With its wheat beer, roller coaster rides and crowds of people, the Oktoberfest is famous far and wide. Every year up to seven million visitors flock to the Bavarian capital Munich to enjoy the biggest fair in the world.
The Oktoberfest has expanded and changed over time. For example, horse racing was dropped and more and more big beer tents and rides like merry-go-rounds, ghost trains and roller coasters were added – and they still feature here today. As well as the big beer tents, in which well-known Bavarian breweries serve their beer, and the merry-go-rounds for adults and children, there are many other Oktoberfest traditions. If, like the Brazilian student Larissa, you are visiting the event for the first time, you will learn quite a lot about traditions, customs – and queuing up outside the beer marquees.
„Although I’ve been living in Munich for five years, I’ve never been to the Oktoberfest“, admits Larissa, as she enters the fairground. Larissa is originally from Brazil and is currently studying for a Master’s degree at TU Munich. She has decided at the last minute to visit the Oktoberfest to get to know her adopted home a little better.
„Tied on the left means single, tied on the right means in a relationship.“
Larissa is wearing a traditional Dirndl borrowed from a friend. She points to the ribbon tied in a bow around her hip and explains: “Tied on the left means single, tied on the right means in a relationship.” That’s a local tradition a friend here in Munich told her about, but she’s not quite sure whether people really take it seriously.
The first thing you notice is the smell of Lebkuchen (ginger bread) drifting over from a stall to the left of the entrance. On the right, men in Lederhosen, Bavaria’s traditional leather breeches, are trying to run up a moving conveyor belt without falling over; this is the Oktoberfest’s oldest fairground ride, the Toboggan. As a reward, the brave heroes who make it to the top are allowed to slide back down a chute. Some visitors stop to enjoy the spectacle of the struggling men.
It’s the last Saturday of the Oktoberfest and the fairground is extremely crowded. It is grey and cloudy, but you hardly notice the weather surrounded by so many happy faces. “We don’t have a fair like this in Brazil. My mother wouldn’t be able to imagine how huge it is,” explains Larissa squeezing past souvenir stalls and groups of people. In a minute, she is going to meet her friends and try to get one of the popular seats in one of the 14 beer tents. Only in the beer tents can you buy the famous Maß (measure of beer) – they aren’t allowed elsewhere on the fairground.
Getting into the beer tent turns out to be more difficult than expected. It’s already 3pm, and most visitors grab a seat early in the day or reserve months in advance. A long wait lies ahead. “The doormen don’t look as if they take bribes,” jokes Larissa. It takes a good hour.
Inside, the tent seems a lot bigger than it looks from the outside. It has the capacity to hold more than 8,000 people, and it’s packed. Although the air is already a bit thin, the visitors are having fun. A band playing on a stage in the centre of the tent also adds to the party atmosphere.
Larissa looks at the large beer in front of her. Then she sings along to the mix of well-worn tunes and classic pop songs with her friends around the table – and ends up staying a little longer than planned.
Although the Bavarian dialect is becoming rarer, it is alive and well at the Wiesn. Here it has lost none of its charm and can be heard in every corner of the fairground. Here are the most important terms you should know: