People prepare you for Germany’s Oktoberfest in many ways. There are the seemingly tall tales of never-ending bathroom lines and folks passing out in bushes. There’s hyperbolic glorification (“I’ve never been so drunk, bro!”). And then there are the self-preservative words of caution: DO NOT do this or MAKE SURE you do that — lest you out yourself as a boorish American. It’s tough to separate fact from fiction. This boorish American traveled to Munich, where Oktoberfest ran Sept. 21-Oct. 6, to get some answers.
Fact or Fiction: German Beer Does Not Induce a Hangover
People drink literally everywhere in Germany (street, train, church – OK, not certain about that last one) and we had eight days of traveling the region before hitting the real-life Beerfest. So everywhere we went, we drank. Seriously. I ran around a biergarten in Berlin’s Kreuzberg section totally shirtless while management feverishly tried to give me das boot (actually, they were very kind in their request for me to remain fully clothed). So yeah, my tolerance was at an all-time high. I had been told in advance that a hangover was not possible to attain from German beer, something I immediately dismissed as bull-scheisse. However, I must say that over those eight days of pre-gaming (including my half-naked run), not one hangover. Even more puzzling: Not even the Jäger I constantly, unsuccessfully fought against could swell this big, fat American brain. Suddenly, the once-unimaginable “no hangover” theory seemed to have legs. Come Oktoberfest, I guzzled two liters of strong beer in record time and felt the tingle of an oncoming buzz. Then, I apparently had more because I awoke early the next morning with a lot of strange iPhone photos I don’t recall taking and the unmistakable, split-wood sensation of a hangover. I’m told that in total, I downed five liters of moderately-high-percentage German beer on just a stomach of pretzels and a bit of roast chicken. And still — very mild hangover. Chalk it up to my increased alcohol tolerance and training. Or admit that there’s a little truth to the legend.
The ruling: Fiction, with maybe a sliver of fact
Fact or Fiction: It’s More Insulting to Wear Regular Street Clothes to Oktoberfest than Cheap Imitation Lederhosen
Prior to the trip, one fellow traveler went to The Garment District and bought two sets of those aforementioned “Cheap Imitation” lederhosen for $45 each. The outfit consisted of some Halloween costume-quality trousers and suspenders, topped by a ridiculous hat. Upon notice that he’d picked me up a pair, I rolled my eyes. I absolutely hate dressing up. And I could just imagine a bunch of rabblerousing Germans dunking my head in the pee trough for wearing this poseur clothing. While I drunkenly wore this outfit a few times earlier in the trip for schnitzen-giggles, I decided to make it a game-time decision for actual Oktoberfest use. Day of, I went for it. I’m still not sure why, but I wore the damn thing (minus the hat). And let me tell you, I’m glad I did. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was wearing something that looked Bavarian. Sporting an LL Bean barn coat and a Gap hoodie would have made me stick out more than slipping on spandex bearing the ol’ stars-and-stripes (OK, maybe not). In any case, I still felt like the Germans would see through my faux-hosen and I’d be taking that pee trough bath. Not true, a beautiful Bavarian told me. “Some girls go out and wear just a print on their T-shirts [of men’s lederhosen],” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Oktoberfest is Oktoberfest. Everyone just wants to have fun.” So you wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m an American by these clothes? “I thought you were Italian,” she responded. Italian. Hmm, I’ll take it. She may have said anything is acceptable to wear but I would have personally felt like an outcast not wearing something vaguely in theme. So, thank you, travel companion, for saving me the embarrassment of wearing street clothes to Oktoberfest. You followed the sacred code of the Germans, “Bros before lederhosen.” Or something.
The ruling: Fact, surprisingly
Fact or Fiction: An Un-tipped or Under-tipped Waiter at Oktoberfest Will Snub You on Further Service
Tips often get lost in translation. As Americans, we’re used to tipping (or damn well should be). Foreigners, not so much, as my friends in the service industry often lament. Even if the custom of tipping in the US is explained on the check, travelers here often stiff. So it surprised me when our trip organizer/mother hen told us that a waiter would turn their back on us at the Fest if we didn’t tip properly. I put it to the test and bought the first round for the five of us at Oktoberfest, which came to €49 on the dot. I gave the chap a €50 and told him to keep the change. My companions lost their damn minds/nearly fell off their benches trying to catch the guy to bump up the tip before it was too late. When he came back around, I bent his ear and explained my position. He said what any waiter would say, that it was a fine tip and regardless, he wouldn’t have treated us any differently. I wasn’t going to get the honest truth from this kind server sparing my feelings. So I asked a drunk guy, the most honest breed in the world. “It’s just a thing of politeness,” the Munich resident next to me said in slurred speech. “If you don’t tip, it’s just impolite. But it won’t happen that a waiter won’t keep bringing you any more drinks [sic].” There you have it. I’m not advocating for stiffing or under-tipping and I didn’t feel good about that €1 tip. OK, I suppose I was maybe trying to even the score a bit for those waiters back home. In any case, it wouldn’t have amounted to lost service.
The ruling: Fiction, but you should still feel like an ass for not tipping
Fact or Fiction: Germans Don’t Care About Their Native Son Dirk Nowitzki
This one is personal. I grew up in Dallas, remain a massive Mavericks fan, and until the team won an NBA title in 2011, I felt like Dirk was the most disrespected, underappreciated (outside of Dallas) superstar in the league. We love our 7-foot German. After he whipped LeBron James and the heavily-favored Miami Heat with seemingly all of America on The Mavs’ side (this was LeBron’s first year after spurning his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and he was truly hated, as you likely recall), I noticed a change in the national perception of Dirk: He was respected for the greatness that had been obvious to Dallas fans for years. Unfortunately, that perception seems to have not carried across the Atlantic to Dirk’s home country. I asked a guy who owned a sports apparel shop in Munich why no one there loves Dirk like I do and instead, he literally gave me a 20-minute speech about Pats offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (in fairness, he knew that I live in Boston, he loves American football, and he was very proud that a German plays for a team called the “New England Patriots”). When I asked a Berlin waitress if she knew who Dirk was, she made a basketball dribbling motion, smirked and said, “We only care about football,” meaning soccer. A guy in Munich told me, “We know him more [from] commercials.” A bartender said that if I was looking for Dirk fans in Germany to “go to Würzburg,” Nowitzki’s hometown. At a beer hall in Salzburg, Austria, I randomly ran into a group of cowboy hat-wearing dudes from Fort Worth who told me they had encountered the same regional disregard for Dirk. Germans, what gives? This man carried the flag for your country in the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony! He’s a Top 20 all-time NBA player, the greatest international player ever to lace up, and one of the coolest dudes in all of sports. I’d love to have a liter or five with him. As I said to one seemingly anti-Dirk German citizen, “Hey, we’ll take him if you don’t want him.” His response? “Good. Somebody has to.” Your loss, Germany.
The ruling: Fact, very, very unfortunately
OK, Oktoberfest-goers. In the comments, tell me what I missed or about your lessons learned.