Every German Word You Need to Know for Oktoberfest

Revelers celebrate Octoberfest (Oktoberfest) inside the tents on Theresienwiese.
••• Dan Herrick / Getty Images

 

Oktoberfest draws in visitors from around the world and while the Bavarians are used to the siege of their city after close to 200 festivals, a little bit of good travel etiquette is always appreciated. Learn this German vocabulary to navigate the madness of Oktoberfest.

  • 01 of 21
    Vineyards, Bavaria
    ••• Axel_D

    Known as Bavaria to English speakers, Bayern is the largest of the 16 German Bundesländer (states) with its capital in Munich. Known in German as München, this is the third largest city in Germany behind Berlin and Hamburg.  

     

  • 02 of 21

    die Bierleichen - Beer Corpses

    die Bierleichen at Oktoberfest
    ••• GettyImages / Joerg Koch

    This Oktoberfest phrase you will see in action before you know it has a name. It literally translates to "beer corpses", or less morbidly "snoozing drunks".

    You'll see plenty of these around the fairgrounds or on Kotzhügel (puke hill). There's no shame (ok - only a little shame) in taking a break on the hill before heading back in. Just watch your step for the visitors who've needed to - ahem - clear their system.

  • 03 of 21

    das Bier - Beer

    Oktoberfest beer
    ••• GettyImages / Dan Herrick

    This should be one of the first words you learn for Oktoberfest. Germans take their drinking seriously and bier should be treated with respect (and drunk in large quantities to appreciate). The hard part is restraining yourself from consuming too much.

  • 04 of 21
    Oktoberfest Tent.jpg
    ••• Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Tent. Erin Porter

    There are 14 large beer tents at Oktoberfest plus a number of smaller tents. Also called die Festhalle, each tent has its own personality with some catering to tourists and others a more local crowd.

    • Map of the tents
    • Google map with webcams
       
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  • 05 of 21
    Oktoberfest Munich
    ••• GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski

    A traditional alpine dress - popular among all nationalities at Oktoberfest. The quaint bodice, blouse, skirt and apron are often adorned with hearts and plaid and can even indicate your relationship status. A dirndl tied on the left means you are available; on the right shows you're taken; in the center means virgin; and in the back means widowed or waitress.

  • 06 of 21

    Gemütlichkeit

    Munich oktoberfest tent.jpg
    ••• Erin Porter

    This word doesn't have a direct English translation. It is a heady mix of coziness, cheerfulness, friendliness and social acceptance.

    This feeling encompasses the atmosphere of a successful Oktoberfest. After a mass or two it is not uncommon to embody the meaning as you clink glasses with a table full of new friends.

  • 07 of 21

    der Kellner / die Kellnerin - Waiter / Waitress

    Oktoberfest Waitress
    ••• A waitress at the Hofbrauhaus Tent. Johannes Simon/Getty Images

    Admire the stoicism of the servers as they deftly handle the drunk crowds and hoist armloads of massive beers to each table.

  • 08 of 21

    das Lebkuchenherz - Gingerbread Heart Cookies

    Oktoberfest Lebkuchenherz
    ••• GettyImages / Felbert + Eickenberg

    These classic gingerbread hearts can be found at any German festival including Oktoberfest. Marked with sayings like Ich liebe Dich (I love you) or Grüße aus München (Greetings from Munich), they make for a charming souvenir - just don't buy them for a snack as they're better for decoration.

    Continue to 9 of 21 below.
  • 09 of 21
    Oktoberfest Lederhosen
    ••• GettyImages / Alexander Hassenstein

    Though most Germans would never don a pair of these leather trousers, some Bavarians wear them year-round.

    Expect to see many men - locals and tourists - dressed in these pants or shorts (with or without suspenders) paired with a button-up shirt (often in a blue or red plaid) and knee-high socks.

  • 10 of 21

    die Maß - Liter of Beer

    lowenbrau oktoberfest beer.jpg
    ••• Ein Mass, bitte!. Erin Porter

    A Maßkrug, or simply a Mass (pronounced with a long “a” and not like church mass), is the container of choice for beers at Oktoberfest. Note that this is a full liter of beer as there are no half-measures at the biggest beer festival in the world.

    The most important phrase in the list, order a beer by saying Ein Mass, bitte! (A beer, please!).

