Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lifestyle: The Oktoberfest Guide

While I was tweeting and Instagramming during the Oktoberfest weeks, I was asked a variety of questions on what to wear, where to go, what to eat. I thought I'd give my take on Oktoberfest into a neat little guide, which by no means is fully comprehensive nor the granddaddy of Oktoberfest guides. In fact, I pretty much focus on what I deem as the most important elements of Oktoberfest: 1) trachten (i.e. what to wear), 2) the beer tents, 3) the rides, 4) the beer, and 5) the food. 

Oktoberfest is a celebration, not only of beer, as everyone seems to believe, but of the traditions and culture of Germany. You'll notice the spirit of tradition most strongly in Bavaria, the south of Germany. If you attend, you can immediately set apart the locals from the tourists, as the locals call Oktoberfest "Wies'n" after the grounds upon which the fest has been held- Theresienwiese.

Trachten, i.e. What the Heck Do I Wear?:
For the girls:
Contrary to what some tourists think- and wear!- this is not the time to don your best slutty Oktoberfest girl costume that you see during Halloween in the US. The concept of trachten, or dirndl and lederhosen, is to maintain the traditions of old, meaning that the more conservative dirndls tend to hit mid-calf, with some of the older generations opting for the full-length version grazing their heels. The apron is a key item, with the bow announcing your relationship status to the general public (in case the boys are too drunk to ask). Here is a breakdown:
Tying the bow on the left = single and ready to mingle
Tying the bow on the right = taken, don't touch
Tying the bow in the middle = virgin or tourist, let's hope the latter
Tying the bow in the back = widow... or waitress

Over the years, the trends may show themselves in small details. In past years, the fluffy, poofy sleeves with sheer lace were popular, but in 2013, the big trend geared toward a plain, cotton blouse. You can also set yourself apart from all the other girls by personalizing what I referred to as the little dangly charms that hung from your chesticles. 

When purchasing my dirndl, I went to Ludwig Beck, a store in Germany with a floor that caters to all your trachten needs. I tried on maybe about 10 dirndls, but opted for very traditional and bright colors of blue, red, and black. I also picked a sheer, lace, poofy-sleeved blouse because, after trying it on, I felt like a pirate... and that was all the reason I need.

Keep in mind that the bodice is essentially like a corset, so breathing may be difficult, but what is pain when you're trying to show your jubblies to the world. A special bra is also available to "highlight and give extra support to the bust", but I opted out of that one. All total, a quality dirndl can run you about €250, but for those so inclined, Karl Lagerfeld has also designed a version for a mere €2,900.

For the boys:
Checkered gingham in various colors are popular, with red, blue, and forest green being the go-to colors for boys. Lederhosen can run the gamut on prices, but if you're planning on coming to Oktoberfest more than once, you want to invest in quality leather that will naturally crease with familiarity over time. Brown loafers and knee-high wool socks complete the look.

The Beer Tents:
If you are a company located in Bavaria, one of the popular ways to improve office morale is to use booze and tradition to bond with your coworkers. While those in the US might find it odd or awkward to get completely tanked with your office mates, those of you in Korea will recognize the necessity of the great social lubricant as a necessity in uplifting the office spirit. More than half of the tables at the tents during Oktoberfest are reserved by companies. Table reservations are always recommended, especially if you're part of a group, as the tent participation is what truly captures the spirit of Oktoberfest. However, seating is very limited, and almost always sold out months before the actual Oktoberfest.

If you're a tourist and not trying to be totally regimented with your Oktoberfest experience, the city of Munich has got your back: in 2013, they made sure that half the tent spots remain reservation-free until 3PM, after which 35% are still free. Additional tent seats are left open to random revelers, so you can try to sneak into a tent, if the beer gods are with you, after the dinners are served, around 8:30PM or so. This is usually when people get outright rambunctious and crazy drunk, so the likelihood of you managing to make the slip past the door guards are high. There is also the option of bribing the tent guards, but be prepared to slip them a €50 bill- per person.

There are 14 very packed large tents and 20 small tents, so the smaller tents are usually where you should try your luck if braving the large crowds or bribing doesn't appeal to you.

Winzerer Fähndl: this tent is notable because it has a tower with a giant mug of a Paulaner beer on top. 

Ammer Hühner & Entenbraterei is one of the smaller tents but clearly they've got the art of roasting chicken down.

