I had the unique experience this past fall of celebrating Oktoberfest in Germany. At a time of year when I am used to dressing up for Homecoming with my friends, I found myself dressing up with my family in a foreign country instead. Since this was our first Oktoberfest, we had a lot of questions and we learned a lot about German culture and traditions.
Not dressing up for Oktoberfest is 10 times more awkward that going to an epic Halloween party and being the only one not in costume. There are stores that sell Oktoberfest costumes year round, as well as stores that pop-up seasonally, much like Halloween stores in North America. The traditional costumes worn for Oktoberfest are called “trokten.” The men’s trokten are called “lederhosen” and the women’s trokten are called “dirndls.” These outfits can range in price from 50 to several hundred Euro. Most stores carry a variety of outfits, so you can decide how much money you want to spend.
Though the name “Oktoberfest” suggests a celebration in October, it is a harvest festival and begins when farmers begin to harvest crops in mid September and continues through to the end of October. Each town seems to celebrate during a certain week or weekend. So, you could travel through Germany and celebrate in a different town every day if you wanted to. Some events require you to buy tickets in advance or on site, while others take place in the streets and you only have to pay for food and alcohol. The largest Oktoberfest celebrations takes place in Munich and thousands of people flood the city to participate.
More than a Party
We were very confused for several weeks as random parade processions passed by our town every Sunday. We learned that every town nominates a “King” and “Queen” of Oktoberfest. There is a parade for them that ends at the town Church or their house. The couple is crowned and their house is decorated with flowers. Many people will also fly a flag outside their home during Oktoberfest. These flags are coloured corresponding to the local hunting group that each household belongs to. There are many of these small traditions leading up to Oktoberfest.
Marathon, not Sprint
Much like Homecoming, Oktoberfest is celebrated for hours and hours over the course of several days. Therefore, it is necessary to pace yourself in order to last the entire celebration. We have found that it is not typical in Germany for anyone to get wildly drunk, especially not during Oktoberfest. So I recommend pacing yourself when drinking anywhere in the country, but especially during Oktoberfest or else you will not last long enough to enjoy it all. There is a ton of great food and live music to take in, as well as ceremonies such as the tapping of the keg, which is the official opening ceremony of Oktoberfest. The trokten can be quite tight, especially the dirndls, so that will help to limit how much you can drink as well.
Family and Community
Oktoberfest is often celebrated as a family and community event. Many people also go out with their friends, but life in Germany is generally very family oriented and so you can expect to see families go out together. There are often separate day-time events for children but it is not unusual for children to be out with their families at any given time during Oktoberfest. This is another reason why it is not appropriate to be a messy drunk in most places. My family celebrated Oktoberfest with the other Canadian families who live in our area, though the event we went to was an 18+ venue.
Food is my favourite part of any German celebration. I have an insatiable love of sauerkraut and pretzels because they are 10 times better in Germany than anywhere else in the world. This year, my family feasted on an unhealthy amount of sauerkraut and pretzels as well as several different kinds of pork, and potatoes made 5 different ways. There was a variety of traditional German foods available, including schnitzel, at vendors throughout the event. One of the most popular dishes among our Canadian and German friends is a sausage and potato soup with peas that you can find almost anywhere you go.
Germany has over 5,000 domestic beers. Alcohol is regulated differently in Europe than in North America, but even more so in Germany. In Germany, you can drink beer and wine at 16, but must be 18 to drink any kind of distilled spirit. Alcohol is much cheaper than in North America and can be bought in any grocery store. However, in order for a beer to be sold as a beer in Germany, it must be made a certain way and from a set list of ingredients. This is partly to limit the competition between beers from other countries and domestic beers. Oktoberfest is a great place to try some domestic beers, especially locally brewed beers from whatever town or city you happen to be in. It is common for local beers to only be served and sold with the city where they are brewed.