“O’zapft is!” – this little Austro-Bavarian phrase means “It’s tapped!”, and that’s exactly what they cheer when they declare Oktoberfest open! Attracting millions of visitors each year, this festival has become a sort of cultural phenomenon, and you can find out here exactly how it came to be, what the traditional dress looks like, and which dates you should have in your head if you’re planning a trip.

There’s no other folk festival which attracts as many tourists to Germany from all over the world as the Oktoberfest in Munich. Around 6 million visitors flock to this festival in the Bavarian capital each year to take up their places in tents funny names like the Hofbräu-Zelt, the Käfers Wiesen-Schänke and the Schottenhammel. Yep – the biggest folk festival is more popular now than ever before, but how did it come to be? Do you know off the top of your head why the Oktoberfest is celebrated in September? And why it is celebrated in Munich every year? No? Then listen up!

Oktoberfest in Munich

How it all began… | Why September? | The festival site | Dress code | Oktoberfest 2016

Munich, Germany - October 2, 2015: Aerial view on the Oktoberfest on Theresienwiese in Munich
Photo: iStock.com/Carso80

Once upon a time…

You’re probably going to laugh at this, but the original concept of Oktoberfest had almost nothing to do with the event as we know it today. Let’s go back a little to the year 1810, when the wedding of Prince Ludwig von Bayern and Princess Therese Sachsen-Hildburghausen was celebrated on 17th October in Munich with all the people living in the city. To honour the princess, the party location was named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow) and the crowning highlight of the ceremony was a horse race. The day went without a hitch and everyone celebrated and had fun together… So why not do it again the year after? Small stalls and festival tents were built, and the younger guests enjoyed the carousels. Year upon year, more and more guests turned up, and the event gradually developed into a public festival. No one would have imagined that this Oktoberfest would one day become a huge beer festival, especially seeing as it was forbidden to serve alcohol on the festival site. Fancy that!


Oktoberfest in September… Something’s a little off, surely?

Today it’d be impossible to think that there would be no alcohol served on the premises. After all, the official opening of the fest is celebrated with the tapping of a barrel and the words “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!) –  and it’s been like that since 1950! If you’re wondering why Oktoberfest even takes place in September and not in October as you’d might think, then you’ll get the long awaited answer. After Oktoberfest established itself as a highly awaited festival, nobody wanted to risk bad weather. Seeing as October is a little colder and has a few more rain showers, someone decided that the festival should be moved forward a few weeks. Even the original week-long duration was extended to two weeks!

Beer at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

The festival field in variation

People have been celebrating the highly popular Oktoberfest for longer than 200 years, with the exception of the war years. To commemorate the anniversary in 2010, the so-called Oide Wiesn was introduced. This is a particularly family-friendly tent, presenting a cultural programme of nostalgic carousels and horse racing as a throw back to the original times of Oktoberfest. Five years before that, it had already been decided to make the festival more family friendly by relegating the loud party music to after 6pm. Before that, the guests will have to be content with the typical Bavarian brass bands!

Munich, Germany - October 01, 2013: People enjoy the ride on a carousel during a sunny afternoon at the Oktoberfest in Munich (Germany). The Oktoberfest is the biggest beer festival of the world with over 6 million visitors each year.
Photo: iStock.com/Nikada

Traditional dress, Dirndl etc.

If you want to throw yourself wholeheartedly into the Munich Oktoberfest, then you’re going to need a little addition to your wardrobe first! The traditional Bavarian dress is definitely not something everyone has in their wardrobe. Whilst men wear a chequered shirt with lederhosen and braces, beige-coloured costume socks and Haferlschuhe (some old-school style shoes), the women throw on a fetching dirndl. The most important thing is that the lederhosen reach over the knee when sitting, a Charivari (a silver chain) is attached to the button hole, and a toy knife is carried with them to remind of hearty mealtime. The dirndl on the other hand is little less effort, since a petticoat, a dirndl apron and a dirndl blouse will complete the outfit. The dress and the petticoat should be the same length, and the traditional blouse should be white with frills. But the main thing the guys are looking for, is the position of the ribbon: If she’s wearing it on the right side, then hands off, this girl is taken. If she’s wearing it on the left, then you can assume she’s single and try your luck with some light-hearted flirting. A bow tied in the middle signified the wearer as a virgin, and those that are wearing it with the bow at the back is either a waitress or a widow.

In Beer garden in Bavaria, Germany - friends in Tracht, Dirndl and Lederhosen and Dirndl standing in front of band

Oktoberfest 2016

This year’s Oktoberfest will kick off on Saturday the 17th September at midday, and will continue until the 3rd of Ocotober. 14 festival tents, a whole load of stalls and carousels and a whole lot of fun! And who knows, maybe this year you might see a famous face or two there. Your go-to place if hoping to spot some celebs would be the well known Käfers Wiesnschänke, which always attracts young stars. But remember to bring enough cash along, as this year the drink prices have gone up again. For a traditional Maß (1 litre of beer) you are looking at paying between €10.40 – €10.70 depending on the tent, and even soft drinks are around €6.90 for the cheapest, some even reaching the €10 mark.

Photo: tichr/Shutterstock

As always, the preparations are running at full speed weeks before, and the hotels are almost all fully booked way in advance. If you’re interested in a trip to the Bavarian capital when its showing its loudest and most colourful side, then you’d better plan well in advance!