Oh Oktoberfest, where do I even begin. Before we get into our first timer’s guide to Oktoberfest, let’s begin with the easy stuff – the part where it all began.
P.S.: Please excuse the incredibly poor quality of these photos, I wouldn’t dare bring a proper camera to this shin dig with my history of cracking every nice thing I own.
Alex + 4 steins + iPhone = the following blurry photos.
HISTORY OF OKTOBERFEST
So how did the largest beer festival in the world, bringing over 6 million people to Munich annually, get it’s start? Let’s take it back to the year 1810.
Bavaria’s Crown Prince, soon to be King Ludwig I, was due to marry Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Munich’s citizens were invited to celebrate in a grand royal ceremony topped off with horse races, music and dancing.
Held on the expansive meadow in front of the city gates on October 17th, the first Oktoberfest gathering commenced. To later honor the new Queen, the meadows where Oktoberfest is still held today was thereafter named Theresienwiese. Today, locals simply call it “Wies’n.”
To celebrate the anniversary of the couple, another public gathering was held at Theresienwiese the following year. The festivities continued year after year and by 1896, beer stands were replaced by tents, horse races were replaced by fairgrounds and the Oktoberfest we know today began to take shape.
Let’s Begin: First Timer’s Guide to Oktoberfest
Fast forward to the year 2016 where my Oktoberfest story began. I was in the midst of a 3 month solo Europe backpacking trip when I realized I booked Oktoberfest accommodations for the wrong weekend.
TIP #1: The dates for Oktoberfest change every year.
Don’t be like me, make sure you’re looking at the current years dates. And no, Oktoberfest does not start in October. To make the festivities more comfortable for attendees, the gathering was moved to September’s milder temperatures.
TIP #2: Where to Stay for Oktoberfest
Thanks to some travel friends I had met in Prague a couple weeks prior who took me under their wing (and their Airbnb), my Oktoberfest extravaganza was saved.
Note, prices for accommodations skyrocket during Oktoberfest. The hostel dorm that normally costs €20, now it’s up to €80. The key here is to book as early as possible. If you’re going with a group, your best bet is an Airbnb.
On the opening day of Oktoberfest, I checked out of the hostel and hopped on the metro to meet my friends at their Airbnb before heading off to the fairgrounds. While everyone else on the train clad in traditional Bavarian outfits got off on the stop closest to Oktoberfest, I thought I could take the train to the very next stop where their Airbnb was. Oh, was I wrong.
TIP #3: The Metro Runs Differently on Opening Day
It was 7 in the morning, coffee consumption was to a minimum, when all of a sudden the train came to a complete stop. In between literal cement. Best part? The only soul around was a drunk German man who didn’t speak a lick of English. I attempted to communicate with him asking why the train stopped. All he could say was, “Train” and “Stop.” Helpful dude, helpful.
I thought, this is fine. Everything is fine. The train had to start back up again… right?
10 minutes in, nothing.
15 minutes in, drunk German man starts singing. Still no train movement.
20 minutes in, frantically turning my phone on and off to get some sort of signal.
35 minutes in, and I see the conductor walking through the train. Hallelujah!
Ignorantly I believed, oh good! Maybe the conductor can let me know what the hell is going on, I bet he speaks English. L.O.L.
TIP #4: Don’t Piss Off the Grouchy German Train Conductor
Instead, the conductor rushed into our cabin and began yelling in German (a lethal combo), while I sat there like the dumb tourist I was. As hard as I tried to maintain my composure, the stress tears unleashed from their holding pin in a giant, muddled swoosh down my cheeks.
So there I was, dressed in my Oktoberfest garb, sitting on a train between cement while the last text my friends received from me was, “I don’t know what’s happening, the train stopped. All I see is cement and the only person here is a drunk German man who doesn’t speak English.” Settling.
I’ve never been so relieved in my life until I heard that train start its engine about 45 minutes later. That is until it pulled into a completely empty train station save for the 3 German police officers waiting for me. I should mention now, I forgot to buy a train a ticket.
I thought I was done for it. I broke the rules in Germany. They’re going to lock me up in an Oktoberfest prison.
I quickly wiped away any remaining tears and braced myself for the worst. Leading the pack was a very stout, blonde lady cop, “Wohin willst du gehen?”
