Oktoberfest Survival Guide
Germany may be famous for many things, but possibly the most well known piece of German culture around the world is Munich’s premier beer festival, Oktoberfest. Saturday saw the opening of the 184th Oktoberfest, with revellers pouring into the Schottenhamel tent to watch the Mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, declare "O'zapft is!” or “It’s tapped” having driven the tap into the first beer barrel in just two attempts. From the Saturday until the 8th October, the beer will be flowing and the Blasmusik playing, while thousands of visitors come to pay their respects to the largest Feste in Germany.
With people arriving in Munich from around the world, there will no doubt be many wondering what to expect. As a veteran of German drinking culture and all day drinking sessions, I have decided to dedicate this blog to helping those of you travelling to Munich to withstand the madness of Oktoberfest.
Although Oktoberfest has no official dress code, any visitor will soon realise that Lederhosen and Dirndls are the preferred choice of attire. In isolation, leather shorts can seem a strange choice, but during any German Feste, they are everywhere. Wearing the traditional Bavarian costume was once out of fashion, today Lederhosen are the only choice for the discerning drinker. It is also worth noting that Lederhosen are no longer the sole preserve of men, with many women opting to wear them too, so do not be surprised to see a wide range of varieties while walking around. Dirndls are of course still worn, which brings us to an important point: watch out for where the bow of the Dirndl is tied. First time Dirndl wearers may want to check their bow as this is a subtle hint to the marital status of the wearer. Here is a quick overview:
Right Bow = in love, engaged or married
Left Bow = Single “Schleife links: Glück bringt’s!” or “Loop left, brings luck”
Tied in Front = Young women, children and young girls.
Tied Back = Widowed or possibly a waitress who would rather not be hindered by retying a bow every ten minutes.
For further advice, check out this excellent blog that covers the basics of the Dirndl bow.
Scumbags Need Not Apply
Of course, the secret code of the Dirndl does raise the question about how approachable those women with a left bow are. Years of inebriated men causing havoc have led to initiatives to promote a policy of “No means No” something that one would assume was self explanatory, yet still it needs to be stated. Sexual harassment comes in many forms and it is important that no matter how a Dirndl bow is tied, no woman visiting the Oktoberfest should have to put up with harassment. You can be sure that if anyone gets out of hand, they will be swooped on by the police in a matter of seconds. In addition, for those English speakers among the crowds, please be aware that English is one of the most spoken second languages in Germany and most people have an excellent grasp of it. You may think your weirdo comments are not being understood, until someone turns to you and in a crystal clear, non accented voice tells you to “Fuck Off”. You have been warned.
Drinking is clearly one of the main aspects of the Oktoberfest, but one of the easiest mistakes to make is assuming that drinking as many Maß Biers as possible is a good idea. Feste Beir is usually stronger, around 6-6.5%. Drinking litres of beer is great, but the effects can be...colourful. Take your time and do not become an early evening casualty, nothing says failure like passing out at a table. Even for those careful drinkers, note where the toilets are and how much they cost (50 cent to €1). Queues are common, especially for the ladies, so tactical drinking should be practised. Getting caught short is no laughing matter and once again, relieving yourself outside of the defined areas will certainly attract the attention of those nice police officers. Leaving the Oktoberfest drunk is one thing, leaving with urine stained trousers and a large fine is another.
At some point in the evening, it is not always clear when, you will find yourself standing on a bench along with everyone else, possible singing along to AC/DC. I’m a big guy and I have learned that understanding the creaking noises of a bench can be the difference between an enjoyable time and a face full of floor. They may seem sturdy and well built, but I have witnessed tables collapse and benches snap. Don’t get me wrong, it is really funny to see, but you do not want to be the one doing it. Weight limits are a real thing, so when the bench makes an unsettling cracking sound, move. Also, thanks to all the beer, you may find that you overestimate your ability to balance. German beer benches tip quite easily and once again the fall may look funny to onlookers, but it is no fun coming face to face with the wooden floor of an Oktoberfest tent.
Take a Ride
Among the beer tents and food stands you will find all manner of fairground rides, from dodgems, and Ghost Trains to full on roller coasters. If you are anything like me, these will become incredibly appealing after the fourth or fifth Maß. Take my advice, try them when you are sober. Exhilarating as high speed rides can be, that feeling soon dissipates when all the beer and all the pork you have ingested decides to make a reappearance. This goes double for any ride that spins. I have seen people lose the contents of their stomachs while spinning at warp speed, it gets messy. Like a disgusting Catherine Wheel.
If you follow these simple guidelines, I am sure you will have an excellent time should you visit Oktoberfest this year. Enjoy and remember, Prost!