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9 rules for surviving Oktoberfest

By Kerry Christiani and CNN staff
updated 2:26 AM EDT, Fri September 20, 2013
Yes, you'll look like an idiot in lederhosen or a bosom-lifting dirndl. The good news is, so will everyone else. Oh, and cross-dressing is apparently fine.
Yes, you'll look like an idiot in lederhosen or a bosom-lifting dirndl. The good news is, so will everyone else. Oh, and cross-dressing is apparently fine.
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1. Hitch those hosen
2. Belt out "Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit"
3. Find table, don't visit rest room
4. Sit on that Viking helmet
5. Drink like a European
6. Elect your tent
7. It could be Wurst
8. Wear your dirndl bow right
9. Play the tourist -- buy a souvenir
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Don't worry about looking ridiculous in lederhosen: everyone does
  • Be prepared to sing along in voluble if not terribly accurate German
  • Choose your "personality tent"
  • Discover which way a virgin wears her dirndl bow

(CNN) -- Raised steins, raised bosoms, leather-clad Bavarian thighs.

Oktoberfest's sure got a beer tent full of clichés about it.

But bet you don't know why "Gemütlichkeit" is untranslatable (let alone unpronounceable), what false teeth were doing in the lost property bin last year and whether the yodeling or oompah tent would best suit your personality.

Read on, Lieblings.

Bavaria's biggest beer love-in kicks off in Munich on Saturday, September 21, and runs through October 6.

1. Gird your bosom, hitch those hosen

Worried that squeezing into a bosom-lifting dirndl or a pair of skin-tight lederhosen will make you look ridiculous?

Don't worry: it will, but considering almost everyone will also resemble an extra in a B-grade medieval romp, you'll fit right in.

To put it another way, when in Bavaria, do as the Bavarians do -- and they're pretty proud of their huntsman-and-strapping-maid heritage.

Rent a costume if you don't fancy splashing out on your own outfit.

Although -- used lederhosen?

2. Learn to belt out "Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit"

Most singing is welcome at Oktoberfest -- including Japanese yodeling, as this performer proved in a previous year.
Most singing is welcome at Oktoberfest -- including Japanese yodeling, as this performer proved in a previous year.

Fitting in at Oktoberfest is all about getting the balance right.

Leather shorts and flouncy dresses: good.

Beer stein hats: bad.

Also good: singing.

Not anything, though (unless it's really late).

Bavarian bonding is about sing-alongs, and one such tune you'll hear time and again at the festival is "Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit."

It's tricky to translate because "Gemütlichkeit" is supposed to mean some fusion of "happiness" and "belonging" that Anglo-Saxons are too uptight to understand.

So try mumbling, "Cheers to something-Anglo-Saxons-are-too-uptight-to-understand" and then the important bit -- clink glasses.

3. Find table; don't visit rest room

You're thinking: Oh, Bavarians sound really jolly.

Not at all the punctuality freaks of German stereotype.

Well, kind of, but this country didn't set the standard for luxury precision automobiles without thinking ahead.

Which means that Germans book tables months in advance in the most popular Oktoberfest tents (see below for a tent-by-personality guide).

Without a reservation you'll spend hours queuing and, even if you eventually get a seat, will lose it as soon as you pop to the toilet.

4. Sit on that Viking helmet

Of the thousands of items ending up in lost property each year at Oktoberfests past, some have been obvious: Viking helmets, (ahem) wedding rings, French horns.

Others were less obvious: false teeth, (live) grasshoppers.

Lesson: don't bring anything precious to Oktoberfest, especially not your dignity.

5. Drink like a European

We\'ve been there -- a Bierleiche, \
We've been there -- a Bierleiche, "beer corpse."

You know those patronizing stories about how Continentals -- unlike Yanks, Brits and Aussies -- don't get drunk but sit around sipping Gewürztraminer in sidewalk cafes, quoting Proust?

They're not all lies!

That said, Germans do have a word for a paralytic person -- a Bierleiche, meaning beer corpse.

Don't be one.

Surviving 12 hours of solid drinking is a marathon, not a sprint, so make each liter Mass (those jug-like glasses) last.

At up to 8%, this wheat beer is strong stuff.

For the record, a Mass costs around €9.80 ($13) in 2013.

Tip well if you expect to be served again.

6. Choose your tent

There are 14 tents in all at Oktoberfest and the one you choose says a lot about you.

"Tent," though, requires some clarification -- this isn't boy scout-related.

Schottenhamel and Hofbräu-Festzelt tents each have a mammoth 10,000 seats (around six million people will attend the festival in total), filled with a generally youngish, oompah-singing, rollicking international crowd.

Champagne-drinking celebrities hang out in the Hippodrom or Käfer's Wies'n-Schänke tent.

Arguably the best beer is served in the traditional, family-friendly Augustiner (where people are likely still to be noticing such things), though the roaring lion at the Löwenbräu would have something to say about that.

Would-be shepherds drink under a painted sky at Hacker-Pschorr, dubbed the Himmel der Bayern ("Bavarian heaven"), while Bräurosl has a resident yodeler.

7. Do your Wurst

Luckily, Oktoberfest food -- make that German food, in general -- seems designed to protect the stomach, and reputation, against excessive wheat beer consumption.

A meal of Wurst in various guises -- pork knuckles with sauerkraut, goulash and dumplings and pretzels as big as your head with Obatzda, a Camembert-paprika dip -- is ideal preparation for a more or less civilized session at the stein table.

Saueres Lüngerl -- sour calf-lung dumplings -- is another Bavarian speciality, yet one that risks having the opposite effect from that intended.

The restaurants page on Muenchen.de has a selection of traditional Bavarian restaurants in Munich.

8. Wear your dirndl bow right

Married to a large professional football player (Daniel van Buyten) this Oktoberfest lady is no doubt wearing her dirndl bow to the right.
Married to a large professional football player (Daniel van Buyten) this Oktoberfest lady is no doubt wearing her dirndl bow to the right.

Mead!

Banquets!

Maidens!

Debauchery ...

... er, no.

Bavarians might let their braces down at Oktoberfest but while flirting is fine, even expected, it stops at a very firm line.

You can call a lady fesch (pretty), but don't imagine you're in the aforementioned B-grade medieval romp and start praising her Gaudinockerln (lit. lovely dumplings -- no need to spell it out).

Ladies, be aware of the signals your dirndl bow is sending out: to the right means attached, to the left, single, in the center -- not recommended and somehow unlikely to be true -- a virgin.

9. Play the proper tourist

Believe it or not, there's more to Oktoberfest than beer-guzzling, thigh-slapping revelry.

You can see its more traditional side at Saturday's opening Festzug, where a thousand tent owners and brewers parade through Munich's streets with horse-drawn, flower-bedecked drays laden with barrels.

It's also kitsch heaven, with Oktoberfest-themed steins, fridge magnets and snow globes on sale, plus the chance to get a last-minute embroidered dirndl or lederhosen (used or unused).

Visit Oktoberfest.de to plan your own Oktoberfest adventure.

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