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Wir Party Machen: The Music of Oktoberfest

By Corrie Purvis

When you are asked to picture the music at Oktoberfest, what do you envision? Drunken, Lederhosen and Dirndl-clad partygoers, arm-in-arm, belting out their favorite German drinking songs? Or an Oompah band performing classic Bavarian folk tunes? What about a rock band shredding along to some 1980’s American hair metal?

Well, at Oktoberfest, or Wiesn as the locals call it, truly anything and everything goes. And as long as you have a Maß of beer in your hand, a vivid imagination, and the patience to learn a few key German phrases, you can party it up as the Bavarians do.

One of the most widely (and incorrectly) recognized styles of German music is traditional Polka music, which is heard all throughout Oktoberfest. Technically speaking, however, Polka is a style of music originating from Czechia and Slovakia, and its German counterpart is formally known as “Volksmusik” (or folk music). Both styles have overlapping big brass elements, but Volksmusik can also include yodeling riffs, and of course lyrics and themes belonging to the people of the German and Austrian Alps. At Oktoberfest, you will exclusively hear Volksmusik until 6 pm every day, regardless of the tent, as organizers want 1) to keep the culture of Volksmusik alive, and 2) to curb the excessive partying until the evening and make the event a bit more family-friendly during the day.

When the clock strikes 6 pm, though, it’s a whole new Fußball game. 

In America, we have country music at our big festivals and sporting events, and in a similar vein, German Schlager music reigns supreme at Oktoberfest. The Schlager at Oktoberfest is usually upbeat, simple, happy, and sometimes raunchy, German-language pop that everyone can sing along to (even the tourists). Schlager versions of American/English songs are also extremely common at Oktoberfest (get ready for the techno Take Me Home, Country Roads cover…), and have become increasingly popular as more tourists come to Munich for the festival, and as the world becomes more globalized. Once night falls upon Wiesn, it’s time to stand up on the table, hold your Maß up high, and sing along to some of these favorite hits – both new and old.

My Top 10 Most-Iconic Oktoberfest Songs

This may be sacrilegious, but I’ve attempted to rank my personal favorite Oktoberfest songs. I’ve included a wide array of some classics, but there are of course so many others that didn’t make the cut. Crack open a beer and enjoy – Prost!

10. Ein Prosit

At Oktoberfest, every 15 minutes or so, the band will play the traditional German drinking song, Ein Prosit, and the entire tent will sing along. Its lyrics roughly translate to “A toast, a toast of comfort!”, and if there is one song you need to learn before heading to Munich, it’s this one.

9. I sing a Liad für Di

Many visitors to Oktoberfest are unaware that Bavaria actually has its own language, Bayerisch, that varies a bit from the traditional High German (or Hochdeutsch). Quite a few of the top songs are sung in this dialect, and it’s one of the easiest ways to take note of who the true locals are (With that said, technically this song is in Austrian, which is extremely similar to Bayerisch).

8. Major Tom (Völlig losgelöst)

German New Wave music (Neue Deutsche Welle) was definitely in its peak form in the ‘80s, and when you travel to Germany today, they won’t let you forget it. Bands love breaking into some of the German hits like Major Tom and 99 Luftballons, which are both huge crowd-pleasers.

7. Hey Baby (If You’ll Be My Girl)

This is an English language Schlager-hit that always gets Oktoberfest-goers up on the tables. DJ Ötzi is a Schlager king, and you’ll hear plenty of his songs, regardless of the tent you decide to visit. 

6. Cowboy und Indianer

I’m not sure if this song can be considered PC in 2021, but it is one of the most iconic songs you’re going to hear at Oktoberfest. It’s a great example of how both American Country Music and German Schlager have some overlapping similarities, and I cannot forget to mention that there is an absolutely wild dance that accompanies this track.

5. So ein schöner Tag (Das Fliegerlied)

Speaking of wild Oktoberfest dances, Das Fliegerlied (The Fly Song) is the song that takes the Kuchen. There is a full dance routine that goes along with Das Fliegerlied – it involves arm motions, jumping, swimming, and swapping places with a friend and/or random stranger (I mean, it’s Oktoberfest), and it’s the best opportunity to watch as drunk festival-goers drop from their benches like, well, flies. On a very personal note – watching my 56-year old father perform this dance was arguably one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

4. Take Me Home, Country Roads

This John Denver classic always gets a crowd singing, and it’s no different at Oktoberfest. Whether the band is playing the original ballad version, or a ridiculous Schlager version, it’s always fun to hear a little taste of home. 

3. Joana

I mentioned that Schlager can turn occasionally raunchy, and in Joana you will definitely get a taste of that (I’m going to let you do your own translating). The call and response between the band and the tent is so much fun on this song, and one of my absolute favorites.

2. Atemlos durch die Nacht

Atemlos durch die Nacht, or Breathless Through the Night, is Euro-Dance/Pop at its finest, and a huge hit with both the young and old at Oktoberfest (I’ve even heard this song at some American-based Oktoberfest festivals). Get me (mildly) intoxicated while in Germany, and I will 100% pull this banger out at Karaoke. 

1. Ham Kummst

This is the BEST Oktoberfest song, hands down. The band behind this song, Seiler und Speer, is actually from Austria, so this song is in a local Tyrolean dialect, very similar to Bayerisch. The lyrics describe a man returning home from a drunken night out and getting verbally berated by his angry wife the following morning. Munich locals absolutely love this song, and it was even famously performed by two Bayern Munich players (Munich’s soccer team).

There is more to Oktoberfest than just beer (although let’s be real, that’s why we all go), and the music plays a huge role in the festival’s culture and atmosphere. No matter where or how you are celebrating Oktoberfest this year, be sure to chant along to some of these songs … or at least play Ein Prosit every 15 minutes at your next party and see how long it takes for your friends to join in.


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