Hofbräu-Festzelt is popular with the Americans and Australians.

Hippodrom is one of the trendiest tents with a circus/horse race theme. 

Löwenbräu-Festhalle: lions getting drunk.

The inside of Hacker-Festzelt has low-hanging clouds, true to its nickname of "Himmel der Bayern", or "heaven of the Bavarians". 

The tent at Oide Wiesn, a quieter, more traditional part of Oktoberfest. 

The Rides:
Like any good festival, Oktoberfest has expanded from the agricultural shows and horse race of old into a carnival of sights, sounds, and rides, as well as the beer tents. There are about 80 rides on the Oktoberfest site, with most of the rides being operated by carnival families who have been working for the Oktoberfest since the beginning of the 20th century. Entrance into the actual fest is free, but the actual rides themselves, like everything at Oktoberfest, tend to be quite pricey, averaging about €5 per ride. Nevertheless, revelers always like to test fate and try to ride the loop-de-loops, especially after consuming several mugs of beer and a roasted chicken. Try to spare yourselves the inevitable stomach ache and nausea, and drink the beers after the rides.

Olympia Looping: the largest portable roller coaster in the world, this ride appears in many carnivals throughout Germany, but first appeared at Oktoberfest in 1989.

Riesenrad: a 12m (39ft) high ferris wheel that's been a staple on the Oktoberfest grounds since 1880.

The swings are always a favorite ride of mine.

The Beer:
There are 6 breweries that are the producers of official Oktoberfest beer. The requirements to be an official Oktoberfest beer are quite stringent, but the basic rules are that the beer must be brewed within the city limits of Munich and must be approximately 6% alcohol. The official Oktoberfest beers are made by Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu, and Staatliches Hofbräu-München, all beer sponsors of multiple tents.

Beers are ordered by giant mugs, or Maß. 1 Maß is the equivalent of 1L of beer, which is about two bottles. Oktoberfest beer has a higher alcohol and sugar content than other beers in Germany, and many people overestimate how many Maß they can consume.

For the ladies, may I suggest something I discovered on my second Oktoberfest outing: a delightful drink called the Radler, which is 1 part beer, 1 part Sprite, equal parts delicious. It looks like a beer, so the beer snobs won't get on your case every time a "Prost!" is called, but you won't get nearly as wasted. Let's face it, no one wants to face-plant off a bench into a crowd. Keep your Radlers to a 2.5 Maß minimum.

Every time the drink song comes on, everyone is expected to drink, but I totally drank like droplets each time. I think I understand how bartenders feel. 

The Food:
Traditional Bavarian fare reigns supreme, obviously. I could have very happily eaten my way through Oktoberfest,

Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes): hot and crisp potato shreds molded into a pancake, traditionally consumed with apple sauce.

Nackensteak mit Zwiebeln: tender pieces of marinaded steak, juicy slices of onions sandwiched by the halves of a warm Brötchen

Cold cuts, sharp mustard, pickles, radishes, and pretzels. 

Roast chicken (Hendl) halves with crispy skins, yum my favorite!

Schaschlik: skewers of pork simmered in a paprika, onion, and curry sauce. 

And NO Oktoberfest is complete without a big ole helping of Kaiserschmarrn, a light, caramelized pancake split and shred into pieces, baked in butter, sprinkled with powdered sugar and raisins, served hot with apple or plum sauce. 

Other Tips:
Whatever you do, wear/bring items that you do not care about being utterly ruined (this includes your purse, coat, and shoes). There is no coat check. Everything will get wet.

Some girls will be sticklers for tradition and wear a long-sleeved woolen, collarless cardigan. This is only good for the daytime, but at night, it's going to get cold, so pack a sensible modern coat/jacket. Bring a big bag to stuff your jacket in whilst in the tents. You may get hot within the tent, but once you leave, it's a long walk from the tents to the festival exit points.

Shoes: I chose to wear beige UGG moccasins because there is nothing better than walking on sheepskin-lined moccasins. It's like floating on air. However, flats are also widely worn.

Go more than once, and try to spread your Oktoberfest experience so that you can enjoy the outside carnival area as well as the tents.

Here is a wonderful article by The Atlantic with stunning photos representative of the Oktoberfest experience. Take a perusal and decide if you're going to attend next year. And if you do, let me know in the comments below!

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