The ultimate first-timer’s guide to Oktoberfest
Six million visitors, seven million litres of beer, thousands of chickens, giant pretzels and grilled sausages… and a whole lotta lederhosen. September in Europe means one thing – it’s Oktoberfest time!
Just in case you’ve never heard of Oktoberfest before (doubtful), let us explain…
Oktoberfest is officially the world’s largest folk festival, held in a meadow on the outskirts of Munich, Germany. Spanning two weeks from mid September to early October, this year the festival starts on 19 September. And yes, we did say folk festival because there’s a whole lot of music, frivolity and traditional dancing. But more than that, Oktoberfest is about beer. Lots and lots of beer.
And how did it all begin?
The world loves a royal wedding, and Oktoberfest owes its existence to a royal matrimony back in 1810. This was the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.
For five days, the people of Munich ate, drank, danced, shot things and raced horses around a meadow on the edge of Munich, and had such a jolly old time they decided to do it forever after, at the same time every year. And thus, Oktoberfest was born.
FUN FACT: That meadow is the exact same site Oktoberfest is held on today. The meadow was named after Ludwig’s bride, the Theresienwiese, now shortened to “Wiesn”, which is just a short tram ride from Munich city centre.
Now let’s talk about the beer
All the beer you will drink at Oktoberfest comes exclusively from the breweries of Munich. Most people tend to stick to the lager like Helles beer, which goes down a charm. The trick to Oktoberfest drinking however, is to pace yourself. Half measures don’t exist; it’s a one-litre stein or nothing, so don’t go out all guns blazing on your first day and end up paying for it by mid afternoon. If you fancy a challenge, try lifting more than 2 (full steins) in one hand, then feel your pride instantly shrivel when you see a beautiful bar maid saunter past carrying up to 12 AT A TIME.
Not the biggest fan of beer? Ask for a Radler (beer with lemonade), or try out the Weinzelt, a wine tent where you can choose from over 15 different types of wine, including sparkling and champagne.
What’s the deal with all the tents?
First up we should probably make something clear, ‘tents’ isn’t a very accurate description for the 10,000 person capacity, 14 impressive (and very sturdy) wooden beer halls where most of the drinking, table dancing and um-pah-ing takes place. The Hacker tent is probably the rowdiest, whilst the red Hippodrom tent near the entrance is the hang out for the cooler cats of Munich. If you’re ready to tourist hard and want to be surrounded by your fellow Aussies and boozy Brits, the Hofbru tent is a popular choice, or if you want a bit more Bavarian authenticity, the Augustiner is more of a locals hangout. And if you can’t get a seat anywhere else? The Lowenbrau should be able to accommodate you.
And is it just drinking in tents?
Hell no! Oktoberfest, aside from its boozy reputation, is also a massive family occasion with some of the best fairground attractions and activities going. You could spend your days whizzing on rides called things like ‘Lightening from Hell’ and ‘Devil’s Wheel’, or you could sausage munch and candy floss nibble your way around some of the smaller tents, catching live bands or a show at the Puppet Theatre.
If you’re heading to Oktoberfest this week for the opening day, expect to see the colourful grand parade of carriages, floats and people in traditional (and sometimes strange) costumes winding through the streets of Munich on route to the festival.
And about the Lederhosen…
Traditional costume is in no way mandatory, but it is definitely a big part of the experience, and who doesn’t love a bit of dressing up (especially my fellow ladies; those dirndls are super flattering). Lederhosen are traditionally worn by the men, whilst for women the dirndl consists of skirt, apron and tight bodice. Hair braiding is also pretty popular. The locals spend (up to) thousands on their traditional Bavarian garb, but you can also pick up clothing for cheap in several shops in Munich, or buy in advance online.
Ladies, it’s also worth noting that how you tie your apron is actually saying something about your romantic availability. Tie it the right and it means your taken, but tie it to the left and it signals your single and ready to mingle…
Can I sit here? Darf ich mich zu dir sitzen?
A beer please! Ein Ma, bitte!
Oktoberfest is hands down one of the wildest European experiences you can do. If you’re going this year, well done you. And if you’re not, get on it for next year, with a ready-made Contiki crew.