If you’re looking for quick, high-level information about Oktoberfest, go here. This, however, is not that. This is a story of mischief, triumph, and defeat. A story of ragtag group finding out what it means to be German.
For a recent bachelor party, my friends and I decided that going to Oktoberfest in Germany would be a great idea. I know, surprise surprise, a bunch of dudes decided to go to the world’s largest beer festival. One of the groomsmen lives in Munich, so the prospect of free housing was appealing. And also beer.
This was not my first rodeo either; I’d been to both Oktoberfest and Fruhlingsfest (aka, Spring Fest) in Germany previously, both in Munich. So though I wouldn’t call myself a seasoned veteran, I liked my chances to survive the week. But this was a stag party, so naturally, the stakes were higher.
If you’ve never been to Oktoberfest, there are probably a few things you should know first:
- It’s full of every German stereotype you can imagine, and it isn’t out of irony.
- Lederhosen are a thing. If you don’t get lederhosen, you will feel very out of place.
- The female equivalent of lederhosen is called a dirndl. Tracht is the general term for traditional German garb.
- Beer is only served in liters and referred to as maß (the German word for liter). Every year, the price of a maß increases and is a big point of contention for Germans.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
My comrades and I were there for a week, so we had plenty of time for the debauchery.
We all got in at different times, so this was mostly coordinating arrival times and fighting jet lag. Though we did have a chance to go lederhosen shopping. Pro-tip, if you plan on going to Oktoberfest, buy lederhosen ahead of time. A quality pair of lederhosen will set you back damn near $200 in Munich during Oktoberfest. Sure, you could get a shitty polyester pair made in China, but where’s the fun in that? You want the good stuff, the deerskin leather stuff.
Buying lederhosen might seem like a frivolous affair. And to us close-minded foreigners, it is. But Münchners are serious about their lederhosen, they wear it in their daily life outside of Oktoberfest. Entire sections of department stores filled with tracht. It’s not just pants or dresses either, there are coats, hats, buttons made from deer antlers, etc. And the style changes; some years suspenders are in, and others vest are what the cool kids are wearing.
After a day of lederhosen shopping, we head to a German pub for some catching up between old friends. The menu consists of pork knuckle, schnitzel, currywurst. You know, the usual light German fare. Oh, and did I mention beer? Lots of beer.
Today we head to the Wiesn, the colloquial term for the fairgrounds where the festival takes place. Time to ‘hosen up! We don our lederson like suits of armor, ready to battle our collective sensibilities and head out into the world of drunken debauchery.
From our house, the trip to the Wiesn includes a few rides on the U-Bahn, the Munich subway system. The ride to the Wiesn is an experience in and of itself. As you get closer to the Wiesn, the train cars get progressively full of tracht wearing Germans and out of towners of all ages. You get the same kind of feeling you’d get heading to a concert or maybe even a cult meeting; everyone dressed in similar garb, with a palpable energy of excitement and apprehension.
As you walk on to the Wiesn (shockingly very little security), it’s an immediate sensory experience. There are festival games, rollercoasters, flashing lights, and stands selling all sorts of pretzels and meats. Hordes of people, of all ages, rushing in various directions.
Each of the six oldest breweries of Munich has its own “tent” on the Wiesn. The word tent is a little misleading; these are giant structures that hold up to 10,000 people. As you walk in one of these tents, hundreds of tables are lined up in rows surrounding a stage in the middle. The decor is exactly what you’d imagine – Tudor style dark wood around white facades with bushels of hops strung up along the wood beams. The style and accents may change a bit depending on the brewery, but it largely remains the same.
The stage is home to the band, who, between songs, is encouraging you to drink at less than favorable pace. Early in the afternoon, the music is pretty light and full of German folk songs. Interestingly, as the night progresses, the music turns to modern pop and eventually to classic American rock. Two particular favorites, Sweet Caroline and Don’t Stop Believin’, seem to alternate throughout the night. I still don’t know why they play these songs. Yes, there are a ton of Americans, but they are vastly outnumbered by Germans and other nationalities.
The most notable anthem of Oktoberfest, though, is “Ein Prosit,” a song made to get you smashed. The lyrics go as such:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
OANS! ZWOA! DREI! G’SUFFA!
This is translated as:
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times.
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times.
ONE! TWO! THREE! DRINK UP!”
