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Thursday, September 18, 2008

A First Timer’s Guide to Oktoberfest

Written by Stuart Anderson

Feature photo by PixJK. Photo above by Joachim S. Müller.

A guide for first time attendees to one of the biggest beer celebrations in the world.

–Note: Oktoberfest 2008 begins September 20th and runs to October 5th in Munich.

You race a mob of lads in leather shorts to find a seat in the packed, wooden tent. A busty barmaid whams down an enormous glass of beer. You drink to the cry of Prost! and get ready to do it again. Then you stroll outside and jump on the roller-coaster.

You’re pushed, pulled, stretched and slammed and decide this would have been a better idea before the beer!

Feeling hungry now? Nothing a plate of pork knuckles wouldn’t fix. Easy to fill your belly here, if you’ve got the coin for it. The sun goes down and you head back inside.

You start swinging your drink and singing along to the sound of oom-pah music. Soon you’re dancing on the benches with a dozen friendly locals.

Photo by Herby Crus.

Munich’s Oktoberfest originated in 1810 as a horse race to celebrate the royal wedding. But everyone apparently enjoyed the drinking a lot more than the horse racing and had such a great time they decided to do it all again the following year.

The horse race is now part of history, but the beer certainly isn’t. Oktoberfest is officially the world’s biggest party, drawing about 7 million visitors a year to southern Germany. The action takes place on Munich’s fairgrounds, called the Wiesn, south-west of the city’s main train station.

When to Go

Oktoberfest 2008 starts on Saturday, September 20 and finishes on Sunday, October 5. There’s often a mad rush to find a seat before the beer starts flowing at 10 AM (9 AM on weekends). There’s a parade on the second day and a gay party on the first Sunday. Weekdays are much quieter than weekends, especially around lunchtime.

Which Tent to Pick

Most of the drinking is done in the 14 big beer tents - actually big wooden halls. You can reserve tables through, but most sell out months in advance.

The festivities officially start in the Schottenhamel tent and often reach their rowdiest in the Hacker (Haven of Bavaria). The bright red Hippodrom tent near the main entrance can’t be missed: It’s the place to see and be seen among Munich’s hipper, younger, set.

The Hofbru tent is famed for pulling far more tourists than locals; the Augustiner might be the best for Bavarian authenticity; and the Lowenbrau becomes a good option when everywhere else is full.

Photo by StrudelMonkey.

Where to Stay

Munich’s Thalkirchen Camping Ground could be the cheapest place to stay with tents available for just a few euros. There’s a small supermarket on site, regular buses to the Wiesn and a 24-hour party ambience during Oktoberfest. It’s at Zentrall, 49, Munich.

A handful of good hostels sit just south of the main train station, about a 15 minute stagger back from the Wiesn. Check out Jaeger’s for its friendly bar, or the top-rated Wombat’s. Both are in Senefelder Strae.

What to Wear

Practically anything goes, but for an extra layer of fun, consider kitting out like a local. For guys, a pair of Lederhosen leather shorts start from 120 euros.

For gals, a traditional Dirndl dress costs about 100 euros. Tip: When worn correctly, Dirndls also reveal the wearer’s availability. Look just above the apron: If there’s a bow on the right, she’s taken. A bow on the left means she’s still to be had, and a bow bang on the front marks a virgin.

What to Eat and Drink

Beer!? The amber fluid is served exclusively in one litre glass mugs, called Ma (mass) that cost about 8 euros. The beer is slowly brewed through the summer and packs a six-percent alcoholic punch. For a change, try the beery-lemonade mixture called Radler, or head out to the wine tent.

Food is everywhere. Popular picks are roast chicken (Hendl), pork knuckes (Schweinshaxe), and giant pretzels. The huge hearts hung around girls’ necks are made of gingerbread. For the daring there’s the Ox (Osche).

Photo by .myke.

What to Say

Can I sit here? Darf ich mich zu dir sitzen? (Darf ik mik zoo dear sit-zen?)

One beer, please! Ein Ma, bitte! (Eyn mass, bit-tey!)

Cheers! Prost! (Prawst!)

Your eyes are as pretty as a meadow full of cows. Deine Augen sind so schn wie eine Weisen Tulpen. (Dine-ny ow-gen sind so schern vee eyen vee-sen tul-pen)

Let’s go back to my tent for a coffee! Gehen wir mal zu meinem Zelt f?r einen Kaffee! (Gay-en veer mal zoo mine-em zelt fair eyn-en kaf-ey!)

I need to chuck up. muss kotzen. (Ik moose kot-zen).

I have a killer hangover. Ich habe so einen Katter. (Ik hab-ey so eyn-en kat-er).

Stuart Anderson

Stuart Anderson left his home country of Australia in 2005 for a life of travel. He's never looked back since.