Word vomit spewed from my mouth, “I’m so sorry I only speak English. Do you speak English? I thought this train was going to the next stop, I’m trying to meet my friends at their Airbnb and I don’t know what to do, the conductor yelled at me, I’m so sorry, please take pity on this dumb American. Help. S.O.S.” So much for maintaining any semblance of composure.¯\_(ツ)_/¯
TIP #5: German Cops Are Friends, Not Foe’s
This is when the lady cop explained in perfect English that the trains run on different schedules for the opening ceremony of Oktoberfest. Then detailed which way I needed to go and stood with me at the metro station to ensure I got on the correct train. I wish I could have sent that policewoman a giant fruit basket. Or a keg of beer.
THE DAY IT ALL BEGINS: OKTOBERFEST OPENING DAY & CEREMONIES
Once you’ve tackled your route to Oktoberfest, and hopefully done a tad more gracefully than myself, you’ll be in for a treat. Although opening ceremony is much like the other days of Oktoberfest, you’ll want to be armed with some additional information:
- While most will say to be inside a tent by 8am, we arrived around 9:30am and were able to find room at a table. Mind you though, there were only 3 of us and we grabbed some of the last open spaces in the entire tent.
- You’ll be waiting around for a long time before that first sip of beer. Alcohol cannot be served until the mayor taps the first keg at noon.
- But this doesn’t mean you can just sit at a table and chill. If you’re sitting down at a table you must order something per Oktoberfest etiquette.
- Order a traditional opening ceremony drink before noon, a mixture of a Coke like soda with a hint of lemon juice. It’s to “prevent a hangover.”
- Or if you’re hungry, which you should be after waking up absurdly early, order some food off the menu to give your belly a good foundation before the drinking commences.
- However, be forewarned, if you order the white sausage please know how to eat it properly.
- Even if you don’t make it inside the Schottenhamel tent where the mayor ceremoniously taps the first keg, don’t fret. Every tent will have it’s own ceremony equipped with a live band that parades to the bandstand in the middle of the tent.
THE BEST OKTOBERFEST TENTS
We planned on making it to more than the 2 tents during our weekend at Oktoberfest. But the funny thing is, nothing really goes to plan at Oktoberfest. Once the steins keep coming, buckle up your seat belt and enjoy the ride folks.
Every tent at Oktoberfest has it’s own vibe. We didn’t know it then, but the two tents we ended up spending our entire time at turned out to be the most popular ones, although vastly different in their own ways.
DAY 1: OPENING CEREMONY @ THE AUGUSTINER TENT
Beer available: Augustiner-Festhalle & Fischer-Vroni
It was raining, it was cold and there was not enough coffee consumed that morning. So after doing a couple loops around the fairgrounds trying to scout out a tent for opening ceremony day, we finally said f it and randomly chose Augustiner.
Finally the Oktoberfest gods were on my side because this could not have been a more perfect tent to experience our first Oktoberfest. By the time we got in around 9:30am it was packed. We circled around, zig-zagged through reserved tables before finally seeing some open seats at a table of kids who looked about our age.
As a rule of thumb, always ask the people already sitting down if those seats are taken. And hope that they speak English. Thankfully the group said to go ahead, take a seat. We were in!
Turns out Augustiner is one of the more local oriented tents, as evident by the group we sat next to and the older Bavarian native crowd surrounding our table. But this turned out to be a godsend in our Oktoberfest newbie-ness. As the day progressed and beer was guzzled, the kids at our table took our little American selves in and adopted as as one of their own. Okay maybe not one of their own but they did buy me a photo keepsake and prevented a huge mishap involving a white sausage.
Augustiner is one of the few tents where beer still gets tapped from traditional wood kegs. Even furthering the tradition, Augustiner beer comes from Munich’s oldest brewery founded by Augustinian monks back in the year 1328. These monks were brewing beer before the thought of my entire country even existed!
DAY 2: GETTING ROWDY @ THE HOFBRäU HAUS TENT
Beer available: Hofbräu Festzelt
I went to a university notorious for its party scene. Whether you wanted to or not, you left with an additional diploma of an uncanny ability to handle alcohol. I thought I had seen everything during my college days. But then I went to Hofbräu Haus.
