A couple is sitting in front of a lot of gingerbread hearts at the Oktoberfest in Munich.

Everything you need to know about Oktoberfest

A letter-by-letter guide to Oktoberfest

The instruction manual for Oktoberfest is pretty short: go and have fun. However, a little bit of background information couldn’t do any harm either. We have put together everything you need to know: From O for O’Zapft is, the famous festival greeting, to T for Traditional Tracht.

O – O'zapft is!­

That’s the Bavarian for: “It is tapped!”

This phrase is what the mayor of Munich shouts out every year to mark the start of Oktoberfest – and of course that is after he has successfully hammered a tap into the very first keg of beer. This official act, performed in the Schottenhamel tent at midday on the first Saturday following the parade of the landlords, has an extra special significance in Bavaria: With an embarrassing degree of accuracy and – in the event of a poor performance – a small portion of schadenfreude, the crowds count the number of hits the mayor needs to tap into the keg. Mayor Thomas Wimmer, who started the tradition in September 1950, opened the first keg with 17 hits. The current record-holders, Christian Ude and his successor Dieter Reiter, managed it in just two blows.

K – Krinoline and Co.

Krinoline carousel is one of the oldest attractions at Oktoberfest

There are two types of fairground ride at Oktoberfest: There are those where you climb aboard in a euphoric, cheerful mood on the quest to find the ultimate kick. Names like Höllenblitz (Hell’s Lightning), Frisbee and Power Tower speak for themselves.

The more traditional rides are slightly more comfortable: Like the Krinoline carousel, for example, one of the oldest attractions at Oktoberfest. It has been spinning here for almost 100 years. Under the red and blue striped tent, which is decorated with strings of lights and Art Nouveau paintings, 16 charming pods spin slowly round and round – there’s zero risk of a headwind so ladies’ hair styles are sure to stay in place. It may also be the only carousel in the world where the background music is played live by a small brass band.

The Krinoline has been spinning here for almost 100 years. It may also be the only carousel in the world where the background music is played live by a small brass band.

The Toboggan is equally rich in tradition: Visitors to the Wiesn have been falling under its spell since 1933. Its principle is pretty simple: It’s just a big helter skelter. However, the detail here is the quick-spinning conveyor belt that riders have to scale to climb the tower. To do this, you need a good helping of coordination and balance.

As a result, the riders and their awkward attempts can provide entertainment for the crowds looking on with amusement. By the way, the name Toboggan stems from the Algonquin Indians in Canada and refers to a lightweight timber sled.

Another genuine classic is the Schichtl, a legendary whimsical cabaret theatre that has been part of Oktoberfest since 1869. The show has been “beheading” people with a guillotine since 1872. After the breathtaking spectacle, you can recover next door at the Schichtl beer tent under the motto “Party at Schichtl”!

T – Theresienwiese

Munich's famous "Wiesn" since 1810

Originally a stretch of grassland, now a large open space that is home to Oktoberfest. Theresienwiese was named after Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the wife of King Ludwig I. The couple got married on 12 October 1810. At the end of the wedding celebrations, which lasted several days, a horse race was held on 17 October in the area that is now home to Oktoberfest. The race was scheduled to be repeated again the following year, which is how the tradition of Oktoberfest began. The name Theresienwiese is also where the term “Wiesn” comes from, a name which has become synonymous with Oktoberfest in Munich.

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O – Oide Wiesn festival grounds

Bavarian for: “Old Oktoberfest”

The Oide Wiesn (Old Oktoberfest) area takes you on a journey to the origins of Oktoberfest: It has been an established institution at the Theresienwiese since 2011 and can be found in a separate area at the southern end of the grounds. Things move at a more leisurely pace here: the beer tent plays Bavarian brass band music in a traditional atmosphere and some couples even take to the floor for a waltz or polka. Another tent cultivates Munich's tradition of folk singers. The young and wild folk music scene plays in the music tent. Of course, you can also fulfil your yearning for times gone by on the historic fairground rides, like the 360° swing boats.

