Oktoberfest: a Survival Guide

If you think that title is overly dramatic, I promise you it’s not.

This was my first ever Oktoberfest, and I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t completely sure what I was getting myself into. I had been given some info about it from the amazing people at BritBound who were hosting the trip I was going to be on. I did read it, honestly! But what the decision to go came down to was:

Friends: “We’re going to Oktoberfest!”

Me: “Yay I’m going to go to Oktoberfest too!”

Friends: “We’re all buying lederhosen!”

Me: “Well, I guess I’m buying a dirndl!”

Yeah…not quite the most thought out decision I’ve ever made. But that being said, these two years abroad are far more about adventure than long term plans. I will spare you the history of the festival, there are others who can do that far better than I. What I will go over is some of the mistakes I made and tricks learned a long the way.

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All dressed up and ready for day one at the beer halls! Photo by Gray Smith

Dressing Up

Do it. No, seriously, buy the dirndl or lederhosen. You will not look strange, and it adds to the fun–as dressing up always does. Depending on the quality that you want and, to be really honest, the size you require you may need to spend a fair bit on it. But that being said, for the amount I spent, the dirndl was of very good quality and held up to a few days of wear well–and will to repeat use over the next few years. If you really don’t want to shell out of one of the real ones, you can buy a “beer wench” costume, but these are typically of lower quality, ultra short, and you can quite frankly tell the difference. I’ve also see women wearing lederhosen, which can be a really awesome look if dresses are not your thing!

I ended up wearing mine two days in a row and for the most part it didn’t show the wear. You will get beer on your clothes, and quite possibly gravy. For next year I’ll buy a second blouse for my dirndl, but other than that, I’m good to go.

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Campsite drinks, if you haven’t had enough already in the festival grounds. God only knows who took this picture (I don’t make money off this so it’s not copywriter infringement!)

Preventing Hypothermia

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I signed up to camp for three days in Germany in late September, but I can tell you that I was ridiculously cold for a lot of that trip. From the over air conditioned coach bus back and froth from Munich, to sleeping each night on an air mattress in a tent, all of it was cold. Don’t cheap out on a sleeping bag and make sure the temperature range is right for the temperatures you will be facing. Also good options are a big fluffy hoodie, fluffy socks, and track pants to sleep in. After we were finished at the event grounds we would keep the party going at the campsite bar, you do want warmer clothes for that part of the night as well. As with any trip, always check the weather report

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My broken stein! It was full, and then I had to pay all over again for a new one. Thankfully the guys chipped in to help (no one admitted to breaking it). Photo credit to Gray Smith

Food and Drink

Believe me when I say that you will be consuming lots of both. For the size of the portions that you get, the food in the beer halls is fairly well priced. It also serves as a good starch and protein layer to help absorb all the beer you will be drinking, and you could easily find yourself drinking a lot. I do drink beer in my normal life, but usually not large quantities of it. I did on this trip. The default glass is a stein, which holds somewhere between two to three pints worth of beer. Many of my group kept count on their arm (if you want to as well, bring a pen, no one else will have one and you’ll be a hero), and when you’re up around 10 steins in a day, that’s a lot of pints. Some people come to Oktoberfest just to drink, and if that’s you great, if not there are other options. You can order your beer in smaller sizes–you just have to specify. Also you can get things other than beer. A Radler, which comes in steins as well but it’s half beer and half lemonade if you want the look of downing a stein but not the amount of alcohol or the amount of beer.

There is, believe it or not, a whole world of options outside the beer halls. There are food stands ever five meters or so selling all those wonderful things we associate with German (pretzels and wurst), and some things that are just plain fun (ice cream and cotton candy). This is not necessarily the cheaper option but it’s a bit more variety and a fun way to experience the more carnival side of Oktoberfest. The one thing I found really hard to get was water–which is a bit crazy when you consider the amounts of alcohol being consumed. Three euro for a bottle and you had to bring it back to the stand to get a one euro deposit back. You’ll buy it because you have to, but you wont enjoy doing it.

