The most wonderful time of the year is upon us here in Germany: Oktoberfest, which in spite of its name actually starts in the middle of September, and is tragically already halfway over.
If you're in the U.S., there are plenty of Oktoberfest celebrations all around, and I hear that the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in Canada is something to behold, but I humbly submit that if you haven't seen the real deal in Munich, you ain't seen nothin'.
Here's the part that wasn't clear to me before I went to Oktoberfest for the first time in 2006: It isn't just 14 giant beer tents and all the placemat-sized pretzels you can eat. It's also a roiling, rocking carnival the size of a small town. There are fun houses. There are tilt-a-whirls. There are those rides that crank you up a tower and let you free-fall for six stories while you try not to hurl. There are candied nuts and caramel corn and Schnitzel and Raclette cheese melted all over potatoes and also the front of your shirt. When you remember that on top of all that there are still those 14 beer tents, you begin to see why Oktoberfest in Munich has it all over those other Oktoberfests.
And oh, the beer. They'll serve it to you in a size smaller than a Maß (which is one liter) but if you order anything smaller you'll be mocked, so don't. You can also get Radler (half-beer, half-lemonade), water, and soda, but drinking those things is what all the other days of the year are for. Unless you're a recovering alcoholic! In which case the water and soda are great and Oktoberfest is probably not that fun for you! Waitresses your grandmother's age will be carrying eight or ten Maß at a time, which is impressive, considering that you'll think a single full Maß is pretty freaking heavy. Don't worry – it'll get lighter, just keep drinking.
Considering that each tent only serves the beer of one particular brewery, it may seem like a good idea to explore multiple tents. And it is! The beer, the crowd, and the decorations will all be different. It's important to note, though, that as soon as you notice that the tent you are currently in has become a madhouse, you should kill that exploring urge and stick with the tent you're in. This is because at a particular hour (drunk o'clock) the tents all get full, and security stops letting more people in, so once you leave the tent you're in you can't get into any tent. Stay where you are — it's a party!
Some lessons from Oktoberfests past:
1) Buy and wear a Dirndl or Lederhosen. You don't have to, but surveys show you have a lot more fun and take more group pictures with Italians if you do.
2) If passing your camera across a table, be sure the person you are passing it to has a firm grip on it before letting go. The opening of a one-liter beer glass is wide.
3) If you see a large German man eating something delicious (Münchener Weißwurst, for instance), order it immediately. Otherwise you'll order the only non-sold out meat on the menu, which will be Preßsack, which is headcheese, which will end badly for you.
4) Anytime the band strikes up a song, sing it loudly. It will nearly always be "Ein Prosit." They play this 80 times a day. Here are all of the words:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit
Don't worry if you can't read German; you'll figure it out and bellow along.
5) Every single time "Ein Prosit" is played, it ends with everyone saying, "Prost!" to each other and toasting. You must make eye contact and you must not have an empty glass.
6) If you do happen to have just drained your Maß, the elderly German gentleman at your table will tipple some of his beer into your glass so that you can prost each other properly. You'll thank him, and he'll ask where you're from, and he'll say, "America! I've been there! I was a prisoner of war in Texas in the '40s." And you will promptly need more beer!
7) There is a high likelihood that you will get black-out drunk by three p.m. and make out with an ugly Austrian man. You'll pause mid-makeout to stage whisper in your friend's ear, "He says he has a 14-year-old daughter!" You'll then return to sucking his face.
8) You'll remember none of this in the morning, and will scream, "I did WHAT?" when your friend reminds you of it in the Munich subway.
9) You'll have an insane craving for a Burger King bacon cheeseburger with mayo, without tomato, as soon as you leave the Oktoberfest grounds. It will take you three tries to order this burger, in spite of the entire order being in English, which is your native language.
10) You'll take two bites of this cheeseburger, realize you have to vomit, and stash it in your purse. After passing out, you will rediscover it at three a.m. and devour it, delighted with your drunken self's foresight.
And that, dear friends, is why you go to the real Oktoberfest.
Kelly D. lives in Frankfurt, Germany, which has a fairly decent one-tent Oktoberfest of its own. This will be her third Munich Oktoberfest.