B – Beer

„Eine Maß, bitte“

At Oktoberfest, you drink beer out of a Masskrug, which holds a litre of beer. The large Munich breweries brew a special type of beer for Oktoberfest, which is slightly more alcoholic than a standard lager. It is particularly important to make sure you hold the heavy glass krug properly: Instead of putting your hand through the handle and wrapping your palm around the glass, you simply grip onto the handle. This is to stop you from trapping your fingers during a rowdy toast. By the way, toasting everyone sitting at your table is something of a rule at Oktoberfest. And it’s definitely mandatory when the brass band call on guests to drink with a song (“Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit. Oans. Zwoa. G’suffa!” English translation: "A toast, a toast; To cheer and good times; ONE! TWO! THREE! DRINK UP!)” – a very successful way to increase beer sales.

It is particularly important to make sure you hold the heavy glass krug properly: Instead of putting your hand through the handle and wrapping your palm around the glass, you simply grip onto the handle.

Whether you’re male or female, being a server at the Wiesn is one of the toughest jobs in the world. For two long weeks, they fight their way through crowds of people from morning till night, carrying countless numbers of Masskrugs, roast chickens and pork knuckle. If you want to order a beer, ask the server for a Mass. In menus, it appears as “Maß”, though you pronounce it like “mass”, rhyming with pass or gas. As you may know, Germans have a formal and informal way of addressing people. At Oktoberfest, you can use the informal option when speaking German to the serving staff – most of them wear a clothes peg with their name on attached to their Dirndl or Lederhosen.

Even if you don’t like beer, you can still enjoy Oktoberfest. The tents also serve non-alcoholic beer and drinks. However, many people aren’t aware that wine is a part of Oktoberfest, too. It has long been served to visitors at a number of different stands. There has even been a special wine tent since 1984, where guests can choose from over 15 types of wine, sparkling wine and champagne.

E – Entrance is free

The entrance to the world's largest Volksfest is free

If you want to visit Oktoberfest, you will not have to pay an admission fee. Unless you want to visit Oidn Wiesn that is, where admission costs €3. Children aged 14 and under go free to Oidn Wiesn.

If the tents are full, which is often the case in the evenings or on the weekends, security staff will stop people from entering at the door. If this happens, simply wait until another troop of party animals are let in or try your luck at another tent. Alternatively, take a leisurely stroll through the Oktoberfest. There’s nothing quite like a meander around the festival grounds with a bag of roast almonds in your hand. You could even taken a ride on the Riesenrad ferris wheel and look out over the hustle and bustle below.

Often the smaller tents tend to be your best bet as, at the larger tents, you can be met with the sign: “Closed due to over-crowding”. The smaller tents aren’t generally the first point of call for many Oktoberfest visitors but often score points thanks to their fun atmosphere. You can choose from roast chicken sellers or haxn and sausage specialists, coffee tents and dessert tents, or tents with specialities like fish, cheese or bavarian dumplings.

 

R – Riesenrad, Ferris Wheel

Oktoberfest Ferris Wheel is a landmark

With magnificent views over the festival grounds from a height of 50 metres, the Riesenrad ferris wheel is a real highlight among the fairground rides. A trip on the wheel at night is also an experience, as the Oktoberfest transforms into a colourful sea of lights.

F – Flirting

 

The mood in many of the festival tents is boisterous, fun, exhilarating and a little boozy. People from every corner of the globe sing festival hits, toast each other’s health and snuggle up as they sway to the music. Oktoberfest therefore has some of the best conditions for flirting.

Sometimes, male visitors to the Wiesn can even look at where the bow on the Dirndl is positioned to tell if the lady across the beer table is up for flirting or not. If the bow is on the left, the woman in question is single. That's where the saying “Schleife links, Glück bringt’s!” (“Bow on the left, that is best”) comes from. Taken women, on the other hand, put their bow on the right. There isn’t such a thing as “undecided” either, as wearing the bow of your Dirndl in the middle symbolises something, too: According to tradition, the wearer is still a virgin in this case. But look out! Some Dirndl wearers have never heard of this tradition and simply tie up their aprons at random. So be weary when making your advances so as not to find yourself on the receiving end of a slap, either from the admiree herself or from her companion.

