A GTL Student’s Cultural Guide to Oktoberfest

Written by Lillian

September 12th, 2022

Oktoberfest is a local German festival held in Bavaria, Germany. The festival origins come from a celebration of the marriage between King Louis I and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. While many regional festivals happen throughout the state, the main Oktoberfest happens in Munich at the end of September and early October. I had the opportunity to be guided through a regional Oktoberfest in Regensburg, Germany this past weekend by a native German. I will share some tips and tricks to make the most out of your time there!

Traditional Clothing

The most recognizable Oktoberfest tradition is the clothing. For men, one must dawn lederhosen (translates to leather pants) and a button up checkered shirt. Vests are also very common with plain button up shirts. Wool socks that stretch over the calves are common too!

For women, dirndls are the traditional women’s dress which consists of a blouse, dress, and apron. I will give a warning, quality dirndls will cost on the order of €100-200! In Munich, there are a couple of clothing stores that will sell lower quality ones or rent a much nicer one for €50. If you attend a smaller regional Oktoberfest, there will not be options for lower quality ones. You also don’t have to wear one if you are uncomfortable with it; women wearing lederhosen is perfectly acceptable too! 

Finally, you may see people walking around with clothespins on their shirts and blouses. These custom clips, called “Glubbal”, are engraved with sayings or nicknames of the wearer. They can be made and purchased at stores near the festivals. 

German Language in Bavaria 

In Germany, you greet someone by saying “Hallo” or “Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend”; however, in Bavaria, you greet someone using “Servus!”

Bavaria, Germany in German is “Bayern, Deutschland”. Bavaria is located in the south-east corner of Germany and is the largest German state by land mass. One of the major cities in Bavaria is Munich or “München” in German. 

Music

One of the main festivities of Oktoberfest are the Tents: large tents with live music and drinks. Upon entering a tent, locate an empty table. When the band starts, stand up on the benches: this will be your place for the next hour as you sing and dance along to the music. 

Traditional Oktoberfest music is played poka-style; with accordions, trumpets, electric guitars, and drums. Spot the lederhosen too!

While most of the songs that played were completely in German, including the Oktoberfest hit “Bayern, Des Samma Mia” (translates to “Bavarians, That’s What We Are”), usually the bands will interlace English songs as well. Some examples include “Don’t Stop Believing”, the “Cotton Eye Joe”, and even “I’m Blue”!

In Bavaria, FC Bayern is the most popular football club. Often times, the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” starts getting sung on stage and FC Bayern’s football chants get started in the crowd. It really is a sight to be seen, and is a cool connection to sports culture all around the world.

Food

A giant pretzel in front of the Ferris Wheel.

Some of the most iconic foods you can find at Oktoberfest are pretzels, gingerbread, and meat. Gingerbreads are usually sold in a heart shape with sayings such as “Ich liebe dich” (translates to “I love you”). These gingerbreads are bought for your significant other to wear around their neck for the entirety of the festival. They can also last quite a while after; most people keep them as souvenirs instead of eating them! You can also find a lot of meat at festivals such as bratwurst and schnitzel. The menus tend to offer portions of some animal (i.e 1/2 a chicken, 1/4 of a duck, etc.), so vegans and vegetarians beware!

The leg of a pig and a Kartoffelklöße (potato dumpling). In Germany, dumplings are not filled with anything, and instead are giant gnocchi like spheres.

Overall, my time in Germany was one to remember. I highly recommend you try and attend a local festival since they are much more rich with German culture, less touristy, and cheaper than the main festival in Munich. The one I went to was filled with college aged students too! Overall, it was very fun to experience a small snippet of German culture at Oktoberfest, and I recommend the experience for anyone coming to GTL in the Fall!

Finally!

Monday, September 5th, 2022

Written by Lillian

My initial trip to France was a whirlwind, and I was not sure that I was going to arrive on time and with all my things. I spent the summer interning in Seattle, Washington, but the day after my internship ended, I was on a plane headed to Newfoundland, Canada. I spent two weeks biking across the island with Georgia Tech’s Outdoor Recreation program. From there, I flew to Washington, D.C. where I met my dad who was waiting patiently with my luggage which I had prepacked and shipped from Seattle. I flew to Paris immediately, without even saying goodbye to my family. Afterwards, I dealt with TSA, customs, jetlag, and locating the GTL Shuttle. As I sat down in the Shuttle with all my belongings, I was relieved that all my travel plans were executed successfully, although it tiring to go through. Then, it started to dawn on me: I was finally in France!  

The past three years have been building to this one moment. During my first year at Georgia Tech, I applied and was accepted to GTL for the summer. Unfortunately, it was canceled due to COVID-19. The next year, I planned to study abroad once more during the Fall semester, but I received a last-minute internship which I decided to take instead. Well, you know what they say: third time’s the charm! And for me, it was! After all the planning and purchasing of the Eurail passes and plane tickets, I started to get exhausted from stressing over all the disjunct pieces in my travel plans, wondering if it would all work out perfectly. I completely forgot to look around and just be thankful that I was here. Once I took that step back, I was full of pure happiness. While I know that busy travel days and exhausting weekdays await me, I am so excited to get out of my comfort zone and experience all that Europe has to offer me!

View outside my plane arriving into France. Even the farmlands are laid out differently. In the US, it’s a grid system, but here is more anarchy. 

After a four-hour bus ride, the shuttle dropped us off at my Lafayette dorm room: a small room without air-conditioning located on the first floor. A pizza party was thrown for all the GTL students, and a couple of my newfound friends went out for €0.50 coffee from a vending machine and ice cream. My lack of French hit me as I stepped up to the dessert bar cashier. “Je voudrais une… chocolate ice cream… s’il vous plaît?” I attempted – butchering the words. Thankfully, the cashier understood my attempt and helped me with my pronunciation. Even though I was initially unsuccessful, I was over my fear of speaking French, and I look forward to the opportunity to redeem myself in the future. 

