Survival Guide Chapter 1: Before you go
Hit the history books
Oktoberfest began in 1810 as a wedding feast for Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and his bride, Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen – a name that’s more of a mouthful than a beer-fest pork knuckle.
Bag a bed
Hotels and hostels book out in a flash for Oktoberfest – some up to a year in advance. See munichtourist.de for late deals and accommodation availability. Otherwise, jump on a package tour that includes flights or coach transport and hostel accommodation. Prices are competitive and you’ll make instant Oktoberfest friends.
Learn the lingo
Essential German phrases for the beer festival include:
prost – cheers
bieseln – to take a leak
fetznrausch – very drunk
noagerl – the dregs of a stein
ogschdocha – tipsy
Survival Guide Chapter 2: While you’re there
Sacrifice the sleep in
As much as you want to snooze after a big night, it’s imperative you’re up and at ‘em early or you’ll miss out on a table. Steins are served from 9am on weekends, so start lining up outside your chosen beer tent from 8.30am.
Grab a glass
Stealing a stein is a bit of a tradition for some festival-goers, but beware the €50 fine if you are caught.
A wee little problem
You’ll see many a wet stain as your beer-fest mates surpass the point of inebriation and don’t quite make it to the dunny. Luckily loos are aplenty, with extensive troughs for blokes and loads of cubicles for ladies. A good rule once you’ve broken the seal is: one stein in, one stein out.
Take a marker pen
Without sounding like your mum, it’s important to be smart about your drinking. Bavarian beer packs a 5 per cent-alcohol punch and it’s a common mistake for punters to go too hard too soon, and then pass out in a puddle of their own pork knuckle-flavoured vomit. Plenty of drinkers keep a tally of their beers in marker pen on their arm – handy for knowing how much you’ve had, and not a bad badge of honour either.
Meet the locals
Several million tourists flood Munich for Oktoberfest, but the festival is also hugely popular with the locals. Make sure you chat to a few over a stein or three.
If you really want to blend in, buy some lederhosen, the local garb worn by German drinkers. You can’t help but feel festive in the traditional outfit.
A break from beer
Stop drinking? Of course not! But if you need a change from beer, swap your stein for a weisse and head to the wine tent.
Not to bang on about safety, but keep your valuables at home or safely secured. It’s all too easy to lose or be robbed of your phone or wallet after several steins.
Bavarian beers are subject to a Parliamentary Purity Act, but after 10 or so you’re still going to feel seedy in the morning. Hair of the dog is as good hangover cure, as is a giant German breakfast.
Eating definitely ain’t cheating
Sipping steins at Oktoberfest is an all-day affair, so if you don’t eat you’re definitely not going to last the distance. What’s more, the food at the fest is almost as famous as the beer. Whole roast chickens, sizzling sausages and giant pork knuckles are the menu staples, along with oversized pretzels and obatzta, a tasty German cheese.
Hostel high jinks
Your hostel address tends to become hazy after a hard day’s guzzling. Take a business card, store the address in your phone, write it on your torso in marker pen or snap a photo of your backpackers’ on your camera, or you’ll end up doing laps in a taxi.
Cash and carry
Oktoberfest ain’t cheap, but the experience is worth the expense. Steins are €7-€8, so budget about €100 a day if you’re drinking loads, eating pork knuckles and buying souvenirs.
Snuff, a powdered mix of caffeine and mint, is sold throughout Munich and is popular at Oktoberfest. Have a snort in between steins for an extra high
Over here, wench
Beer wenches are as much a part of the festival as the beer and pork knuckles. It’s a good idea to hand over €10 per stein for your first few rounds – it seems a generous tip, but it will ensure your wench comes back with a refill once your steins are empty.
Survival Guide Chapter 3: After you leave
Take A holiday from your holiday
All that beer swilling is hard on the body. Give yourself a day or two at home to recover before heading back to work or, even better, book another holiday back-to-back.
A visit to the doc
Get your beer-induced stomach ulcer checked out by your doctor, as well as any red rashes that may have appeared on your body as a result of a beer-fest romance.
Lock in 2010
If you loved Oktoberfest as much as everyone else, lock in your accommodation and flights for 2010 now, ensuring you score the best hostel beds and the cheapest airfares. Then it’s time to hit the pub to start training for next year’s beer swilling!
Other German beer festivals
Oktoberfest is the grandaddy, but there’s no shortage of other German festivals dedicated to beer.
Very few tourists have cottoned on to German’s second-largest beer swilling festival. Called Volksfest (the people’s festival), it’s held in Stuttgart two weeks after the beginning of Oktoberfest.
Another beer festival styled on Oktoberfest, Gaudobens Volksfest is held in Straubing and attracts plenty of locals who come for the event’s unique beers and customs.
Other good ’uns
Hannover and Bremen also host colourful beer festivals complete with funfairs and plenty of amber nectar.
Things to do besides drink beer
Sure, drinking is the focus of Oktoberfest, but even teetotallers can have a terrific time in Munich.
Around the grounds
The beer tents are set among a giant theme park. Try the Olympia Looming or Power Tower ride for maximum thrills.
Just wandering in the Oktoberfest grounds is a euphoric experience. Make sure you tear into a giant pretzel or gingerbread man while you’re at it.
Art and culture
If all that beer chugging is giving you a cultural cringe, venture out and about in Munich and admire the art at the Alte Pinakothek (pinakothek.de), packed with treasures from the Middle Ages.
Time to concentrate
Dachau Concentration Camp makes for a sobering but worthwhile excursion from the beer tents.
Back to nature
A whopper of a park located bang in the middle of the city, the English Garden is a lush expanse of nature, perfect for nursing a hangover, spotting Germans sunbathing in the nude, and watching surfers tackle a standing wave in the Isar River.
Jetting around Germany
Take a few extra days to explore more of what Germany has to offer – you won’t regret it. The capital, Berlin, is one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. From there catch a train south to Dresden, which was destroyed by bombs during World War II, before finishing your tour in Heidelberg or Mainz.
Bliss in a beer tent
Each of Bavaria’s major breweries has a tent at Oktoberfest. These are no ordinary tents though – they’re massive structures complete with wooden floors, hundreds of tables, bandstands and kitchens. But which tent will suit you?
Oktoberfest kicks off with the Brewer’s Parade on the first day, as the colourful procession heads from Sonnenstrasse to the fairground. The first keg is tapped in the Schottenhamel tent – a good choice if you want to see the pomp that marks the opening of Oktoberfest.
The biggest and rowdiest beer tent, Hofbräu is the most popular with Aussies and Kiwis. It’s home to the legendary ‘Pig Pen’, a debauched standing-only section where those who dare enter usually lose their undies.
A good all-round tent that attracts a mix of tourists and locals. Löwenbräu is considered one of Bavaria’s best drops, so you’ll be sipping quality beer all day in this tent.