Oktoberfest: the name synonymous with being drunk, but so, so much more than that. Oktoberfest isn’t just about chugging as much beer as possible (although there are a lot of people that do ensure that it continues to live up to that idea), it’s the largest folk festival in the world that is about Bavarian traditions and meeting other people. The festival began in October of 1810 when Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese. The public was invited to attend the horse races outside of the city gates, celebrating the marriage. This celebration became an annual event that eventually evolved into the festival we know today. In 1811, the agriculture show was added (which still occurs, held every three years). Seven years later the first rides were added and at the end of the 19th century the first beer tents came around.
Fun fact: Albert Einstein also help set up one of the beer tents in 1896. Fun game: see how many people at 11:30 pm can break down E=mc2 for you.
These days, more than 7 million people visit the festival each year. That means that each year around 7.5 million liters of beer (for my fellow Americans that's a whopping 2,034,125 gallons of beer being consumed in 16 days) sold, 500,000 fried chickens, and about 3,000 lost items are turned in (including cymbals, an electric wheelchair, and last year, a sick note to turn in work for the next day!).
Oktoberfest is one of the happiest place on earth, a place to meet hundreds of new friends and leave feeling beatific.
When is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest runs at a different time each year. This year, 2017, the festival began September 16th and ends this week on October 3rd. Next year, it will begin on September 22 and end on October 7. Yes, it is called Oktoberfest and yes, most of it happens in September. As the festival grew and the schedule expanded, the planners decided to move the schedule up in the calendar to ensure better weather for people attending (yeah, you still need to bring that light jacket though).
How do I get there?
Munich itself is a large airport, easily accessible by major airlines. You can also fly into nearby airports (Frankfurt, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague) and take the train over, but it’s probably easier and just as cost-effective to fly straight into Munich. From the Munich airport, you can take the S-1 or the S-8 directly to Hackerbrücke, the U-3 or U-6 to Goetheplatzal or Poccistraße, and the U-4 or U-5 to either Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhöhe. Make sure that you purchase your train tickets; they periodically check (in undercover clothes) and the fine is 60 euro if you are without a ticket. You can buy tickets before getting on the train. Or, you can download the MVV app and buy a ticket from the app.
What is there to do? Is it just drinking?
No! Admittedly, drinking does make up a large portion of the festival, but you can easily go there and have a good time without getting drunk or without drinking at all! There are 16 large tents and 22 smaller ones, giving to enough space for 119,000 people at a time. Each tent has different music, usually with live bands, that you can enjoy. Outside of the tents there are 143 different food and drink huts and 200 different rides. There are ferris wheels, bumper cars, haunted houses, roller coasters, everything you can think of. We even saw a 3D fun house which looked awesome! (The line was too long and we were too impatient). Most rides are 7-10 euro, but the bumper cars are a sweet deal at 3 euro per car.
Inside the tents, you will always see people that are abstaining from drinking or just taking a break. You can still have fun inside — with the bands playing and everyone dancing & singing along, it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself.
What if I don’t like beer?
Well….that’s just a shame. But, there are still options for you! Inside the beer tents you might want to try a radler, which is a shandy of beer and lemonade. It’s a very popular drink and as a beer lover, I hate it. Way too sweet for me! But if you prefer ciders/just hate the taste of beer, the lemonade does a good job at covering up the beer flavor. There are also two wine tents and in the carnival ride area there are liquor and wine stands where you can order some drinks. (You have to stay next to the stand though, you can’t walk around carrying a drink).
The beer served is actual Munich lager, meaning it truly was brewed locally.
How much money should I have? Are there ATMs?
Definitely get cash out before going to the festival. There are some ATMs near the entrance, but with usually very long lines, and you don’t want the ATM to run out of money! So I would recommend doing it beforehand. It can be difficult in Germany in general to pay with credit card, so just get cash out/exchange money when you arrive.
For the festival itself, it depends if you want to ride rides/how long you plan on staying/how much food you want to eat. I personally ate a lot of pretzels, and knew that I would, so I took 50-100 euro each day, depending on when we were arriving. Better safe than sorry!
What are the tents like? How do I decide? Do I need a reservation?
With 38 different tents, there are a lot of options at Oktoberfest. (By the way, “tents” is a very misleading term. I have thought for years that Oktoberfest would be this dirty festival in the middle of a field with flapping tents and drunks everywhere — the complete opposite! “Tents” means massive wooden buildings, sometimes two stories, each decorated differently inside, but adhering to Bavarian architecture). We visited four different tents during our three days there and my personal favorite was Hofbrau. It’s filled with flowers, ivy, and trees inside, making you feel like you are in a Bavarian countryside setting with 8,000 (check) of your happiest friends!
If you are planning to go in a big group, you should consider making a table reservation. You need 10 people to make a reservation. Table reservations can be done by calling the tents’ numbers or booking online. Reservations are done months in advance, as in they usually book up in January, so call as soon as you know your group is going. If you don’t make reservations and have a large group, the best time to go is during the week. Saturdays are so insanely crowded that you sometimes have to wait for hours before getting into a tent, even with only 2 people.