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Between the beer and the souvenirs your money goes by fast! Photo credit to Til Kruder

Money

I thought I had spend an absurd amount of money until I started talking about it with other people and realized I actually only spent a fraction of what a few of the others managed to spend in three days. Look at it this way, a steins about 10 euro. But you have to tip your beer wench well or she/he will just ignore your table, so add another 2-3 euros. So at 12 euro a drink, you’re drinking 8 steins a day, that’s an easy 96 euro in beer alone. Your lunch is at least 16 euro (so we’re now over 100), and same again if you have dinner. This does not include tips for toilet attendants, paying to go on any of the fair ground rides–which only take cash by the way–taxis back and forth from the grounds if you need it, water to stay alive (3 euro per bottle), and any souvenirs you may want to buy. That is just one day and I was there for 3. As the saying goes, take half the clothes and double the money when traveling. Here you may want to take triple the money, you will probably need it.

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Our decent into madness as captured by Til’s camera. You can guess who get’s credit for this one.

Your Technology Will Fail

Something I always manage to forget is that when you have a lot of people all trying to use their cell phones in a small space no one will get signal. This meant no one had internet or phone capabilities (or if they did it was sketchy at best), which was a serious problem when we all got separated. Roaming around trying to find each other in a massive fair ground with thousands of people is not really a solid plan. Some of us did manage to find each other eventually, but it was not a fun experience and nearly killed that first day for me. Have a definite plan on how you’re going to find each other–maybe it’s everyone waits in the same spot, or you just agree that you are not staying together in advance. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you agree ahead of time because you wont be able to just send out a message to let them know you’re by the pretzel stand…which wont work either because there is a pretzel stand every 20 meters or so.

Camping and technology that needs charging really don’t go together really well. Limited outlets and a lot of people who all want to charge their phones mean that you have people hanging out in the toilets just to be next to the one power outlet. Useful pre-Oktoberfest investments would be a back up power pack that can fully charge your phone multiple times, a power bar so you can make new friends with the other people hanging around in the toilet looking for an outlet, and a drop proof case for your phone because you will drop it.

If you want to bring a camera other than your phone, don’t bring something expensive if you plan to stay on well into the night. In the evenings the beer halls turn into absolute carnage. Beer is everywhere from drunken toasts, people are dancing on every available flat surface, and you’re probably deep in your cups by that point too and not thinking very clearly. None of these things are very friendly to technology. Keeping your tech to a minimum while actually in the festival grounds is probably a smart move anyway. Not only do you not have to worry about losing or breaking any of it, but also this is a experience about being with people, you don’t need to mediate it through technology beyond the selfies to prove you were actually there.

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View out over the festival grounds from the top of a ride. Till Kuder took this photo, I have a fear of heights and was holding on to the safety bar with white knuckles about three seats behind him.

Things to do Other than Drink

There are things to do other than drink, in fact Oktoberfest is in a large part family friendly. The beer halls get really rowdy the later in the day it gets, and they also get super crowded. If that type of drinking culture is not your thing, go earlier. You should be able to get a seat, order some food, and enjoy the atmosphere without the drunken revelers. Outside the beer halls it is a carnival. There are games, fair ground rides, and tons of food options. You will not lack for things to do. Definitely give one of the roller coasters a go!

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The amazing BritBound Oktoberfest crew in the beer hall, day two. This was early in the morning while we all still looked good. Photo credit is to BritBound ’cause it was taken on their events phone.

Things to Know if you Only Plan to Drink

Most of the things you need to know if you plan to settle in for a day of drinking I’ve outlined above. Make sure you have a way to find your people when your phone doesn’t work (or you lost it, or it ended up in a full stein), bring more money than you think you need, and dress up. You want to get to the beer hall early so that you can claim a spot. Some people reserve tables–and if you’re not into early mornings this is a really good plan. If you are early you may just have to hit a beer hall or two to find unreserved tables you can claim. Beyond the logistics, it is all really just getting into the culture of the beer halls. There are crowd led chants (if you’re lucky you will get a drunken zen master to show you the way as we did the first day; we were “those people” the second day), you cheer those who skull their steins (and boo those who can’t finish it it one go), and there is dancing on all the benches.

It’s madness and there is carnage, but it is an amazing time that is not to be missed.

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