Monday, September 26, 2011


The Rules of Oktoberfest

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.

Photo by Losevsky Pavel, via Shutterstock

55 Comments / Post A Comment


11. Everybody looks stupid dancing the polka, which means nobody does. Prost!


I don't drink so I don't know about the rest of it, but raclette is the shit.

Unaccompanied Lady

I was in one of the big tents in Oct 1989, in the extremely brief period when East Germans were both numerous and cool. One handed me some nasty East German skunk weed, I smoked it and immediately vomited into the garbage can next to me. Prost!

Edith Zimmerman

@Unaccompanied Lady I read that as "I was born in one of the big tents in 1989." Which means nothing other than I can't read very well! Prost!


I wish I read this when I was 20, single, and had disposable income. Now I'm married, with a mortgage, a baby on the way and I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!

That scene looks like something out of my dreams.

New Hoarder

Drunken Italians everywhere, yes. It's amazing!

Jane Err

My Dirndl needs a good wearing. Oktoberfest! Prost! Eins, Zwei, G'Suffa!!

Feminist Killjoy

wait why didn't you tell me this stuff before oktoberfest ended?


@Rosemary It's not quite over yet -- October 3rd is the last day!


This almost made me weep with nostalgia!

Another good rule of thumb: dancing on the benches is a-okay, but you will get in trouble for dancing on the tables! And you might fall and rip your jeans, the only jeans you brought on a six month backpacking adventure. And then people in the UK will make fun of you for talking about ripping your pants because pants means something different there.


@missvancity This is why you wear a dirndl. Full range of motion for table dancing!


@Yahtzii Security guards came and yelled at me! I'm convinced that's why I lost my balance and fell. It had nothing to do with the 5 litres of beer I'd consumed!!


@missvancity not only "a-okay" but strongly encouraged--and, in my experience, starting no later than approximately 11 AM.


My husband just flew to Frankfurt today on business. I've got crazy stuff going on at my own job right now, so I couldn't join him. Goddammit.


@Kivrin But not so crazy that you're here!


@melis Ha, no—mostly later this week with an offsite conference. Today is the calm before the storm. :)

Justine Garrett

The happiest I have ever looked in my life: Oktoberfest on my 20th birthday, holding in a liter of Lowenbrau and a pretzel. Thanks for stirring up my nostalgia, Kelly!


@Justine Garrett I was twenty when I went for the first time! Love that place.


Zieh! Zieh! Zieh!

Porn Peddler

My bestest feminist friend is an Au Pair in Munich right now and she is not a major beer drinker but I bet she has had so much delicious beer :( Also she looks super super cute in a dirndl.

New Hoarder

@Third Wave Housewife When I went I was 17 and still turning my nose up at alcohol (oh how wrong I was!!!). I have to tell you, I am definitely planning on going again one day and getting smashed, but to experience Munich's Oktoberfest as a frightened, sober teenager is a truly wonderful experience!


In retrospect, I'm beyond proud of myself for basically learning all of this. While on crutches, with a broken ankle from a mishap on the journey to Munich. And Weißwurst - so frakkin' delish. Also, I'd like to add ...

12) You will inevitably run into people you know from not-Munich, you will have long drunken conversations with them, and years later they will bring up how you saw each other in Germany and you'll say "We did?"


@shelleycerata While on crutches? I'm impressed.

I haven't had experience #12, but on Saturday I did try to play matchmaker for a couple of Germans I'd just met through hollering at the girl, "If you don't date this guy, I WILL," and also came home with a business card and a New York State Courts patch I'd acquired from an ex-cop-turned-lawyer. As one does.


@thisexactly Just wait, it'll happen. I can tell you from experience that there is an excellent orthapedic group at one of the hospitals in Munich (it was very pretty and very old, but that's about all I remember about it) and there are some SERIOUSLY hot doctors working there. I had some good friends with me, and they all kept leaving the tents and coming to visit me as I got my cast on and fitted for crutches suspiciously often. It was like a Calvin Klein model shoot in that hospital.

Liz A Bear

@shelleycerata I totally ran into a bunch of friends from college! It was so random and also magical.

Legs Battaglia

i'm going on wednesday! to munich! to oktoberfest! now i know what to expect!


You may have just convinced me I should experience this after all :D.


@whimseywisp Yes yes, go! It's such a good time.


YAAAY oh man I had the best time at Oktoberfest. My rules are:

1. Go with a German, so he can guide you through everything when you're drunk and don't speak the language
2. Bring your own TP and try not to break the seal within the first hour of being there. The lines for the bathrooms are a nightmare.
3. Don't have a horrible head cold.
4. Going out after is the beeest! Everybody is sloppy drunk and all the tall blonde boys in their lederhosen dance on the bars to horrible house music.

Tragically Ludicrous

Oh man! I'm in the Netherlands and I was trying to convince my Bavarian friend to take me to Oktoberfest, but then she got behind on her thesis and won't go. :P I should have signed up for the weird "group tour" that my Australian friend is doing, even if it does involve camping. UGH. Next year!


Ein bier, bitte.


Zicke zacke zicke zacke hoi hoi hoi!