The song starts, and everyone grabs their maß like some kind of Pavlovian response. The rule is, you must drink and cheers all of your neighbors when the song ends. Even if you don’t know the words, you’ll know when you must drink. They play this song every 3-4 songs, likely to increase the cadence of beer drinking.
Speaking of your neighbors, prepare to get cozy. Each table is packed, elbow to elbow, stein to stein. You’ll meet people from all walks of life. The college kids getting trashed. The honey-mooners. The mid-twenty somethings on bachelor/bachelorette parties. The stalwart Germans who have come every one of their 60 damn years. It’s a serious affair, and people come from all over the world to get hammered on overpriced beer.
Getting said beer is an endeavor. You’ll get to the bottom of that first maß in record time, so quickly that you’ll inevitably ask yourself if this is your hidden talent. Well, you must get another beer to find out! Eventually, your pace may slow a bit, and by the end of that third or fourth maß, the bottom of the beer will be nice and lukewarm. You might not even be drinking your own beer; at that point, all the glasses on the table seem to blend together.
To get a beer, you have to catch the eye of your area’s designated server, beer-lord, beer-maiden, however, you call them at this point. These people are by far the most impressive lot at Oktoberfest. They weave through drunken traffic holding 20 liters of beer in 20 steins at a time with unbridled grace and power. Get in their fucking way, and you’re roadkill. And don’t piss them off either; otherwise, you won’t see beer for a while.
So, after spending hours at a table, drinking liters of beer, nature will be calling. The bathroom situation varies by tent; some will ask you to pay a euro or so to use (though this is more of a suggestion in reality). You’d expect thousands of drunk idiots to make the bathrooms chaotic, yet it’s surprisingly uneventful. Getting to the bathrooms, maybe the most challenging part. Afterward, just find your table and repeat.
Eventually, hunger will set in. You can eat food in the tents but be prepared for it to be expensive and take a while. But it will be good. Large hunks of unidentified meets next to gelatinous potatoes. Get a pork knuckle. Do it. Or, perhaps, the promise of fresh air and cheaper food might sound appealing. If you go this route, you’ll lose your seat inside, and the later it gets, the odds of finding another spot at a table with enough seats are grim. This is not to say it’s a worse option though, outside brings its own frivolities.
Remember those stands of meet and pretzels? Find a kiosk that serves kasekrainer, and you’ll thank me forever. This menacing looking creation is a pork sausage filled with Emmenthaler cheese, just waiting to wreak havoc on your stomach in a matter of hours. With each bite, the pockets of cheese will explode in your mouth in truly erotic fashion. You might even question your sexuality a bit. Grab one, or three, of these bad boys and stumble through the Wiesn.
They do have rollercoasters and rides, which start sounding like a good idea after a few liters. Or maybe it’s just some twisted challenge to myself to ride a rollercoaster after 4 liters of beer and not puke (so far, I’m undefeated). But to be genuinely initiated, you need to try the Devil’s wheel, a maniacal-sounding game indeed. The game goes like this; the participants gather around a giant round, a stationary platform, surrounded by spectators. When the game begins, the players rush to the center and create a gigantic dog pile of sorts. The wheel starts to spin slowly, gradually increasing its pace. Eventually, a giant ball swings from the rafters trying to knock you off the wheel. Trust me, after enough drinking, poor judgment will set in, and the Devil’s Wheel will be calling.
After some games, it’s back to a tent to finish out the night. You likely won’t get a table, but nevertheless, you can make your way into a tent and find a place to grab a beer. Or make new friends and slowly encroach on their territory. It’s probably 9 pm or so by this point, meaning the debauchery and everything I just laid out are amplified by a factor of 10. You’ll step back into the tent and find the beautiful cacophony that is Oktoberfest. There’s singing, dancing on tables, beer splashing every which way, servers carrying inordinate amounts of beer. Odds are you’ll step on vomit at some point throughout the night. It’s glorious.
The tents close at 11 pm or so. Depending on the intoxication levels of your group, you can either:
- Call it a night.
- Continue drinking at bars/clubs in Munich.
As night one at the Wiesn, the beer/jetlag combination has hit hard, so we choose option 1.
