My German friends and flatmates – students from both nearby and further afield in Germany – were surprised I was bothering. They certainly never had.
Why? Because Oktoberfest is as much for tourists as actual Münchner, and there are plenty of lesser known beer festivals across the country all year long – ones that aren’t packed with foreign louts.
That’s not to say it’s not worth experiencing Oktoberfest, but if you do take the plunge, there are certain things you should know.
It will be busy
Over the course of three weeks, more than 7 million people pack themselves into 14 large tents and 20 small ones at Oktoberfest.
If you’re going at a weekend, be prepared to go early if you want to get into a tent (which you do), and you’ll probably still have to queue – when I went, I found myself clutching a cup of tea at 7am on a train into the city centre. My German peers, however, were all on the beer already. They go hard.
The second weekend of Oktoberfest is known as Italian weekend because this is when Italian tourists typically descend on the festivities – this may be a reason to avoid or attend, depending on your preferences.
It’s called Wiesn
No one from Munich calls Oktoberfest “Oktoberfest”. They call it the Wiesn. The reason for this is that Oktoberfest takes place south-west of Munich city centre on the so-called Theresienwiese (a flat, fairground area). Pronounced “veez-un”, don’t mark yourself out as a tourist by looking confused when you hear it.
You need to look the part
Don’t be the person who turns up in a chequered shirt and brown trousers and think that’ll pass for lederhosen. It won’t. And you will both look and feel like a fool. Good quality tracht can cost a small fortune, and if you’re only planning on visiting once, obviously you don’t want to increase the cost of what will already be a costly trip by dropping €200 (£180) on lederhosen or a dirndl.
You can find outlet stores offering cheaper options both in Munich and online. But whatever you do, don’t get a cheap, fake, fancy dress all-in-one dirndl – it should consist of at least three parts (dress, blouse and an apron). Where you tie the bow of your dirndl is of the utmost importance too – tie it on your left side if you’re single, tie it on the right if you’re coupled-up, or tie it in the middle if you’re a child.
Sing ‘Ein Prosit’
Yes, there will be oompah bands, and yes, there will be cheesy classics like Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’. But there’s one ditty you’ll hear more than anything else at Oktoberfest, and you need to know the words to sing along.
It goes like this: “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit. Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit. EINS! ZWOA! DREI! G’SUFFA!” Learn the tune and the pronunciation here:
It’s played every 20 minutes or so and ends with everyone taking a hefty swig of their beers. Natürlich.
Go for the parade
On the first Sunday of Oktoberfest, there’s a traditional costume parade, which is fantastic to watch – this is where you’ll see what tracht should really look like (there won’t be a mini-skirt dirndl in sight).
This year the parade kicks off at 10am on 23 September.
Prepare to spend a fortune
Aside from the money you’ll spend on accommodation and travel, Oktoberfest is a pricey day out. This year, the cheapest beer you’ll find in a big tent is €11.10 – it’s the first year prices for a maß have risen above €11.
A maß is the name for the litre glasses in which the beer is served, and the correct etiquette for holding one is not to clutch the handle, but to slip your hand through the hole and wrap your fingers round the main body of the glass.
If all that sounds like an expensive and stressful experience, consider skipping Oktoberfest altogether and going to a smaller beer festival elsewhere in Germany – they’re less touristy, more affordable, more authentic and just as much fun.
Freising Volksfest – just outside Munich, this charming town is worth a visit during its Volksfest, which takes place in early September.
Erlangen Bergkirchweih – head north in Bavaria to Erlangen, a town whose annual festival takes place from 6 June to 17 June 2019.
Munich Kocherlball am Chinesischen Turm – while not exactly a beer festival, there’s still beer, dancing and tracht involved at the Kocherlball, which takes place for one morning in July in Munich’s English Gardens.
Find hotels close to Oktoberfest
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