Editor's note: This delightful story was first published in 2015, but it still serves as a good guide to Oktoberfest -- which, of course, annually kicks off in September. Celebration dates for 2017 are Sept. 16 through Oct. 3. Prost!
O'Zapft is! Oktoberfest has started!
Kegs around the world will be tapped Saturday to celebrate the beginning of Oktoberfest. North Texas is no exception as it is a wünderschönes land filled with those eager to celebrate the turning of the seasons, good beer and good company.
In order to properly experience Oktoberfest, a little self-education is advised. It has been a German tradition for over 200 years — the least we Americans could do is immerse ourselves in knowledge before imbibing in their beer.
After speaking with Jürgen Mahneke, owner of the Bavarian Grill in Plano, and comparing notes from German Oktoberfest sources and my own memories of living in Munich during Oktoberfest, I have amassed a quick guide to Oktoberfest and how to make the most out of the few weekends out of the year North Texans have to enjoy the festivities.
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is known in Bavaria as Weisn and it all began as a wedding celebration. On October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildberghausen in the fields on the edge of Munich. (The fields were later named Theresienwiese in the princess' honor and remain the site of Oktoberfest to this day.) The citizens of Bavaria were invited to attend the celebration, which in its inaugural year included horse races as a primary attraction. The celebration became an annual event that grew each year.
While the horse races are no longer part of the festivities and the agricultural festival happens every third year, the amusement rides are going strong to this day. The beer offerings at Oktoberfest began with small stands, but by 1896 the beer tents and halls were established by major breweries for the festival. The beer tents are not mere festival tents as we know them. They are large buildings that are constructed on the Theresienwiese in advance of the festival to house thousands of people at a time.
Above all, Oktoberfest should fill you with Gemütlichkeit, or a feeling of warmth, happiness and acceptance
What do I wear?
You've surely seen traditional Bavarian dress called Tracht. Men wear Lederhosen while women wear Dirndl.
Lederhosen are essentially short leather overalls. I've been told they can be quite warm, but also quite freeing to wear for the first time. They are typically worn with a button-down shirt of some sort. If you're looking to be particularly Bavarian, you will wear a checkered white and blue shirt to echo the colors of the state of Bavaria.
Dirndl are a bit more complicated. These are by no means the beer maid costume dresses that will be available in stores for Halloween soon. There is history, art and meaning in the production and wearing of Dirndl in Germany.
They come in all styles and colors that you can imagine. My Dirndl, for example, has a stitched image of the Alps on the apron and is very shimmery and green. In the past couple of years, there has been a resurgence of popularity for fashion designers to design haute couture Dirndl.
Pro-tip: If you're going to buy an authentic Dirndl, do it in the off-season. You'll save some dough for another Bier or two.
There are three major parts to the Dirndl that women must buy: the white shirt, which is short and acts as a camisole for the dress; the dress itself; and the apron, some will be decorative and integral to the look of the Dirndl, others will be colored with a basic pattern.
How a woman ties the apron of her Dirndl sends a message to suitors of all stripes at Oktoberfest. If you are single and ready to mingle, tie it on left. If you are taken, tie it on the right. Tying your bow in the front and center signals that you are a virgin and if you've tied your apron in the back then you're either a widow or you're a waitress.
About the bier...
Bavarians take their beer very seriously. So seriously in fact its production is dictated by a law called the Reinheitsgebot, the purity order. This is no TABC law. Rather, it dictates that the only permitted ingredients in beer are water, barley and hops. You're not going to see anything like Lakewood's Raspberry Temptress in Munich. Really, many North Texas craft beers would be a tough sell in Bavaria because of their assortment of added ingredients.
You may be expecting to order a "stein" of beer, well you'd be ordering a rock. The German word you're looking for is "Maß" (pronounced 'mas, like the end of Christmas). They measure in at slightly more than one liter each, which is about 2.3 American beers. Each one packs more of a punch too measuring on average at 6-percent alcohol by volume.
Offerings from imported German breweries to look for include Ayinger, Hofbrau, Paulaner, Spaten and Weihenstephaner. If you're looking for a Reinheitsgebot-approved beer from North Texas look no further than Franconia. Dennis Wehrman, Franconia's owner and brew master, put his degree in brewing sciences to work in McKinney brewing a variety of different German-style beers.
And the meat and potatoes...
If you're going to drink a lot of beer, you need to make sure to eat too. Luckily, the Germans have this whole food and beer thing figured out. You'll find choices of sausages, pretzels, spätzle and more at Oktoberfest in Munich and in North Texas.
The video above, with English subtitles, gives a good introduction to some traditional Bavarian options to intersperse with your beers. The host is taught by Bavarians how to properly eat a Weißwurst, a white sausage that is traditionally made in the mornings and served before noon because preservatives are not used. (I have many fond memories of Weißwurstfrühstück — a breakfast of Weißwürst, pretzels and beer with some of my closest friends.)
For those looking for something a little less adventurous, a schnitzel is a great place to start. It is a pounded piece of pork, veal or chicken that is breaded and lightly pan fried. Jürgen Mahneke, of the Bavarian Grill, said that now until the first Wednesday in November is Schnitzelfest at the restaurant for which they are serving 28 different varieties of schnitzel.
What do I listen to? Polka?
Polka is a pretty big part of any good German party, but the music culture there is much more diverse.
For Wiesn, you have to make sure you know how to sing "Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit" because, in Munich at least, it plays literally every 30 minutes. At the end of the song, you sing "Eins, Zwei, g'soffa" and toast your beer with your neighbor. You'll see in this video (oh and here's a pronunciation guide):
Also important is "Bayern (des samma mia)." It is a great drinking song with lyrics that extol the great Bavarian drinking traditions like the Reinheitsgebot, the over 500-year-old German beer purity law. Below, it is dubbed over a video of German-metal band Rammstein, who does perform the song at concerts in Munich.
A modern take on polka classified as Neue Volksmusik (new folk music), "Nackert," is a relatively silly song by Bavarian-band LaBrassBanda about Oktoberfest and, from my limited understanding of the Bavarian dialect, more specifically about bringing a bulldog to Oktoberfest with you while naked. Either way, it is an upbeat tune to strap on your lederhosen to so you're ready to dance.
No Oktoberfest would be complete without drunken renditions of John Denver's "Country Roads." Why John Denver? The answer is not exactly clear. The Washington Post took a stab an an explanation and mostly concluded that it is singable and relatable to the German audience.
Where's the party in North Texas?
Looking for one -- or several -- Oktoberfest events all over D-FW? You can see a full list here.
If you do make it out, make sure to tweet photos of your experiences to GuideLive.
Ein Prosit to y'all, North Texas!