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 will see the opening of the 185th 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 beer tap into the first barrel. From this Saturday until the 7th 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.
Every year, the price of a Maß or litre of beer goes up by roughly 50 cent and every year the whole of Germany complains about it. Although the concept of inflation is hardly a surprise, the German preoccupation with the price of a Maß is now one of the many traditions observed at Oktoberfest. Expect to hear many complaints, while those of you from London or the US will celebrate that fact that the beer prices are so cheap. Annually, journalists and fear mongers predict the turn out will be impacted by the price of beer, but the doom-mongers rarely get it right.
We All Know What You Said
English is the third most spoken language behind Spanish and Chinese and so it should not be too much of a surprise that if you are an English speaker, most people will understand what you are saying. This is not an excuse not to learn some basic German phrases before you visit Oktoberfest, but more a warning. Given that the majority of people will understand you, try not to say something you will regret. It makes us all look bad if keep shouting “Don’t mention the war!” at the top of your lungs.
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 and sweat inducing choice, but during any German Feste, they are everywhere. Wearing the traditional Bavarian costume was once out of fashion, but today Lederhosen or Dirndl 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 hopping from tent to tent. 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. Since 2016, the laws regarding sexual harassment have been strengthened, with support for girls and women offered at a dedicated security point within the festplatz. 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.
We Have an Eye on You
Given Germany’s previous history of state surveillance, it’s no surprise that people are conflicted when it comes to monitoring through complex security networks. This years Oktoberfest will see the introduction of a new type of surveillance, that of the “Super-Recogniser” or police officers with a higher than average facial recognition ability. These officers will be able to operate on foot and via the traditional security camera system and track targets even when they are among large crowds. Although the name may sound like a bargain basement super hero, the Super-Recognisers will not be issued with capes or wear their underwear on the outside…probably.
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 (and ever vigilant) police officers. Leaving the Oktoberfest drunk is one thing, leaving with urine stained trousers and a large fine is another.
Otto von Benchmark
At some point in the evening, it is not always clear when, you will find yourself standing on a bench along with everyone else, possibly singing along to AC/DC. I’m a big guy and I have learned that listening for 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 at a moments notice. 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.