Yowza. This article inspired to do a quick google search, and now Oktoberfest will be coming to my house shortly! https://www.bavariasausage.com/shop/products.php?product_id=625&storecategory_id=32 Off to find some gluten-free beer!!


Was the elderly German prisoner of war interred at Marfa? Because that would be all kinds of crazy.


@laurel You know, he didn't actually mention just where he was interred. Could be!


@thisexactly: I picture former German interrees going back now to the same buildings where they were forced to make munitions for the Allies and being all, WTF?

krugmanic depressive

@laurel "These are not the specific objects I recall"...


I've never been to the Oktoberfest, but I had the distinct pleasure of encountering a guy whose first language was not English wearing a shirt that read "Will Fuck For Coke" at the Bad Dürkheimer Wurstfest. (Which, despite its name, is actually a wine fest where they serve wine in pint glasses PROST!)
I miss Germany.


I wanna gooooo! I went to a couple of small bierfests during my month in Germany, and man. So fun. And messy. Germans know how to party.


Dude the horses hanging from the ceiling of the tent!! Ok that does it. I am making a vow to do this before I am 40 - which gives me 5 years.


I WANT TO GO I WANT TO GO!!! GOD I LOVE BEER. Actually, I want to go ANYWHERE besides the US... please God?

abby normal

Long-time stalker, first-time poster just to say: I live in Frankfurt! I was certain no Hairpinner could possibly live in the Vaterland, but does this mean a Frankfurt Pin-Up could be arranged?


@abby normal There can be a Pin-Up for at least two of us, anyway!

abby normal

@thisexactly even if I have willingly avoided Oktoberfest in München despite all the lures? Of course, a meet-up will have to involve massive amounts of beer, but I prefer less claustrophobic-y venues that don't reek of mansweat (please, what is up with Germans not wearing deoderant? WHY.) and are appropriately priced. And actually, I lied. I live in Darmstadt, but I do work in Frankfurt! Where do Americans go in Frankfurt? I have only been here for a little over a year and am sadly uneducated about local hang-outs. The extent of my social life is lunching and gyming with coworkers and tag-alongs with the German bf and his friends (sob). Take me to the Americans!


@abby normal Avoiding Oktoberfest is forgivable! (Even if the stinky claustrophobic feeling tends to vanish as soon as you've downed a couple Maß, IMO.) BO here is the WORST. And okay, Darmstadt's not far! I say this in spite of not having been during the two years I've lived in FFM (though in 2007 I visited a buddy who was living there while I studied abroad). There are lots of Americans around FFM, though not so much any particular places that they are always at (uh, scratch that -- there are ALWAYS Americans at Waxy's toward the end of weekend nights). But there are also weekly meetups around the city -- Monday nights in Bornheim there's Cafe Crawl (http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/165118741639/), and Friday nights in various places there's Friday Night Drinking Club (http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/21117796511/) (the latter of which apparently used to have a weird ageism thing going on, like, they were trying to keep out people over 30?? which was ridiculous, but I don't think that's the case anymore).

Oh, OH, in spite of your Munich Oktoberfest avoidance, FFM Oktoberfest is still going on this weekend (and also next weekend, even though the one in Munich is over by then): http://www.frankfurter-oktoberfest.de/. Since Monday's a holiday I'm going with friends on Sunday evening -- come join if you wanna! My email is thisexactly at gmail, either way.

Liz A Bear

Is it sad or awesome how many of these things are literally true in Oktoberfest experience? Sad/awesome? Sawsome?
1) My American male friend wore lederhosen and it was the best. Also, Christ there are a lot of Italians there who will invite you to visit for dinner at their home in Naples.
2) Broke my camera. Cannot remember how.
3) You have to eat enough. I did not eat enough and it led to badness.
4) Also, you will hear the opening of Seven Nation Army eight million times. Everyone will sing along,“duuun, dun, dun, dun, dun, duuuuun, dun.” It will be wonderful.
7) I made it till 6pm and the guys was actually very good looking. But still, yes.
8) Yes.
9&10) I have been to that BK! And also thrown up!


@Liz A Bear The entire post is literally true! And AHHH I cannot believe I forgot to mention Seven Nation Army. I sent an email to my brother from Ofest around noon on Saturday of which the subject line was, "How many times have they played Seven Nation Army so far?" and the entirety of the body was "SO MANY."


This is one of the funniest things I have ever read. PROST!


I wish I'd done this before I became a recovering alcoholic.


@jenergy But good on you for BEING a recovering alcoholic!


@thisexactly Oh, yes, it's definitely for the best and I'm quite happy being a recovering alkie. Just every once in a while I get a little resentful about the things I didn't get to do... like Oktoberfest. And absinthe. But overall, my life is like a gazillion times better with the booze removed from the equation, so I'm fine with it.


@jenergy Oh, and Quream! Haha, just kidding about that one. That shit sounds nasty.


@jenergy Haha, EWW. I am so glad The Hairpin took care of testing Qream for me so that I don't have to!


Ugh, I just got back from Oktoberfest and I want to return. I was in this tent a week ago! :(

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