Score: Wiesn 1, Stag Party 0
Someone is hungover. Thankfully, I wasn’t the one praying to the porcelain gods the previous night. Let’s say the groom was indisposed for the majority of the afternoon, so we took it easy to start the day. After a slow morning, we make our way over to a small kebab shop, TÜRKITCH, for lunch. We take our grub down to the river (the Isar) to eat.
But this is a stag party after all, so naturally, we rally. Predictably, the lederhosen comes on just a tad bit slower than the day before. The funny thing about Oktoberfest is that once you step on the Wiesn and crush a kasekrainer, you tend to forget about the aftermath of the previous night.
You can tell it’s a Saturday on the Weisen for two particular reasons:
- It’s more crowded
- People start a bit earlier, as indicated by the random person passed out against the side of a pretzel stand.
Though we got to the Wiesn a bit later than yesterday (for, uh, reasons), luckily we managed to find a seat in one of the tent’s outside areas. Each of the tents serves its own version of festbier, a beer specially brewed for Oktoberfest. So it is nice to try out different tents to try the beer.
We sat next to some guys from Sweden who were on a mission to bring cheap booze from Germany back to their home country and resell it. Random, but ok. They were characters, though, teaching us words like fitta, Swedish slang for pussy. We kept it classy.
Each day and night on the Wiesn are mostly the same formula. But each night you meet new people and make new stupid decisions. Remember the two options I gave after our first night? Well, this time, we chose the second option.
After the Wiesn closed, we went out in Munich for the usual bachelor party festivities. Shots of jager or any of the mystery glasses put in front of us. More beer. More food. We felt it was our duty to uphold the stereotype of drunk obnoxious Americans in foreign countries. The night ended, expectedly so, in disarray. On the way home, one of our members got in a minor tussle with a fellow American at a U-Bahn station, which ended up with the German police stepping breaking it up.
Score: Wiesn 2, Stag Party: 0
Today hurts…but who says a bachelor party trip to Oktoberfest can’t also be educational? So for a history lesson and a slight respite for our livers, we head to Nuremberg.
Though not a long train ride, it was a telling one:
After about two hours of intermittent napping and trying to piece together events from the night before between our collective members, we get to Nuremberg. You may remember the name from the WW2 section in history class. Being roughly located in the center of Germany, Nuremberg was a pivotal site for military production and Nazi rallies during WWII. After the war ended, the Nuremberg trials were held, where German officials involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity were brought before an international tribunal.
After a trip to the museum, we head to the city center. The streets are very quaint and lovely to walk around. There are markets, food vendors, a castle, all in a pretty walkable downtown area. Oh yeah, and more kasekrainer
Following the train ride back, we are all a little beat. So the night ended uneventfully.
You can’t lose a battle you didn’t fight, so the score remains.
Score: Wiesn 2, Stag Party: 0
Feeling well rested from the tame evening, we wake up early and go for brunch. Some places in Munich offer brunch, though much less of an event than you’d expected in the states or perhaps other large Western European cities. We did find one, however, mimosas and all. Though, don’t expect a Bloody Mary. Try explaining what that is to a Munchner and see how far that gets you.
After brunch, we go for more history. I know, not too shabby for a bunch of degenerates? Walking through Munich, you’ll likely find it about as German as it gets. There are fascinating tales about student defiance during the Nazi occupation. Small, shops and stands selling intricate toys and trinkets. The streets are immaculately clean. And that’s not to sound like a bad thing, you just know what to expect.
Yes, though we can act civilized occasionally, the main task at hand is drinking beer. So back to the Wiesn, we go!
It’s our last night, and we are determined to put up a fighting chance. We take it slow and even dabble in champagne as a celebration of our festivities. For the wine lovers or those who would like a change of pace, there is a wine tent and even a little kiosk that sells champagne/prosecco. I’ve never gone to the wine tent, though. My imagination leads me to believe it’s full of civilized wine wafting plutocrats that are too good for the rest of us beer-guzzling folks. Though, I’m sure that’s far from reality.
You could say our last night was tame, or you could say we are a well-seasoned crew, adept at navigating the tumultuous waters that are the Wiesn. I’m going with the latter.
Wiesn: 2, Stag Party: 1
We lick our wounds and head back to our respective homes. By some accounts, namely coming out of it alive, I’d say we faired pretty well. But by most accounts, the Wiesn won. This isn’t surprising; each time I’ve gone, that seems to be the case. And maybe that’s the charm of the Oktoberfest in Munich.