Bavaria. Oktoberfest. Beer. Dirndls and Lederhosen. These are familiar words to the majority of people worldwide. Every year, Munich hosts the world’s largest and most famous Volksfest (folk festival) at the end of September called Oktoberfest.
It used to be held in October, hence the name Oktoberfest, but it was pushed back into a few weeks of September as the weather is better, thus rendering the experience warmer and more enjoyable for the festival-goer.
This year, the celebrations will run from tomorrow, 16th September – 3rd October 2017. I intend to visit on 30th September – 2nd October, I luckily found a flight from Berlin to Munich with AirBerlin despite them going down the pan. Even pilots have been calling in sick following its liquidation and the airline declaring debt of 150million euros. Just like Kaisers disappeared, so might AirBerlin. Sigh.
The reason I started this blog is to encourage people to become more language-curious and culturally aware. Every year there is negative press due to both internationals and locals getting rather merry on the strong beer which is served in 1-litre beer mugs, known as a Maß. Knowledge is power, therefore the more you know, the easier the experience.
Often we hear people referring to them as a ‘beer stein’. This is simply an English neologism for a beer mug made of stoneware as it was traditionally served.
Let’s dive into my novice Oktoberfest guide:
How not to look like a tourist
This is most likely one of the most searched things I would imagine. Apart from knowing that one song is “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” (a toast to cheer and good times), it can be useful to do some reading before attending.
Logic should come into play: don’t get too drunk, no fancy-dress outfits, no beer hats, no cliché attire or offensive behaviour. Did you think of the Dirndl-Schleife? Small, but important, details!
In terms of clothing, there is danger of being Fremdschämen (Fremdschämen is to feel embarrassed for someone else), if you look out of place. The alpine dress is traditional and is allowed to be worn, even by foreigners.
The most important thing is to avoid the cheap shops (or worse: fancy-dress shops) selling poorly-made Dirndls or Lederhosen. You don’t even have to wear traditional attire, some people often wear jeans. Take a look on Ebay Kleinanzeigen (especially in Munich) for local second-hand dresses and leather shorts. There are ways to get the traditional attire from shops locally, particularly from Julia Trentini for high-quality Dirndls and Lederhosen.
It may lead to rushing around on the day trying to find ideal shoes, or the blouse or the lederhosen – so be a good German and get some Ordnung in your life, preferably in good time.
I believe the risk of fremdschämen is inevitably high, especially if you’re from the UK or behave like someone who has not quite descended properly. If you plan your traditional outfit, you eat lots of food and drink water in-between the litres of beer, everything will be fine. Hauptsache you have an attempt at blending in, right?
Try some of these tips:
1) Dirndls should reach the knee at least – otherwise wait for comments
2) Dirndl blouses should be worn (it would look really weird without one, anyway)
3) Make sure your Dirndl-Schleife is positioned appropriately
4) Lederhosen should not be paired with hats with big glasses of beer on, Fremdschämen will be rife
5) Do not touch the waitresses or think you can chat them up
6) Enjoy yourself but also respect others
7) Tip your server to ensure you get served again
8) Eat the local food
9) Do not try to bribe the security team to get into the tents
10) Do not ask taxi drivers where the after-party is
Dirndl-Schleife positioning is important
Das Dirndl (note: neuter noun hence the ‘das’) is a traditional dress which includes a pinafore-style dress, an apron and a blouse which is cropped. I found there were plenty different colours, many seem to wear red or blue which are to be popular colours. The dress should be long enough – so you can dance on the tables, if that’s your thing. The blouse must be worn, as I mentioned before, and there are many different dirndl-blouse designs to choose from to customise.
The Dirndl-Schleife is the bow from the apron, which is tied around the dress itself. Its positioning of the bow should be taken note of: to the right means you’re in a relationship, in the middle means you’re a virgin (not sure whether this is controversial?!), and to the left means you’re single, and potentially open to getting chatted-up (also controversial, but NEVER means you’re asking for it). If you’re widowed or a waitress, the bow will be tied at the back.
We won’t discuss the dark side to the festival at this point, however safety is always a very important topic. Arrange a place to meet if you lose each other, stay together in groups, go to the bathrooms in twos, do not bring backpacks or any valuables, have the address to your hotel handy. More advice is available on the Wiesn website (see below). Respect each other, basically.
Finding a place to stay in the city can be close to a nightmare. Don’t ask me – my only advice is to book extremely early, try Airbnb for groups, Booking.com, find a hostel or if you’re up for camping then brave it. I, however, am not a camping person. So early booking it is.
The crazy thing is that a lot of places get booked up very fast, hotels charge what they like and even bavarians decide to leave the city for those weeks and rent out their entire flat. It’s obvious there is a lot of money to be made – so ensure to watch out for scammers.
When to go
As the festival runs from 16th September-3rd October, the obvious choice would be to go either right at the beginning to see the opening ceremonies, or the very end (sort of like Ibiza closing parties, right?). Getting a table at the Oktoberfest is notoriously difficult, so week-day visits are advised to avoid queuing for the tents. Once the tents are full, they stop letting people in. Unless you arrive early or work for a company which has reserved a huge table for a few grand, getting a seat may be a little arduous.
How to get there
The festival has 14 large tents, 20 small tents and multiple other food courts. see the Wiesn website to read their advice on journey planning for Oktoberfest.
Consider planning your trip with GoEuro to find out the most inexpensive route, the smartest route, the fastest route…you get the idea. Depending on where you’re traveling from or how you want to travel, you can check out which method of transport works for you: be it flying, taking the ICE train or a bus. I booked my ticket to Cologne this way and I found it gave a much clearer overview compared to the DB website.
Are you going to Oktoberfest this year? How will you tie your Dirndl-Schleife? Do you avoid this festival like the plague? Let me know in the comments or follow the feed on the Facebook page.