Every year, more than six million people clad in tight-fitted bodices and H-shaped suspenders visit Munich for the beer-drinking debauchery known as Oktoberfest. This year, I was lucky enough to find out for myself just exactly what happens at Oktoberfest — I attended the traditional German bash proudly known as the world's largest fair for my very first time. Maybe the lines were blurred after a few liters of beer, but I noticed that my Oktoberfest expectations versus the reality of the occasion didn't quite match up. Fortunately, I buddied up with a friend, who had gone to the event before and was able to show me the ropes. But, without her wise recommendations of what to do and when to do it, I probably would have been totally lost if I had acted on my own prior knowledge of Oktoberfest — or lack thereof.
So, if you are anything like me before I had the chance to take part in this festive gathering — dreaming of Oktoberfest before even being legally allowed to drink — you likely have a few expectations. Now that I've been there and drank that, I'm sharing my newfound expertise with you to debunk any falsehoods you would naturally believe. Of course, the only way to properly understand what Oktoberfest is really like is to experience it for yourself, but for now, here's a preview of the two-week-long shenanigans that take place. Prost!
Expectation: Oktoberfest takes place in October.
Reality: Despite its misleading name, Oktoberfest actually begins in September, and closes early October. The festival signifies a royal marriage that took place in October of 1810, but it has since developed into a two-week long event with traditions starting earlier than the historic union so that guests can enjoy nicer weather. And on that note...
Expectation: The weather will be perfect.
Reality: Although the event takes place in early fall, a time associated with warm, dry weather, temperatures in Germany still drop to lower averages with some rainfall in these post-summer months. Heed my advice, and take a jacket.
Expectation: You can arrive whenever you want.
Reality: Beer tents open at 10 a.m., but lines can form as early as 7 a.m. to get a spot inside. Depending on the popularity of the beer tent you choose to visit and the time you go, proper planning could save you hours of waiting in lines. And once you're in, it's not easy to get in somewhere else.
Expectation: You can last all night.
Reality: After drinking your body weight in beer and gallivanting around Theresienwiese all day, you’re going to be exhausted. But even if you have the stamina of the Energizer Bunny and a liver made of steel, you couldn’t party all night even if you wanted to, because everything closes by midnight.
Expectation: Dressing up isn't a big deal.
Reality: You’ll feel out of place if you don’t look the part. In Munich’s Oktoberfest, dirndls and lederhosen are the fashion statement around. Even kids rock these (modified) frocks. If you didn’t show off your traditional Bavarian garb, did you even go to Oktoberfest?
Expectation: Buying a dirndl is super expensive.
Reality: Although an authentic, handmade dirndl or lederhosen ensemble could cost about 200 euros, there are plenty of affordable options. You can easily find sales on the streets, in shops, and at local sites. I found my real dirndl at the main train station for 18 euros, which is less than a fake, substitute costume you can also find online.
Expectation: Drinking beer is the only thing there is to do.
Reality: While guzzling beers may be the main event, there is much more to do than just drinking yourself into oblivion. You can easily find several venues serving oversized snacks like pretzels and bratwurst, as well as top-notch German cuisine. Gingerbread cookie necklaces are fun souvenirs to give and receive from admirers. And at night, you can test your limits and hold on for dear life as the lit-up fair rides take you to unimaginable heights... but you might want to do this on a separate day when you're not drinking.
Expectation: You can handle your beer.
Reality: In general, German beer is stronger than our trusty Bud Light back in the States, and during Oktoberfest, the beers served are made special (stronger) just for the event. So, if you underestimate your limit, you’re in for a rude awakening. Just try not to be one of those boozers passed out in the train station resting in their own barf.
Expectation: You will have the best time of your life.
Reality: You might lose your friends in the crowd, drink a little too much, and spend more money than you planned, but you will have the best time of your life.
Images: Marisa Ross; Getty Images (9)