Inside the tents you have to be at a table to order a beer (or at least standing right next to one), so smile, squeeze yourself onto someone’s bench if they let you, and make friends!
What do I wear?
Ahhhh, the fun part of Oktoberfest! So, as a woman, I can only speak about the dirndl, but men can check out the lederhosen requirements here, from the stylish guys over at The Idle Man. And women, if you’re not into wearing a dress, there are lederhosen for women, too!
Do you have to wear a traditional costume? No, it’s not technically required, buuuttt you really should. Getting into Oktoberfest is free, a festival with no entrance tickets, so you can just consider a dirndl purchase as your entrance fee. (Okay, that’s a really expensive entrance fee, but it’s how I justified it in my head!) If you plan your trip months ahead, you can purchase a dirndl online for usually a bit cheaper than if you buy it in Munich. It can be hard to know your size though, so make sure you have time to send back/make alterations if necessary. AlpenClassics has some nice, decently priced dirndls to look through. If you decide to buy it in Munich when arriving, budget somewhere between 100-200 euro for a good quality one.
— Your dirndl should be tight. It is made to give you cleavage; even if you have nothing upstairs, a dirndl will give you cleavage. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right. Women with A-cups look like they have C’s in these things. When I say tight, I mean tight. If you can easily breathe, you need to go down a size (or two). I usually wear a 38, but bought a 36 dirndl and quickly realized that I should’ve shoved myself in a 34. I’m not saying make yourself dizzy from lack of oxygen, buutt maybe right on the edge.
— DO NOT wear one of those cheap-ass halloween costumes. A dirndl is traditional wear that is classy. Yes, it pushes up the ladies, but you should not also be showing leg. Dirndl’s come to around knee length; if you buy a halloween dirndl that is short not only does it come across as quite tacky, it’s just disrespectful to the Bavarian tradition. If you don’t want to buy a dirndl, you can rent one (although it’s only about 30 euro less, so not really worth it to me) or you can just wear regular clothing. There are a good amount of people at the festival that won’t be in outfits, so don’t fret over not dressing up — it’s just a lot of fun and adds to the experience! And if you're thinking about going next year, there are a lot of sales beginning right now, so you can purchase it ahead of time for much cheaper.
— Make sure to get the ribbon to pull your corset together. Depending on the store you purchase from it will either be in your pocket (yes, there is a secret pocket on the right side of the dirndl! Please sign my petition for making two pockets. A dirndl, with pockets!!!) or in a basket at the counter. The ribbon is a requirement for your dirndl! The ribbon starts at the top and goes down the corset. Tie it at the bottom and then cover the knot with your apron.
— Talking about aprons, where you tie your apron also matters! If you tie it on your left side it means you are single, in the middle means you’re a virgin (although you’re allowed to be single and be a virgin), on the right means you are taken/unavailable, and in the center of your back means you are widowed. Men actually check this and somehow remember what means what even after multiple liters of beer. And because I’m a nosy person, I also remembered what is what and caught myself looking at the apron of every woman we passed. I didn’t see anyone put their apron in the center except little girls, so I probably wouldn’t recommend doing that unless you’re reallyyyy vying for some attention. Just stick with left, right, back.
— Wear some nude pantyhose with your dress, or at least pack them in your purse. Even if it’s hot during the day, it can get chilly at night in Munich during this time and it’s nice to have a little extra warmth while walking home. I would just wear them the entire time because putting on pantyhose in the bathroom at Oktoberfest sounds like a real hassle…
— Bring a small purse that you can strap across your body. You definitely don’t want to lose your purse and you don’t want something so big that you can’t dance/squeeze yourself onto someone’s bench.
— Shoes are always a good question at Oktoberfest. Remember, you will be standing for hours at a time, possibly even all day without a break except when you go to the bathroom (no lie, I went to the bathroom a few times just to sit, without even actually having to go). I saw a lot of women in heels and I have absolutely no idea how they managed that. I wore lace-up boots, but I saw the majority of women in ballet flats; I have super flat feet and almost hate the idea of ballet flats more than heels, so I liked the extra support my boots provided.
Next year though I’m going for full out comfort and wearing sneakers. Ohh yeah.
What’s the white stuff everyone is snorting? Isn’t that like, illegal here?
Okay, so you’ve come in contact with Wies’nkoks, the black market drug of Oktoberfest. Except, you can buy it from the servers. And, there is nothing illegal or addictive in it. I’ve never snorted anything, but if I wanted the feeling of being Walt, without the issues of being Walt, I guess this is where I would go. Try the Wies’nkoks. It’s simply a mix of menthol and sucrose which is meant to rejuvenate your spirits after hours of standing and waiting and drinking and standing and dancing and waiting and drinking.
I didn’t try it, but did meet someone with it and my friends took a picture. Ah, maybe next year.