Oktoberfest ended in Germany this past weekend, but it’s just getting started in the United States.
Invented in the early 19th century to boost the Bavarian economy, Oktoberfest is traditionally a 16-18 day event that runs from mid-September to the first weekend in October. It has grown into a large, boisterous and successful festival, with close to 7 million liters of beer served in Munich during the celebration. In the U.S., curiously enough, Oktoberfest usually begins just as the German version is ending, and frequently continues during the entire month of October—the logical American mind seemingly can’t embrace the concept of Oktoberfest occurring in September.
Real Oktoberfest beer, if you can find it, is much stronger than the brew we normally consume. At the Munich event, the alcohol content of the beer ranges from 5.8 to 6.3% and has a high sugar content. This has led to a number of young people passing out from drunkenness. These celebrants are known as Bierleichen, or beer corpses. The Germans have instituted a number of reforms to keep Oktoberfest family-friendly (at least during the day), such as limiting the volume to music played in the tents to 85 decibels.
How do know if you’re getting an authentic Oktoberfest? For one thing, the food should include dishes such as ham hocks, pretzels, assorted dumplings and numerous types of sausages, preferably garnished with potato pancakes and red cabbage. There should be a healthy assortment of beer, most of it on tap, with the emphasis on imports—you don’t need to attend Oktoberfest to drink Sam Adams. The conventional wisdom is to seek out a locale with a large German community, but a little bit of municipal enthusiasm goes a long way. At this year’s festival in Fredericksburg, Texas, 75 beers were served, including nearly 30 from Germany.
Lastly, be careful with your attire. Remember that nothing gets forgotten in the Internet age, and prospective employers may not appreciate pictures of you clad in lederhosen with a blonde on your lap, waving a beer stein throughout eternity.