I grew up in Munich, Germany, andI’ve been to Oktoberfest more times than I can count.
That means that I’ve also witnessed foreigners make plenty of cultural faux pas at the festival.
Here are 21 tips that will help you experience the world’s largest beer festival like a local.
Know that it starts in September
Oktoberfest actually starts in September (September 19th to October 4th this year). The first version of the festival was in 1810, as a Royal Wedding celebration between Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.
Call it the Wiesn — not Oktoberfest
Locals affectionately call Oktoberfest the Wiesn, which essentially translated to the meadow. The reason behind this is that it takes place on a giant meadow — the Theresienwiese.
If you don’t have a reservation, get there very early
Tents open at 10am on weekdays and 9am on weekends. If you don’t have a reservation, you need to get there much earlier to snag a table. On the first day of Oktoberfest locals will even line up as early as 6am, despite the gates not opening until 9am, and the first beer not being dispensed until noon.
Avoid visiting during the Italian weekend
Oktoberfest is three weekends long, but locals will try to avoid the second weekend, which is known locally as the “Italian weekend.” Traditionally the second weekend sees Italian tourists arrive in the 10 thousands, often in RVs or with tents, making Oktoberfest especially packed and rowdy. In fact, local police and medics get enforcement from South Tyrol, a province in northern Italy, and radio DJs will translate notifications into Italian, and newspapers will print headlines in the language as a nod to them.
Locals will don their lederhosen and dirndls, and tourists are free to buy their own for the occasion, but try not to buy tacky ones that are shiny, or neon coloured, have rhinestones on them, or hit above the knee, as these are frowned upon by locals. Whatever you wear (and know that the tents get super hot) make sure to have solid footwear to avoid ruining your shoes (and feet) with beer, broken glass, and by getting stomped on.
Women who choose to wear a dirndl should know that there is a special meaning behind where the bow is tied. Dirndls include an apron, and where the bow is tied is code for whether a girl is single or not. A knot on the left means that a girl is single, and possibly not averse to getting chatted up. A knot on the right means she is taken, so don’t even try.
Share your table
Tables are communal, so don’t try to claim a whole one for yourself (effectively impossible in a packed tent anyway) and feel free to sit with strangers. That said, always ask if the seats are taken before sitting down.
Make a Wiesenbekanntschaft
This special term is local for “Oktoberfest acquaintance” since making friends is pretty easy when sharing tables and guzzling litres of beer.
Order from a waitress/waiter unless you’re standing
If you were lucky enough to snag a table, there’s table service. But if you’re standing, you can order directly from the windows by the kitchen.
Don’t touch the waitresses
Not even to get her attention. Their jobs are
really stressful, and tensions run high — if you grab at a waitress, don’t be surprised if she yells at you.
When ordering beer, ask for a mass — not a stein
All beer except for wheat beers will be served one way and one way only: in a litre mass. Don’t ask for a litre, and don’t ask for a stein (Germans don’t call it that, it’s a Bierkrug). Fun fact: mass means measure.
Hold a mass with one hand
Slide your hand through the handle and lift it that way. And yes, you may have a bruise at the bottom of your thumb the next day.
Toast with the bottom of the glass and say “prost!”
Bavarians generally clink glasses at the bottom. Don’t hit the other mass too hard, lest you lose some precious beer, and don’t forget to say “prost” and make eye contact while toasting.
Never ever consolidate beer
As we learned from a real live German, consolidating beer is sacrilege. It’s totally OK to throw out warm beer though. In fact, there’s the (not entirely serious) three finger rule that states that foam should be about a three finger’s width from the top down, followed by three fingers of beer you drink, and finally three fingers worth of beer that should be thrown out, because if you’re drinking from a mass and thus a whole litre at a time, those last three fingers will be warm when you get to them.
Don’t even think about stealing a mass as a souvenir
Apart from it being in bad taste, security at every exit is trained to search for litre sized bulges on your body, and will often fine you for theft. Last year, people tried to steal 112,000 of them — save yourself the trouble and buy the collector’s mug, which is for sale.
Some places take credit cards, but not all, and those that do might insist on a minimum. Germany is generally a country that runs on cash, so make your, and everyone else’s, life easier by hitting up an ATM in advance.
Expect high prices
One mass of beer will cost you around $US11. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
You should also be prepared to pay a “deposit” for food and drinks. Thanks to the rampant theft of masses, you will have to pay a deposit (“Pfand”) for the glass , which you will get back when you return it. It’s usually around €2, and also applies to food, as you get real dishes and silverware.
Don’t overdo it
Know that the only beer at Oktoberfest is beer brewed by Munich’s six breweries — Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu München, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten-Franziskaner. These are all special Oktoberfest brews, and at 6% are a little stronger than what you might be used to.
Otherwise, you might end up at the Kotzwiese, what locals call “puke hill.” This hill, located at the feet of the Bavaria statue, a giant statue overlooking the Theresienwiese, is where those who have had a little too much drag themselves for a nap, when they become known as “bierleichen,” or beer corpses.
Don’t be shocked when people publicly start snorting a white powder
Wiesn koks — which translates to Oktoberfest cocaine — is a popular Oktoberfest pick-me-up. While it looks like cocaine, is snorted like cocaine, and is called cocaine, it’s really just a harmless mix of a sugar and menthol that’s sold at Oktoberfest and totally legal.
Learn the songs
Tents feature live oompah bands, and every few minutes the whole tent, in unison, will sing “Ein Prosit,” then count to three, and yell “G’suffa!” before taking a communal sip. Learning this will make you feel a lot more local. Click here for a video.
Find the right tent
There are 14 main tents, each able to fit between 5,000 and 11,000 people, and each rocking a wholly different vibe — some tents are more family oriented, others more focused on the food, others again known for their high concetration of tourists. Figure out which tent is best for you before going.
Find the tents that stay open late if you want to keep drinking
While tents close at 11:30pm, and the last beer is served an hour before closing, two tents are open until 1am: Käfers Wiesnschänke and the wine tent. That said, Munich has a thriving “aprés Wiesn” scene for post-Oktoberfest clubbing.
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