Let’s circle back real quick before explaining the things that went down here. The Hofbräu Haus tent is big, like I’m talking almost 10,000 attendees big. It’s a traditional tent with the same reserved seating you find at every other tent, except Hofbräu Haus has the addition of a standing room only center section. Since we didn’t get to the festivities till later in the day, we edged our way to this area.
This is where the drastic differences from the Augustiner tent the day before became immediately apparent. While Oktorbest has about 15% international visitors, you’ll find the majority of them at Hofbräu Haus. Especially Aussie’s and Kiwi’s. If I learned anything about Australia during my time backpacking Europe is that the kids in Straya are savage and know how to party like it’s the last rager in the world. I’ll just dabble in some of the things we witnessed at Hofbräu Haus:
Example A: Girl starts macking with a Kiwi dude at our table, girl proceeds to vom all under the table, girl turns back around and continues tongue dancing with same Kiwi dude.
Example B: Kiwi dude was on his honeymoon… his wife back at their hotel.
Example C: Poor beer maiden comes without missing a beat to lay sawdust over girls throw up. This just so happens to be a very, very common occurrence. (P.S. Adidas makes shoes just for Oktoberfest that are, wait for it… vom resistant.)
Example D: Then all of a sudden these Aussie’s and Kiwi’s start pulling out white vials of powder and start snorting that shit right then and there!
In complete bewilderment I frantically start looking around to see if there’s any security watching but only to spot people over there, and wait over there too! Everywhere people are snorting this stuff! Turns out snorting mint is a thing here.
And if you’re wondering, no it is not fun to snort mint up your nostrils. 10/10 do not recommend.
To get an idea of the other tents, check out this guide by Business Insider. Although why Business Insider is writing about Oktoberfest is beyond me.
HOW NOT TO PISS OFF YOUR BEER MAIDEN
Probably the most important tip of all is to NOT PISS OFF YOUR BEER MAIDEN. She is your goddess during your time in the tent. Treat her kindly and do not wave money in her face. These women are are your saving grace. They are your link to the beer, the food, the everything that Oktoberfest is. They also train for months to carry massive amounts of beer…on their boobs. You don’t want to mess with that.
- Do not yell for the beer maiden. She has a carefully crafted serving route. You may have to wait awhile but she will come to your table.
- Tip well, tip often. About 2 euros per drink. Don’t tip well and that carefully crafted serving route may change and your table is bumped to the end.
- Especially, never grab your waitress. Ever.
- Know what to order before she gets to your table. We’re in Germany y’all, it’s all about efficiency.
WHAT TO WEAR TO OKTOBERFEST
OKTOBERFEST ATTIRE FOR WOMEN
Before heading off the opening ceremonies I had already decided against getting a dirndl, the traditional Bavarian dress for women. I was backpacking Europe and absolutely did not need another article of clothing in my already bulging pack.
But I still wanted to dress up a bit for the occasion so I purchased a black top similar to the white bodices worn under the dirndls and accessorized it with knee high stockings, put my hair into two braids, and bought a plaid fabric choker necklace. And let me tell you, I felt damn out of place. Especially at Augustiner were I’d say 85% of the people were dressed in dirndls and lederhosen.
After a couple steins in, I walked by a table of all German men. One looked me up and down and mockingly yelled something in German, followed by a clear, “POCAHONTAS!”
Before I knew it I had stopped dead in my tracks feeling pretty feisty from the beer, glared at the man and sternly raised my voice, “Excuse me, want to say that again?” The man looked a bit shook that I was speaking him to like that but apologized and said he thought I was from there. I’d like to think I won that one.
So the next day, after a couple beers with our lunch (starting to see a theme here?) we stopped by a traditional clothing store so my friends could look at lederhosen. While they were trying some on, I figured why not get into one of these dirndl things for giggles. Well that was a mistake.
As soon as I laced it up, I was smitten. I felt like a true Bavarian, my ancestors would be proud. The mere 65 euro price tag tempted me further. Then a lady who worked at the store popped out of nowhere and exclaimed in a very heavy German accent, “Oh no no no! You need smaller!” and selected a size twice smaller than the one I had grabbed.