A well-earned ice cream 

In just this first week, I have been able to explore the cities of Metz and Luxembourg. On first impression, what struck out to me was the many cultural differences that I did not expect. I figured that Europe was more fashionable than the United States (hello– Paris fashion week), but I did not expect it in the airport and grocery stores. For Europeans, pants and red-tinted sunglasses are more favorable when compared to jeans, shorts, and black tinted sunglasses, in the U.S.. Other oddities which struck me as well: groceries and restaurants are much cheaper here than in the states; however, items such as batteries and gas are more expensive. The public bathroom (or WC) is not free, usually costing around 0,50 €- 1€. I was astounded when I was charged 4,50€ for a bottle of water at a restaurant in Luxembourg. It was more expensive than soft drinks and alcohol. When entering a grocery store, you must bag your backpacks in plastic to prevent theft of items. You also must scan self-checkout receipts to exit!  While the differences are small, they add up.  

Me in Paris at the Pont Neuf Bridge and my stylish gummy bear earrings. If this didn’t fit in with French couture, I don’t know what would.

Overall, France and Luxembourg have been amazing to explore these first few weeks. However, I am so excited to continue traveling and see as many sights as I can. I think the activity that I am most excited for is hiking along the ridge lines of the Alps in Switzerland. I cannot wait to continue to travel in weeks to come, so I can learn more about European culture outside of France! 

A Sugar Rush in Belgium

August 28, 2022

Written by Lillian

We woke up at 4:30 A.M. on Saturday to catch a 6:00 A.M. train to Ghent, Belgium: a quaint, culture-filled town recommended to us by a graduate student. Traveling is so meticulous, especially when each train relies on one another to get you on each of your connections, and unfortunately, we ended up missing one of our connections because we hopped on the wrong train, so when we finally got to Ghent, we were all starving because of the mishaps and delays to the trip. But before we could stop to get something to eat, I spotted a thrift store near downtown Ghent. The thrift store organized its clothes into four categories: intellectuals (for professional and dark academia styles), strangers (for off-the-beaten path and one-of-a-kind statement pieces), flower child (for florals and cute styles), and rockers (for edgier and punk rock looks). We spent the next hour thrifting in Ghent’s neighborhoods in the various stores we stumbled upon; I was surprised at how many good items I could find! 

Thrift store in Ghent – such a wide range of clothes 

Finally, we stopped by a Portuguese Bakery to cure our hunger. We got Pastel de Natas, an egg custard tart pastry, which was super delicious. We also stopped to get Belgian fries loaded with beef, onions, mayonnaise, and gravy. We strolled a little further and stopped at a waffle shop. I dined on a Belgian waffle with Nutella and whipped cream. There was so much good food around every corner we turned, we couldn’t help but try it all.

When we finally got into downtown Ghent after our many diversions, we stumbled upon a couple of different local events: a Pokémon Go Festival, an Alice in Wonderland App & Cosplay Festival, an annual regatta, and a music festival. The city was teeming with life, and everyone that we saw was either dressed as the Mad Hatter, glued to their phone in search of Pokémon, or disembarking from their canoes. We decided to join the canoer’s on the water and take a boat tour of the city, and our captain spoke three different languages on the tour: English, French, and Dutch. He would repeat everything three times in the different languages for all of the patrons to understand. It was very impressive. We also learned that Ghent has the most number of universities in the county of Belgium; it makes sense why the thrifting scene was so good!

The river Lys that runs through the whole city. Anyone can use the river, so it is filled with boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders.

We dined on more authentic Belgian cuisine: cuberdon or Gentse neus  (“Ghent noses”). These noses are made of Arabic gum candy in the shape of a nose, and within its hard crust lies a soft and gelatinous filling. These candies originated from Ghent, and the two cart merchants from which you can buy the noses have a history of fierce rivalry which spans fist fights, merchant bans, and hefty fines.

Colorful Ghent Noses with an equally colorful history

Early the next day, we hopped on a train to Bruges, a town in Northwest Belgium. We spent the first couple of hours sightseeing and taking photos before the town woke up. This ended up being a good plan for us because midday brought so many tourists. It’s so interesting to see a city light up with people after having it to ourselves all morning. We decided to rent bikes and explore the river which encircles the city instead of getting caught up in the downtown crowds.

Bruges was inducted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. These gorgeous views definitely helped.

Then, we ate lunch in downtown Bruges. One thing that I found interesting was that it was really hard to find authentic Belgian cuisine. I found the same issue in Luxembourg too. Most of the food was French or interestingly enough–American! We did find many Belgian chocolatiers though— pralines were invented in Belgium and include a chocolate shell filled with softer fillings such as caramel, coffee, cream, and marzipan. These pralines can last about three months uneaten while plain, unfilled chocolates can last six; however, I fully know that these will barely last a week in my dorm!

Chocolatier in Bruges: there were tons of them in Belgium, at least two on every street!

Overall, it was very obvious to see and taste why Belgium is known for so many different foods. Over the course of these two days, I had a sugar overload from feasting on waffles, chocolates, and noses. I absolutely loved walking through the city of Ghent; it has all the charm of Bruges, but with a younger demographic, more lively social scene, and less tourists. In Bruges, I loved biking through the cobblestone roads, dodging the horse drawn carriages, and darting over the many picturesque bridges. My first weekend abroad was a success, and while I may still need more time getting used to the train system, I am looking forward to a more smooth sailing next weekend as I gain more skills on how to live and travel in Europe!