Sometimes, male visitors to the Wiesn can even look at where the bow on the Dirndl is positioned to tell if the lady across the beer table is up for flirting or not.

And another thing: No always means no – pushy advances are not welcome at Oktoberfest. Women who feel like their admirers are getting too close should always speak to the security team in the tents. They tend not to show much mercy and will quickly throw out any guests who have misbehaved. Another thing they don’t like to see is overenthusiastic Wiesn guests dancing directly on the tables – an absolute no-go in the festival tents. There is also a separate contact point for women and girls being hassled by male guests. It is located in the Theresienwiese Service Centre (behind the Schottenhamel tent, entrance first aid). Security staff here will put victims in touch with specially trained female staff who can provide assistance in several languages.

E – Eating

Bavarian cuisine at Oktoberfest

At Oktoberfest, you can sample nearly every speciality Bavarian cuisine has to offer: Roast chicken and pork knuckle are the favourites, followed by spit-roast ox, sausages and duck with potato dumplings and red cabbage. Fish is most commonly served grilled in a dish known as Steckerlfisch, which is very popular among Munich residents. Steckerlfisch is a fish (normally mackerel, whitefish, char or bream) grilled on a skewer. In Bavaria, it is traditionally served at folk festivals and in beer gardens.

simply Oide Wiesn

Would you like to explore the roots of Munich's Oktoberfest? Join a tour with an official city tour guide and visit the Oide Wiesn. Read more               

Vegetarians can tickle their taste buds with Obatzda (a spicy mixture of cheese), radishes and Wiesn pretzels, pumpkin or potato soup, dumplings of all shapes and sizes, as well as a range of desserts and sweet dumplings, like Kaiserschmarrn (a dish of shredded pancakes) or cream cheese strudel. At snack stands, veggies can opt for dishes like Schupfnudeln (like potato gnocchi), Flammbrot (Alsatian flatbread with cream cheese) or potato cakes. Lots of tents and snack stands also cater for vegans and serve up dishes like sauerkraut strudel, pan-fried vegetables and apple slices in a beer batter. Lactose- and gluten-free meals are of course also available.

 

S – Salute!

The “Italian weekend”

Italian for “Cheers”. At Oktoberfest, it is highly likely that you’ll find yourself sitting opposite an Italian, who will toast you with a booming “Salute!” Italians love their “festa della birra” and cross the Brenner pass in their thousands every year (normally in camper vans). They are especially likely to visit over the middle Oktoberfest weekend, which is why it is also known as “Italian weekend” in Munich.

T – Tracht

Dirndl and Lederhosen

If it is your first time in Munich during Oktoberfest, you may be surprised by the countless people dressed in traditional costume (known as Tracht), who are either on their way to Theresienwiese or. The rules on the Wiesn are nowhere near as strict as at a Bavarian Tracht association: From pristine to rustic, long to short, you will see it all in the tents.

Until the 1990s, visitors actually wore normal clothes to dance in the tents. Dirndls and Lederhosen were most definitely out.

If you would like to purchase a Dirndl or Lederhosen for Oktoberfest, which will always look chic at a number of other occasions and, ideally, will last a lifetime, we recommend visiting one of the specialist Tracht shops in Munich.

And if you don't want to wear Tracht: Jeans and a T-shirt are totally fine for a visit to the Wiesn and – many people don’t know this – are actually a traditional Oktoberfest outfit. Until the 1990s, visitors actually wore normal clothes to dance in the tents. Dirndls and Lederhosen were most definitely out.

 

 

Text: Eveline Heinrich; Photos: Christian Kasper; Video: Redline Enterprises
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