Apparently it’s not enough for it to be tight around the tata’s. The right dirndl is one you can barely breathe in and allows your lady assets to completely burst out of your bodice. Who needs a push up bra when you have dirndl on hand.
I should also note for all the ladies out there, the bow position on the apron is dictates your marital status:
- Left Side – Single and ready to mingle!
- Right Side – You can look but you can’t touch, this lady is taken!
- Middle – This is for younger women and children and represents a sort of piety if you will.
- In Back – Sadly this means the woman is a widow.
OKTOBERFEST ATTIRE FOR MEN
Repeating history in a true facepalm, men have it pretty easy. While lederhosen aren’t the most comfortable of clothing articles, it’s nowhere near the literal breath taking of the dirndl. Although it is quite a bit smellier. Tradition says you must never wash or clean your lederhosen. But I say be a rebel and clean that thing. You’ll understand the complete filth of an Oktoberfest once you attend.
If you don’t feel like hashing out the significant $$$ for these leather trousers, opt for a plaid shirt and you’ll still blend in very well with the crowd. If you’re feeling extra fancy, pair it with an alpine hat and knee-high socks.
Some Germans are all about tourists and locals alike dressing up in their traditional garments. Then there are others, typically those who are actually from the Bavarian region, who openly despise those who trespass on their traditions. Moral is, wear whatever the heck you want to.
ALL THE ADDITIONAL OKTOBERFEST TIPS & ETIQUETTE YOU’LL EVER NEED
- Golden Hour is from 7:30 – 10:00 pm, this is where everyone is feeling real good after guzzling down a few steins. It tends to go downhill after the clock strikes 10.
- Besides on opening day, get to a tent about an hour before you want start drinking in order to find a seat.
- That said, you will not be served by the beer maiden unless you have a seat at a table or room at a standing table.
- However that doesn’t mean sit anywhere you’d like though. Do not sit at a reserved table unless invited. Typically the reserved tables are positioned on the outskirts of the tent.
- If you order the white sausage, you best know how to eat it properly so as not to look like a fool. (Hint: Peel of the skin off first).
- Prost! = Cheers! And do so while toasting with the bottom of the glass, not the top.
- Hold a stein with one hand, and one hand only. Slide your hand through the handle with your thumb poking out on the top. Yes, I left Oktoberfest with a bruise on my hand from holding beer.
- Don’t chug, you’ll get kicked out.
- Especially don’t act a fool and chug your stein while standing on the table. This a double no no.
- Although DO feel free to stand on the benches. This is especially encouraged during songs and chants.
- Tradition says for a guy to leave a finger width of beer at the bottom of the stein. For girls it’s two fingers.
- If anyone is wondering, my personal stein limit is 4.
- They only accept cash! Come prepared. (Tip: Your dirndl probably as pockets! Bless!)
- Be prepared to spend some major mula, especially if you’re going for the opening ceremony. Etiquette says that while you’re taking space at table, you must be drinking or ordering something whether that’s beer or food.
- A stein of beer will you cost you around 12-13 euros including a tip and food ranges anywhere between 10-18 euros. And trust me, you want to tip. The goal here is to make your beer maiden like you.
MORE THAN JUST BEER
Yes, you can buy drinks other than beer here. Word is you can find wine and cocktails in the little stands outside the tents. Although to be honest, I never noticed them. You may have to go on a bit of a scavenger hunt, but they do exist.
I was also told we rode bumper cars after our time inside Hofbräu Haus. Had to verify that with my friend before adding that here though. Oktoberfest does things to you.
There’s also incredible food at Oktoberfest, something you’d never expect from a beer festooned fairground. Although I sadly never got the chance, it’s said that the chicken is the bomb.com. Order it and let me know how much I missed out on that one.
SO IS OKTOBERFEST WORTH IT?
Yes. A million times yes. There will always be people saying, “Oh well X has a way better, more authentic Oktoberfest blah, blah, blah.” But you know what? I had a damn good time in Munich for Oktoberfest and I would gladly go back.
Granted that may change as a get older and the amount of steins I can handle dwindles. Regardless, if you ever have the opportunity go to an Oktoberfest in Munich, go. And hopefully this first timer’s guide to Oktoberfest will prepare you for what is to come. Hopefully.
For those few days it’ll be one of the best times you’ll never
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