10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected] • 18 Sep, 2017 Updated Mon 18 Sep 2017 09:08 CEST
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As Oktoberfest opened its tent doors for the final time in 2016, Jörg Luyken was there to soak up the atmosphere and the brew. To his surprise, he got sucked into the epicentre of German kitsch.

1. Expect delays

If you are in Munich during the last two weeks of September and pouring overpriced lager down your throat isn't your thing, prepare for the anarchy to spill over into your everyday life.

You might very well have to wake up someone who has fallen asleep in a pool of their own vomit in your local train station. And don't always expect the train to run on time. In the evenings a few revellers who have spilled out of the festival area may well have decided it'd be fun to run onto the tracks in the middle of the night, bringing five S-Bahn lines to a standstill.

2. A Dirndl isn’t just a Dirndl

Photo: DPA

At first glance, everyone at Oktoberfest looks the same. Almost everyone is wearing either Lederhosen or a Dirndl - and if you're not you will feel weirdly out of place.

But look a little closer and there is an abundance of variety in this apparent ocean of uniformity. There are conservative Dirndls, lace Dirndls, low cut ones, and short cropped ones. There are punk Dirndls and goth Dirndls. They come in so many colours and patterns that you'll barely see two that are alike.

The male Tracht (traditional wear) is much more varied than it first seems, too. The posher looking men wear knee-high dress socks and finely embroidered Persian blue waistcoats. The more rustic boys are clad in leg bands and hunting hats.

3. Fair rides aren’t fun as an adult

The abundance of fairground attractions on the Wiesn area is staggering. If you enter the area from the south you can't help but be blown away by the sight of carousels and roller coasters spinning through the sky, all the way up to the Sankt Paul church in the distance.

Rides and curiosities that date all the way back to the mid-19th century compete with garish modern rides blasting out pop music.

The temptation is to hop on and feel like a kid again for a couple of hours before the serious drinking begins. But being flung hither and thither to the accompaniment of a Helene Fischer song isn't as fun when you're over 30. I only need to stagger out an exit with wobbly legs one time in the day, thank you very much.

Photo: DPA

4. The worst thing is the smell

This might not apply to those who visited the festival on its opening weekend, but by the last day anyone who approaches the drinking pits in the centre of the main tents can't helped but have had their nostrils stung by the sharp smell of stale vomit.

In these areas, hammered tourists take it in turns to duel against each other in chugging beer. Most of the liquid seems to end up soaking up the chests of their dress shirts - and if the smell is anything to go by, it's not only beer that has ended up down their fronts.

5. The songs are dirty

As the night gets going you’ll notice that they love kitsch classics from around the world - The Proclaimers hit "I'm Gonna Be" is a particular favourite. But repeated call and replies mean you can pick up the local songs in no time too.

Before long you’ll be shouting the profane “du Sack!” (you ball-bag) in reply to the singer’s cry of “ihr Säcke!”

6. On top of a bench, it all makes sense

This year’s festival drew in the lowest crowds in 15 years - bad for business, but good for those of us who didn’t fancy queuing for hours in the rain in front of the beer tents. And it didn’t seem to affect the atmosphere either. By the evening the main tents were packed.

But if you really want to be part of it, you need to take your chance and jump onto a bench - otherwise you’ll be stuck down in an aisle, getting in the waitresses' way and missing the band.

You might ruffle a few feathers (prepare for a girl in a Dirndl to give you a sharp jab in the ribs). But stand your ground, raise your beer glass in a 'Prost' and the locals will accept you soon enough.

Photo: DPA

7. You can have conversations in foreign languages

At Oktoberfest you will meet Italians, lots of Italians - and these Italians may very well speak neither English nor German. But don’t worry, that won’t stop them chatting your ear off in Italian, hugging you and taking selfies with you (and in my case offering me some menthol powder to snort up my nose).

8. The drunkenness takes you by surprise

The beer is notoriously pricey at Oktoberfest. But on the other hand you don’t need too much to get you drunk - with an average alcohol content of 6 percent, it’s stronger than normal beer. And the drunkenness is surprisingly light. In fact I only noticed just how much poison I had in my system when I woke up later that night with a head like a carousel, gasping for water.

9. It's not to everyone's taste

On the bus back to Berlin, I read an article in Hamburg’s Die Zeit aghast that Oktoberfest was the thing most foreigners seem to associate with Germany. The journalist was horrified at how the festival romanticizes folk culture and implied that its recent success is an incubator for the far right.

Stuffy north Germans might also want to take note that it's popular with foreigners precisely because it's one of the few places in Germany they feel welcomed - and because it's one of the rare places Germans seem to be able to engage in silliness just for the hell of it.

10. It’s not like the old days

Although this was my first time at the Wiesn, I'm told that anyone who went back in the 1970s or 80s will notice that it's quite a bit tamer these days.

A taxi driver told me that Munich is dead now. Up until the 1990s, people would leave the festival and keep partying in the city's bars and clubs till the sun came back up. Now the festivals ends before midnight and there is barely a place left open to keep drinking in.



Jörg Luyken 2017/09/18 09:08

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