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10 Tips for Surviving Oktoberfest

Get in early, learn your lines, and don’t mess with the server. Here are our 10 tips for surviving Oktoberfest.

Munich’s Oktoberfest is one of the most hotly-anticipated events in Europe’s calendar with more than six 6 million visitors attending every year. In 14 big and 20 small tents, they consume almost 1.5 million gallons of beer and munch their way through over half a million chickens, 140,000 pairs of pork sausages, and 110 oxen. Oktoberfest is the epitome of German hospitality, but navigating the local customs while gulping beer for hours, can be quite a challenge. We have 10 tips for surviving the world’s largest folk festival.  – Wibke Carter

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Choose the Right Outfit

If you want to blend in with the locals, get over your shyness and buy or rent a traditional outfit. Women wear dirndls, a circular cut dress complete with apron and puffy short sleeves. Avoid buying dirndls hitting above the knee which is frowned upon and will expose you as a tourist right away. Men wear lederhosen, often in combination with suspenders, calf warmers, and Haferl shoes.  With alcohol, broken glass, and thousands of people in a confined space, this is not the occasion for fancy shoes, and solid footwear is the sensible choice. Dress appropriately for both inside and outside conditions as the tents get very hot the longer the day goes on, but you’ll hit the cold fall air once you leave in the evenings.

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Get There Early

If you think that the Germans are as punctual as the stereotype suggests … you’re absolutely right! Many tables in the most popular tents like Käfer’s Wiesnschänke get booked months in advance. There is no reason to panic if you haven’t done so yet. In 2013, the rules were renewed and gave more space for people without reservations. Some tents can sit up to 10,000 people, but you need to get there early to snatch a table. Tents open at 10 am during the week and at 9 am on the weekend. If you’re sleeping in, be prepared to queue for a long time.

PHOTO: Tommy Loesch/Munich Tourism
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Sharing Is Caring

Oktoberfest is all about Bavarian Gemütlichkeit. The long wooden tables are communal, so don’t hog a whole one for yourself and make new friends over gulping steins of beer. The locals even have a term for this: Wiesenbekanntschaft, which means “Oktoberfest acquaintance.” These new- found friends will also come in handy when you need a bathroom break as they can hold your seat or you might risk losing it if you have no table reservation.

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Drink Like a German

When ordering a beer, ask for a mass, not a stein ( actually called a Bierkrug in German). A mass is 1 liter of beer and the standard measure at Oktoberfest. Drinking an entire day without getting drunk (or going bankrupt) is quite a challenge, so make each mass last. Hold the beer glass by its handle, (with one hand if you can), clank at the bottom, and toast a cheerful “Prost!”.  It might take you a while to get through your glass, as the local wheat beer is strong stuff (up to 8%). Should your beverage get warm, it’s okay to tip it out, but never ever consolidate beer. If you need a break from beer, ask for a Radler (beer with lemonade) or alcohol-free sodas. At the end of the day, there will be plenty of Bierleichen, literally translated to “beer corpses,”, or the slightly nicer “sleeping drunks,”, found around the fairgrounds or on Kotzhügel (puke hill).

PHOTO: B. Roemmelt/Munich Tourism
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Don't Touch the Server

Once you’ve finally made it into the tent and to your seat, you can relax a bit as there is service with a dedicated server who looks after several tables. Order from her unless you’re standing, in which case, the windows by the kitchen is an alternative. Running around for hours, carrying up to eight full beer glasses and squeezing through tight crowds is a tough job. One of the worst things you could do is touch this person. Maybe you only want to get her attention, but don’t. Or she might turn into a Valkyrie and start yelling at you. To get into her good books, tip generously instead.  

PHOTO: Fottoo |
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Wear Your Dirndl Bow Correctly

Most people will let their hair down during Oktoberfest, and flirting is absolutely fine, if you follow some simple rules. Women who choose to wear a dirndl should know that the side on which the apron bow is tied has a special meaning. A dirndl bow to the right means the bearer is attached. If the bow is knotted on the left, it indicates the woman is single, and possibly open to a flirt. Widows and waitresses tie the bow at the back. Unlike on Facebook, “It’s complicated” is not a viable option, so make up your mind before donning the traditional dress. Any lederhosen bearer looking for a Wiesenbekanntschaft should stick to left- ribbon ladies to avoid trouble.

PHOTO: Tony Smith / Alamy Stock Photo
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Cash Is King

Entrance to the fairgrounds and tents is free, but you’ll need money for everything else from rollercoaster rides to food stalls. Although credit and debit cards exist, the Germans still like to pay mostly in cash in their daily lives. For Oktoberfest, this means that some places will accept credit cards, (often with a minimum spend), while others will insist on paper money. Bring plenty of cash as a mass of beer will set you back around 10.50 euros ($12.50 USD). There are some ATM’s on the grounds, alas with long queues. It’s very common to pay a small pfand (deposit) for glasses, plates, and silverware, thanks to the mass theft of “souvenirs” in the past. Upon returning the dishes, you’ll get your deposit back.

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Learn the Songs (Yodeling Will Work)

Since we don’t expect you to learn German just for Oktoberfest, singing is another way to bond closely with the locals. In fact, you won’t be able to ignore “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” which is played time and again. Why not simply learn the lines and join in? Every time the song is played, the whole tent, in unison, will chime “Ein Prosit,” then count 1-2-3, and finish with “G’suffa!” (meaning guzzle –the most important word to remember if you struggle with the lines) before taking a communal sip. Most tents play traditional Bavarian music, though there have been a number of unusual acts in the past such as a Japanese yodeling performer. If you’re into traditional Bavarian folk dance, head to the Herzkasperl tent.

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What to Do on a Break

Obviously, if you come to Munich during Oktoberfest, you should visit at least one– time allowing, twice is better. Spread your visit out over 3-4 days and explore the Bavarian capital and surroundings in the meantime. Munich boasts first-rate museums and galleries such as the Alte and Neue Pinakothek, the Deutsches Museum and Nymphenburg Palace. Get back to nature at the Englischer Garten, one of the world’s largest urban public parks, even larger than New York’s Central Park. Explore Marienplatz, the heart of Munich, with the town hall and other historical 19th century Gothic buildings. For a day trip, take the train to Füssen at the end of the Romantic Road and visit Germany’s most famous castle, Neuschwanstein.

Related Story: Beautiful Places on Germany’s Romantic Road

PHOTO: Werner Boehm/Munich Tourism
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Know When to Stop (or Where to Keep Going)

All tents close at 11:30 pm, and the last beer is served an hour before closing. At the same time, the music stops playing, lights are turned on, and the wait staff will begin to clear the tables. The only exceptions are in the Käfer’s Wiesnschänke tent and the wine tent, which are open until 1 am (last order at 12:30 am). Munich has an active nightlife for any “aprés Wiesn” partying. The P1 club holds one of the best after-Wiesn parties but is very popular and difficult to get into, and it requires adherence to a dress code.  Alternatively, finish with a visit to the traditional Löwenbräu Keller which resembles a real Oktoberfest beer tent (if you really haven’t gotten enough of beer mass, “Ein Prosit”, dirndls, and lederhosen yet).

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