Oktoberfest guide: bierhaus rules (Part 2)


Don't be fooled. At the time, I just met those people 30 minutes prior to having the picture taken. Heck, that wasn't even my beer I was posing with.

Don’t be fooled. At the time, I just met those people 30 minutes prior to having the picture taken. Heck, that wasn’t even my beer I was posing with.

Okay, so in my last post of this Oktoberfest guide, you found out the basics of getting to Munich, as well as arriving at the Festwiese (Theresienwiese) in one piece. We’re just getting warmed up because there’s plenty more to know.

I think it’s safe to assume that you’re coming to Oktoberfest to drink beer. While people go to Oktoberfest to just drink beer, it’s fine if you want to spectate and not drink. Some activities you can do are:

  • Check out the carnival-style rides and attractions – I’ve actually been on some rides and they’re actually pretty good. They’re pay-per-ride attractions that typically cost around €6. Look to go on Family Day, which is every Tuesday from 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. where all attractions are discounted.
  • Listen to the live bands – While for the main part, you’ll have to go inside crowded beer tents and deal with drunk people, the live bands add a nice touch to Oktoberfest. They typically start playing at around 7 p.m. and continue on until closing.
  • People watch – You’ll see most people at the Wiesn dressed up in dirndls (for ladies) and lederhosen (for gentlemen). It’s actually fun to see people and even families dressed up in traditional Bavarian garb. You can also park yourself on the steps of the old Bavaria statue of Theresienwiese in the Oide Wiesn and relax while having a nice vantage point of it all.
  • Enjoy genuine Bavarian food – I actually love the food they have here in Oktoberfest. It’s genuinely German and you don’t even have to go inside a crowded tent. There’s plenty of smaller tents that sell food along the road. However, if you want a main course for dinner (as opposed to street fair/snack food), you should try and go in one of the big tents. Aside from beer, tents do serve good food (although it’s an after-thought as I’m sure you can figure out). In fact, most tents give you a discounted menu similar to how “prix fixe” meals in France work by bundling a few courses for cheaper than normal. This “hidden” menu only typically lasts until 2-3 p.m for lunch (depending on the tent). Make sure to ask for a food menu if you don’t see one. There’s sure to be one. I highly recommend going to the Ochsenbraterei, as the oxen (ochsen) is to die for and is slow-cooked so it melts in your mouth. The tent will be the one with the giant oxen rotating on a BBQ spit in front. Another common food served is the hendl (chicken) and yes, it differs slightly from tent to tent. It’s best you get to the large tents before “rush hour,” which is around 4 p.m. onward on weekdays, and around 11 a.m. during the weekend.

Now, for the rest of you, I’m sure that you’re headed to Oktoberfest to partake in the festivities and the beer, so here’s the part of this Oktoberfest guide that give you the bierhaus rules you’ll need to know for maximum enjoyment. Oktoberfest is not for beer connoisseurs. The beer comes in one-liter mugs (steins) called masses, which is the only size available there. There isn’t much else to drink other than shandy (half soda and half lemonade, which isn’t very tasty) and straight up soda. Check the official pricing guide to get an idea of how much you’re going to have to fork over, but it won’t be cheap. Add €1 for tip for every item. Even though tip isn’t as expected in Europe as compared to America, it’s still accepted (I’ve actually had a waitress demand it, which they’re technically not supposed to do). There are only six beer breweries authorized to produce beer for Oktoberfest so of there’s not much variety in beers between the tents, although there’s still differences. The authorized breweries are:

Each large tent has only one of the official Oktoberfest beer brands, so you’ll have to find a tent that carries the brand you’re looking for. Fortunately, this Oktoberfest guide will also tell you about the different tents in the Wiesn later on. If you’re not looking for a specific brewery, then of course it doesn’t really matter what tent you go in. Just pop a squat in a table and start your engines.

Essentials of Oktoberfest 101

For any party you attend, of course you’re going to have to dress up for the occasion and Oktoberfest is no exception. Men typically get dressed up in lederhosen and women get dressed up in dirndls, which are traditional Bavarian dresses for men and women respectively. It’s not just a “tourist” thing to do either, as you’ll see mostly native Germans dressed like this. If you want to look good, you should try and buy a first-hand suit/dress, which runs about €80 for dirndls and €100 for lederhosen. Second-hand suits and dresses are of course cheaper, but it’s looked down upon and people will be able to tell you skimped. It’s not mandatory that you wear traditional Bavarian garb, but it really does add to the atmosphere and may make you seen more sociable.

Pictured: the hat that's sure to brand you as a "dumb  tourist."

Pictured: the hat that’s sure to brand you as a “dumb tourist.”

Speaking of socializing: men, if you’re planning to fraternize with the ladies, look at the bow around the waistline of the dirndl. If it’s on the woman’s left, it means she’s available and ready to mingle. If it’s on the woman’s right, it means she’s taken or at least isn’t open to any advances of the opposite sex. A bow dead center in the front means that’s she’s a virgin (and possibly “unsure” of their status which means that they can be open to any flirtations). A bow in the back means she’s either a widow or a waitress. Of course, men should always exercise caution and use their discretion to not go too far with any advances. You can easily be ejected from the grounds for misconduct. For women, fortunately there’s a lot of security everywhere along the grounds, so there’s no real danger to your well-being if you decide to brave crowds of drunken men (although you should still exercise caution, since you may still be subject to unwanted attention or worse).

These lovely ladies demonstrate the different types of dirndls, and the different positions of the bow.

These lovely ladies demonstrate the different types of dirndls, and the different positions of the bow.

As the night goes on, of course the tents get more full, the crowds get more drunk and more people start standing up on the benches to dance. While you’re not supposed to be standing up on benches, security will typically allow it as it starts getting late enough that the live bands start to play. Do NOT stand on the tables, as that will get you promptly booted. Also, be careful while dancing on the benches, as they easily flip over with the slightest hopping.

Speaking of tables, you must be seated at a table if you want service (food, beer or otherwise). There’s no exceptions, so don’t even try to flag down a server when not seated. Of course, the chances of getting an entire empty table for yourself is basically slim to none. Also, Munich is Bavarian territory. That means everyone there speaks the Austro-Bavarian dialect, which is actually very different from mainstream German. It doesn’t help when everything is written in Bavarian, so get an appropriate translator so you can actually know what you’re reading. A German dictionary won’t really help in this situation. Fortunately, many people there speak English, so you don’t have to worry about understanding Bavarian too much.

Next up are tips to successfully infiltrate tents in Oktoberfest, a daunting task for anyone.

Previous page – Part 1 : Preparing for the Festwiese

Next page – Part 3: Reservations and tent logistics

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