What’s a dirndl? Are the beers really that big? What’s up with the name?
After a 2-year hiatus, the world’s biggest beer festival taps its 187th season in Munich on 17 September. Keep reading for what you need to know about Oktoberfest.
Why is it called Oktoberfest when it starts in September?
It’s a season that ends on a specific day, like Christmas or Carnival. Oktoberfest starts in mid-September and ends the first Sunday in October. This year’s dates are 17 September-3 October.
Why do people call it the Wiesn?
The origins go back to 1810, when Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen got hitched in Bavaria. To celebrate, they held a horse race on grounds named after the bride: Theresienwiese, or Theresa’s Meadow. That’s why locals call the Munich festival Wiesn.
Is it free?
Entrance to the Wiesn is free, except for the Oidn Wiesn, a section that features carnival rides and booths, a museum tent, and beer tents featuring folk music. Entrance is €4, free after 9pm.
What are the hours?
Opening times for the tents varies, but usually around 10 am, with last call around 10.30 pm.
Is it crowded?
Yes! 6 million people drink 7,580,000 litres of beer at the festival every year. Arriving early or mid-week improves your chances of landing a seat in one of the festival’s beer tents.
What happens inside the tents?
That depends on the tent. The Kaiserschmarrn tent is famous for its breakfast, free wedding cake, caipirinhas (no beer at this tent) and the Weisn’s only catwalk. Fischer-Vroni’s Pink Party on the second Wiesn Monday is a popular LBGTQ+ event. Like crowds? Check out the Paulaner-Festzelt holds almost 11,000 people. With 14 big tents and 21 small, there’s a tent for everyone at Wiesn.
How do I get into one of those tents?
You can reserve a spot ahead of time or show up and take your chances. Be prepared to mix with the masses as seating is on benches and long tables, which promotes a feeling of Gemütlichkeit, or cosiness. Too cosy for you? The outdoor beer gardens are available to everyone, space-permitting.
What’s the food like?
Traditional Bavarian fare almost always tastes better than it sounds or looks! Let your nose be your guide. Highlights include Steckerlfische (barbecued fish on a stick, FYI, served whole, so there will be bones – and eyes) or Schweinshaxe (braised pig knuckle) Most menus offer vegetarian and vegan options. For those with a kids’ plate palate, stalls offer fried chicken, pizza, chips. A paper cone of warm roasted almonds pairs wonderfully with a litre of beer.
How much is a beer?
Each tent represents a different local brewer. Prices vary but expect to spend around €12 for a litre of beer. Smaller beers may be available in some tents, but due to high volume, most stick with 1-litre amounts. And no, you can’t take the glass home! Souvenir mugs are available.
What can I bring to the Wiesn?
Snacks are allowed in the beer gardens, but outside drinks aren’t. Bags must be no bigger than 20 cm x 15 cm x 10 cm, which in beer terms, is about 3 litres in volume. Some merch stalls may accept cards but expect to pay cash for almost everything else.
What do I wear?
Comfort is key. Munich can be rainy in the morning, hot in the afternoon, and chilly at night. Check the weather!
Flip-flops are fine if you’re brave enough to walk through brogue-wearing crowds full of liquid cheer.
The Lebkuchenherzen (a heart-shaped gingerbread cookie decorated with romantic messages) is a food in the same way that a gingerbread house is technically edible. Recipients usually wear them around their necks as a badge of honour, like Mardi Gras beads.
Can I wear a dirndl?
Some go for traditional dress, the basics of which include leather shorts (Lederhosen) or a dress that evokes the phrase ‘beer wench’ which is called a Dirndl. Like a kilt with all the trimmings, a fully appointed traditional ensemble is usually made-to-fit and can set one back hundreds of euros or more. You’ll see plenty of knockoffs from costume shops. Tip: Get a friend who lives in Germany to pick up something for you in the off-season. Used clothing stores often have a rack or two of traditional clothes. This time of year, Bavarian thrift shops have been cleaned out, but there are still plenty of choices in Berlin.
I don’t drink alcohol. Should I still go?
Alcohol-free beer is available, as well as mocktails. Some tents don’t serve alcohol in the morning. Some people go to the Wiesn just for the food, music, and rides. But if you aren’t a fan of drinking culture, this may not be the festival for you.