  • 11 of 21

    O’zapft is - It's Tapped

    Oktoberfest
    ••• GettyImages / Alexandra Beier

    A Bavarian expression that means the opening of the festival. At noon on the first day of Oktoberfest, the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg of beer. This year it'll be Dieter Reiter replacing long-time fixture Christian Ude. 

  • 12 of 21

    Prost - Cheers

    Munich Oktoberfest Mass.jpg
    ••• Prost!. Erin Porter

    There will be ample opportunity to practice your toast at Oktoberfest. Whenever someone raises a glass you are obliged to raise yours, look in their eyes, clink glasses and shout "Prost"! Fail to meet someone's gaze and you curse both parties to 7 years bad sex - a serious offense.

    Besides the spontaneous clinking, the bands in the tents play Ein Prosit every 20 minutes for mandatory toasts. Sing along to,

    Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit

    Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit

    Eins, zwei, drei, g'suffa!

    Follow with a Prost, clink and drink!

    Continue to 13 of 21 below.
  • 13 of 21

    Reserviert/Reservierung - Reserved

    party crowd at Oktoberfest tent
    ••• Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

    Watch out for these table signs marking a reservation. Note the time, name and number of people for that reservation as it is perfectly fine to sit until the reservation shows up.

    If there are people seated at the table but room for your group, ask

    Ist hier frei?

    "Is here free?"

  • 14 of 21

    Schlager Musik - Hit Music

    Musicians at Oktoberfest Parade
    ••• GNTB/Rainer Kiedrowski

    Until 18:00 the tents are officially family friendly and music is kept at a respectable decimal. However, bands take the stage sometime around noon and start cranking it up until they go full oompa loompa in the evening.

    This is usually a mix of traditional German brass band (die Blaskapelle) favorites like Ein Prosit with "hits" like ABBA, "I Will Survive", "Highway to Hell" and - bizarrely - "New York, New York" added in. 

  • 15 of 21
    German Schnaps.JPG
    ••• Erin Porter

    For reasons highly not recommended, some people feel compelled to drink shots at Oktoberfest. This has sent many a visitor straight to the Toilette or Kotzhügel. Imbibe in the robust German liquors with caution.

  • 16 of 21

    die Toilette - Bathrooms

    Oktoberfest toilet
    ••• GettyImages / STOCK4B Creative

    Typical of German, the way to ask for the restroom is to directly ask for a toilet.

    Wo ist die Toilette?

    "Where is the toilet?"

     

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  • 17 of 21
    Oktoberfest money
    ••• GettyImages / push the button

    Show your Kellnerin your respect (and ensure swifter service) by paying a tip on each round.

    Payment will be expected as soon as your beers are delivered so have your cash ready. Typically, you should round up a euro or two when paying for drinks. For example, a €9.70 mass can be paid for with €15 euros saying "11 euros".  S/he will give back your change.

  • 18 of 21

    Vorübergehend geschlossen - Momentarily Closed

    Oktoberfest closed
    ••• GettyImages / Johannes Simon

    Later in the day, tents fill up and close due to overcrowding. You'll observe this sign which translates to, "Due to overcrowding temporarily closed".

    This can be short-term as people come and go so take a place in line if you really gotta get in. While it is difficult for groups to find a space, single or paired females - especially in drindls - may be allowed in without much trouble.

  • 19 of 21
    Black Cat wine. jpg
    ••• Erin Porter

    While the festival is really all about beer, there are other drink options like the local wines found at the wine tent.

    Non-alcoholic options like soda can also be found in liter amounts in the tents. Some people order a Radler (half-beer/half-cola) to try to make it through the booze fest without losing their dignity (see Bierleichen and Kotzhügel).

  • 20 of 21
    Oktoberfest
    ••• FVAmuc/Thorsten Naeser

    The Bavarian name for Oktoberfest, Wiesn is an abbreviation of Theresienwiese. It may also be called Festwiese by locals.

    A Ferris Wheel is one of the mainstays of any German festival with the massive 50 meter high (164 feet) model offering an awesome view of the grounds. Also look out for classics like das Karussell (carousel) and die Achterbahn (roller coaster).

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  • 21 of 21

    Zum Wohl - To your health

    Oktoberfest Prost
    ••• GettyImages / Alexander Kupka

    Sprinkled in with the numerous cheers of "Prost!", listen for the alternative toast of Zum Wohl ("To your health").