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About This Festival

To some, Oktoberfest is German for “massive consumption of beer,” and while that’s part of the festival, it’s not the whole story. Beer, after all, is more than a drink for the residents of Munich, it’s a way of life, and integrated into the cultural fabric of the city. But prodigious beer drinking hasn’t always been the focus of the festival. To locals, it’s called “die Wiesn,” after the name of the Theresienwiese Fairgrounds. When founded in 1810, Oktoberfest celebrated the marriage of the Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe­ Hildburghausen with a horse race. The race featured prominently in the festivities until 1960, at which point the festival had become world famous and steeped in other traditions. It’s changed over the 200­-year history, most significantly with the addition of bratwurst, electricity and glass beer steins (in that order and importance).

Oktoberfest By the Numbers

Today, the 16-­day festival opens with a 12-­gun salute and the tapping of the first keg by the mayor of Munich in the Schottenhameltent. Upon the cry of “O’ zapft is!” or, “It’s tapped,” the first beer is presented to the Minister­ President of the State of Bavaria, and the party begins. Before that, it’s hard to get a beer; after, it’s all too easy! To keep the festival tidy, more than 1,000 tons of trash get hauled away each year, and nearly 2,000 toilets and urinals provide relief for the more than 6 million full bladders during the course of the festival.

Naturally, the beer is the star of the show, with strict purity codes (enacted in 1487) of what can and cannot be served. Only Oktoberfest beers made in Munich are on tap, and they come with a good 2 percent higher alcohol content than the rest of the year. You’ll find the extra strong Reinheitsgebot, at a minimum of 13.5 percent (watch out!) and the still strong Stammwürzeat a minimum of 6 percent alcohol—don’t expect any light beer here! These liter­-sized beer­hemoths pack a serious punch.

Buxom Waitresses & Beer Corpses

How much beer is consumed? Officials estimate more than 7 million liters over the 16­-day festival. Beer comes served by the dozen by buxom young waitresses who are strong as oxen from carrying those steins. With all that beer and partying pals, it’s easy to let things go to your head, but remember that drinking too much of the good stuff may mean you’ll become one of the dreaded Bierleichen, or passed ­out “beer corpses.” And hey, if you don’t like beer, you can sneak off to a Weinzelt tent where they serve wine.

Circus of Suds

The beer drinking is the star attraction in the central tents. These circus­-style big tops can hold thousands in long, communal, picnic-table-style seating where you are bound to make new friends. The Munich beer breweries each have their own tents at Oktoberfest. Size matters, and your best bet is to visit big tents and smaller ones to experience the atmosphere of both. The Schottenhamel tent is the oldest of the big ones and where the festival starts, a must­-drink location. The Hippodrome is the local favorite, located close to the opening gate. It’s mid­sized and gets packed early with a hip, young crowd.

The Hofbrauhaus is the international partiers’ favorite—expect to chug beer and get rowdy! The most famous beer of Munich, Lowenbrau, is easy to find—just look for the fifteen-foot-tall lion at the entrance. Augustiner, home to the ancient brewmeister of the same name, is the only tent where the beer is gravity-­fed out of giant traditional wooden barrels instead of using modern technology. Ammer is one of the smaller tents with a family vibe and great food. The Sieber tent is the sausage tent, good for soaking up all that beer you’ll be drinking.

Tirolerhüte: The Rolex of German Festivals

Dress to impress. Literally, the more goat hairs in your Tirolerhüte (a traditional Bavarian hat), the wealthier you are, as they are prized and expensive. It’s the German festival equivalent of a Rolex. And, of course, like fake Rolexes, there is now a market for fake Tirolerhüten. Will you be able to tell the difference? Probably not, so go for this traditional festival bling, though locals might expect you to buy them a round or three when they see what a high roller you are.

Lederhosen, with its iconic leather shorts and suspenders, is the official leisure wear dress code for men, so pick up a pair if you really want to play the part. Oktoberfest catapulted the common misconception that this is the national dress of Germany, which it isn’t. Women wear the traditional Bavarian dirndl, a corseted dress with the world’s first push­up bra that more than generously exposes these buxom “beer­-baring” lasses.

Bavarian Brass Bands

Beer, food and music are the champions of the event, in that order. Bavarian brass party bands provide the soundtrack that gets the festival tent occupants dancing on the beer­-soaked tables. Drinking high-­powered beer chased with greasy sausages doesn’t always mix with high velocity rides, but that’s exactly the idea here. The Funfair is exhilarating (even before a few beers), with an equal mix of high tech and low tech rides. If you really want to push your stomach to the edge, try the Tagadà—the infamous super coaster—or one of the other nausea-­inducing spinning, whirling, flipping rides.

There are attractions for the whole family. In fact, new rules have been put into effect to keep the festival more family­-friendly: loud music can’t start until after 6 p.m., at which time the energy kicks up to a new level. Just be sure to bring the little ones before the big ones get too drunk.

Oktoberfest at Home

Can’t make it to Munich or want to check out one of Germany’s other Oktoberfests? Hanover’s huge beerfest comes in at a roaring second place. While technically not an official Oktoberfest, the large fall festival in Stuttgart, Cannstatt Volksfest, occurs at the same time and attracts more than 4 million visitors but many fewer tourists. And if you simply can’t make it to Germany, you’re not out of luck: this festival has gone worldwide and there’s a good chance you can toast with beer-­filled steins in a collective “Prost!” in your own city.

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