Cooler temperatures start setting in, kids are going back to school, squash is literally everywhere, and all shops in Munich have Trachten in their front window display. These are all signs that Oktoberfest is soon approaching, and if this will be your first year attending the historic event, you may be wondering what to do when you go. Since last year was my first year at Oktoberfest, or any fest for that matter, I’ve got some general “do’s and don’ts” for your inaugural experience. Prost!
1. DON’T make a reservation
When we first moved to Munich, we didn’t even know a “make your Oktoberfest reservation” season exists! So, if you’re like me and did not make plans six months ahead of time, do what I did: find someone who will take you, who has been there before and who can do all the work of finding a table. If you really want to be like me though, find some young, German, science PhD students who have been to Wiesn before and know the ins and outs of it all. All you have to do is wait a week while they debate and consider every possible option for attending. If you can’t find scientists, at least try to find tall people, because they can see all the empty tables from the front of the tent. Pro tip: It also helps when you’re stumbling back from going the bathroom for the 24th time and everything looks the same — tall people sitting at the table do stand out. In any case, make sure you are going with German-speakers so you don’t have to work up a sweat trying to come up with the word for, “table” and then put it into a question. You’ll sweat enough later on… when you’re dancing on said table.
2. DO consider your outfit
Typically, first timers wear one of two outfits: either a super cheap, tacky and shiny-looking Trachten outfit they got at Hauptbahnhof 10 minutes after they got off the train; or regular clothing. Having just moved, we were on a budget that barely included doing laundry, so we opted not to buy the cheap Trachten and instead wore shorts and t-shirts. This was super convenient because it was HOT inside the tent and once the dancing and singing really took off, we were glad we weren’t tied to overly-warm outfits. It was also easy for our group to find us and flag us down when, again, we were stumbling back from the bathroom for the 16th time and everything looked the same. Full disclosure: once we were off our, “just moved here and haven’t found an apartment yet” budget, one of my first major purchases was a Dirndl. My husband, however, took 8 months after Oktoberfest to decide what style of Lederhose he wanted, and he still hasn’t actually purchased any since deciding.
3. DO sing along and have fun!
You might be nervous about the atmosphere — it’s loud, it’s hot, and it seems like no one is wearing working deodorant, yourself included. But let the Bier and Brezn take over and enjoy yourself! A good way to do this is through singing and dancing like a fool. The majority of the songs will be in German, so if you don’t actually know German, try mimicking the sounds just so you don’t seem extremely lame. Additionally, the more beer you drink, the easier it gets to mumble words along with everyone else because their slurring the correct words will sound exactly like you making them up! If you’re an American who attended a college or university, there’s no need to fret: “Don’t Stop Believin’” is on the playlist and you’ll be able to jam out like you did at Frat parties many years ago, when your liver was more adjusted to drinking large quantities of beer. When you know all the words to other English songs that play, please sing along loudly and obnoxiously! This will make you look extra cool because your German company won’t actually know the words to these songs. High profile dance moves are also recommended in these instances, but not required. It really depends on how sturdy your benches (and table) are. Find out more about the Wiesn hits here.
4. DO bring cash
Honestly, all you need to have a good time at Oktoberfest is yourself and money. If you’re like us — new to Germany and Munich — and new to the whole, “we use cash for everything” culture, it will seem like a bad idea to bring coins & bills when you’re going to get packed into a tent with thousands of people who will be drinking. Plus, as we were on a tight budget at the time, we thought limiting our cash on hand was a good idea so we wouldn’t overspend. Terrible idea, actually. After your first Maß, when your social anxiety about being in a new place with new people starts to die down and you get another one, you will realize that you’ve brought only enough money to get, maybe, a third beer for dinner. This will be a problem for you later on unless you’ve brought snacks. So, perhaps you could bring yourself, money, and snacks. As a disclaimer, they do have ATM/Geldautomat machines in Oktoberfest tents, but the fees are quite high. This is especially true for the foreign credit card you’ll have to use… Because, remember, setting up your new German bank account will take you three weeks and transferring money in will also take 2-3 weeks, during which time Oktoberfest will be going on and you will need said cash.
5. DO eat dinner, Pommes, or literally anything besides just a Breze
You’ll be tempted to keep pace with the new German (scientist) friends you’ve found, who have been living in Germany all their lives and can drink German beer like you drink water. Oktoberfest beer is a bit stronger than regular German beer, however, and it really will hit you when you’re not paying attention! If you want to take a 45 minute U-Bahn trip that you don’t remember the next day then, by all means, skip dinner. But in the name of safety, keeping your wits (somewhat) about you, and remembering your first Oktoberfest, it might be a good idea to eat something. If you want to eat somewhat healthily (if that is even possible), check out our recommendations.
6. DON’T schedule anything important for the day after you go to Oktoberfest
When you’re enjoying all that the Wiesn has to offer, it’s more than likely you’ll get caught up in the moment and ignore the advice about eating or not going for “just one more” Maß. When that happens, I can guarantee you that the 9 am phone interview you earnestly scheduled will come while you’re in the bathroom, head over the toilet, and you’ll have completely forgotten about it. Similarly, if you plan to pick up your new apartment keys and have to meet with the Hausmeister who only speaks Bayerish, which you obviously don’t, and have a pounding headache, it will take 20 minutes to get an answer to your poorly-gestured question of, “Where does the mail get delivered?” So, take this one from my personal experience: save the important tasks for a day, you won’t be recovering from your first Oktoberfest.
Sarah Christesen is a not-too-southern Southerner from the USA who moved to Munich on a whim (her husband’s!). While her husband enjoys the life of a researcher, she teaches English, substitutes as a school teacher & writes sassy blogposts. They both enjoy hiking, Biergartens & the lack of overwhelming humidity.