Munich’s Oktoberfest is the largest Volksfest in the world—and the most popular. Every year, around six million visitors from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the Bavarian capital to experience Germany’s iconic Oktoberfest. But hardly anyone knows about the roots of the Wiesn.
Grab a Mass (that’s a massive pint glass) and discover these useful tips on how to make your Oktoberfest a success. Discover the history of how Oktoberfest started in Germany, as well as three international alternatives to seek out.
Oktoberfest: An Origin Story
To celebrate the wedding of Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria, later King Ludwig I, and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, Bavarian National Guardsman Andreas Michael Dall’Armi launched a horse race. On October 17, 1819, 40,000 spectators gathered on the Theresienwiese—later named after the bride—to watch the spectacle. It was such a hit that it became an annual extravaganza. From the 19th century onwards, it developed into the Oktoberfest we all know and love today, and the small stalls transformed into large beer tents with their own bands.
Today, visitors can choose from around 30 large and small tents that only serve beer from Munich’s traditional breweries—Augustiner, Paulaner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu, to name a few. In addition to numerous merry-go-rounds and roller coasters, guests can savor food such as Hendl (a spiced roast chicken) or Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock). To mark its 200th anniversary, Oktoberfest was expanded in 2010 to include Oide Wiesn, an area dedicated to the origins of the event.
How to make your Oktoberfest a success
You’ll be right on trend with a pair of dapper lederhosen or a natty dirndl. If you decide to wear a dirndl, be sure to find out how to knot your bow. The position of the knot tells if you are single or engaged. Also, only take what you really need to the tents since you might be there all day. Since you can expect a colorful mix of traditional brass band, Schlager (traditional German music) and pop music, familiarize yourself with a few classic songs and dances in advance. The Prost song is quickly learned and makes it easy to connect with others.
Before you arrive, check out Wiesnbarometer, a website that shows occupancy and open seating for the best Oktoberfest tents. Each tent has a different vibe: Augustiner Festhalle is more traditional, while Hacker Festzelt attracts a younger crowd.
Once you’ve found your seat, order your first Mass. But beware: the beer is stronger than usual and a whole liter. Hold it by the handle, between your thumb and the rest of your fingers. You can avoid a too-quick end to your Oktoberfest experience by eating regularly. With all the delicacies on offer, that shouldn’t be a problem. If you want to try a fresh Weisswurst (traditional Bavarian sausage), be quick! They are traditionally only served until noon and come with sweet mustard and a pretzel. Don’t forget to tip the hard-working Wiesn waitresses at the Munich Oktoberfest tents. Some of them lift 18 Masskrüge at once! Talk about girl power!
Oktoberfest goes international
Munich and Oktoberfest belong together like peanut butter and jelly or weisswurst and sweet mustard. Even though the festival started in Munich, it expanded across the world.
The little town of Frankenmuth, Michigan, about 95 miles north of Detroit is a Bavarian-style village that sees an influx of tourists year round, especially during Oktoberfest and Christmas. As the name suggests, the small town was founded in 1845 by immigrants from Franconia and is jokingly called Little Bavaria.
At this officially approved offshoot of Munich’s Oktoberfest, expect imported Oktoberfest beer from Munich’s Hofbräuhaus, traditional costumes and German-American food. As a special extra, there is an annual dachshund race.
Zurich, Switzerland, also has its own Oktoberfest with a beer garden and beer tents. During the celebrations, the main hall of the main station is decorated in Bavarian blue and white for Züri Wiesn. If you arrive by train, you only have to walk a few steps to be greeted by the smell of hot Hendl and traditional music. Züri Wiesn has a decisive advantage over other Oktoberfests: you can reserve an entire table for you and your friends.
How about a cold Mass in your hand, sand under your feet and a fresh breeze rifling through your hair? You can have all of that and more at Oktoberfest near Copenhagen, Denmark. The small island of Amager on the Danish coast hosts an annual fete every September that boasts blue-and-white decorations and traditional costumes galore. While smaller in size than other fests—the space only has one tent that accommodates nearly 3,000 people—it still manages to be boisterous and merry, and is free of charge. Still, you have to wear traditional costumes here. Reservations include Bavarian beer, bratwurst or schnitzel, pretzels and an Underberg schnapps.