AS USUAL, the Germans are more organized than we when it comes to observing their charming custom of Oktoberfest. That's probably to be expected from a nation that embroiders pillows with the phrase Ordnung muss sein (there must be order.)

There you can expect several solid weeks of Oktoberfest celebrations, especially in southern Germany, where millions are attracted to Munich's beer halls, offering strong beer and stronger beer maids. But in the Washington area, we tend to the scatter-stein approach: a two-day beer tasting here, a weekend festival there, from mid- to end of September (traditional) to well into October (nontraditional, but sounds logical). In local restaurants you never know when -- or where -- an accordionist will pop up and the big mugs will start clinking.

But once you find an Oktoberfest here, you can usually count on pleasures similar to those in Germany. Gerald Kainz, publisher and editor of the German-language Washington Journal, a national weekly, explains what Germans expect in a good Oktoberfest: "We look forward to have a few hours of good times, to forget any problems like gas prices . . . It's the atmosphere of being transformed back into a small town, or even Munich's Wiese, the field where the first Oktoberfest was held. It's having a good time, singing songs, drinking beer, eating a few bratwurst, knackwurst or whatever wurst."

Bernd von Muenchow, a press officer at the West German Embassy, agrees. "Beer, people and music -- it's all of those," he says.

Kainz, a native Austrian, is excited about this weekend's Oktoberfests in Vienna (where Austrian dignitaries will be on hand) and Rockville, but he also has good things to say about other area events. You can assume that the following events all include German music, food and beer; indulging in all three is not required.

THIS WEEKEND -- The Delaware Saengerbund (singing group) hosts a three-day affair in Newark, Del., on 49 Salem Church Rd., a half-mile east from Exit 3 (Newark) on I-95. Hours are 6 to midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 6 Sunday. Admission is $5 adults, $3 children under 20; call 302/366-9454. "It's a beautiful affair, they have a big spread there," says Kainz.

SEPT. 29 -- McLean Community Center holds a rain-or-shine festival from noon to 5, with music by the Alte Kameraden Folk Band. The center is at 1234 Ingleside Ave., one block north of Route 123 and Old Dominion in McLean. Admission is $2 adults, children under 16 free; call 790-0123. A 10K Volksmarch from noon to 5 is $3 and includes Oktoberfest admission; call 455-2934 or 250-4008.

SEPT. 29 -- Our Lady of Angels, on Mary's Way off U.S. 1 in Woodbridge, opens its doors at 7 for the German Club of Northern Virginia's Oktoberfest. The $17 admission includes all food, drinks and entertainment by the Heimat-Echo Band and the Alpenveilchen Schuhplattler dancers; call Helga Lambert at 274-0900 or Jutta Stierle at 703/494-5423.

SEPT. 30 -- The Washington Saengerbund stages a massive Oktoberfest on the grounds of the German Orphan Home off Mellwood Road in Upper Marlboro from noon till dark. Sexton's German Orchestra and the Heimat Echo Band perform. Admission is $2 for adults, children under 16 free; call 548-2462. "It's the oldest and biggest one here," Kainz says. "There's really a fantastic atmosphere, unless it rains. But even then people have a good time."

OCT. 5 & 6 -- Ocean City's Bavarian Festival runs from 11:30 a.m. to midnight at the Ocean City Convention Center, 4001 Coastal Hwy. Hourly puppet shows for children. Daily admission is $3.50 adults, $2.50 students and seniors, children under 6 free. Call 301/289-8314. "It's a really big one," says Kainz.

OCT. 5-7 -- Blob's Park in Jessup, Md., is always a good bet for polka and beer, but Oct. 5 & 6 the Alt-Washingtonia Bavarian Dancers will enliven the park's official Oktoberfest, as will the Washingtonia Schuhplattlers on Oct. 7. The park is open Friday-Saturday from 6 to 1, Sunday from 1 to 10. Take the Route 175 Odenton exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and follow signs. Admission is $5 for adults, $1 children under 12; call 301/799-0155.

OCT. 6 -- The Washington Saengerbund bounces back with a Weinfest (featuring German wine and beer) from 4 to midnight at Kena Temple, 9001 Arlington Blvd. in Fairfax. Admission is $5 adults, children under 16 free; call 573-6981. From noon to 5, the Washington Monument is the site of German-American Day festivities; call 554-2664 or 521-0184.

OCT. 6 & 7 -- Many bands and dance groups perform at the Maryland Oktoberfest, from 1 to 1 Saturday and 1 to 10 Sunday at the Fifth Regiment Armory, Howard and Hoffman streets in Baltimore. Admission is $2.50 adults, children under 12 free. Call 301/256-4178. "The atmosphere is really like that in Munich," Kainz enthuses. If milling with Muellers or standing cheek by Johann isn't your scene, don't worry: You can still have an authentic Oktoberfest. "It doesn't have to be big," says Kainz, "but then it becomes more like a small party. You can go with a few friends and enjoy beer. It's the time to go and drink that really strong Oktoberfest beer, if you like beer; most people do."

You'll find special brews and menus at most Germanic restaurants this time of year, but there are a few that stand up and say Achtung. Old Europe on Wisconsin Avenue (333-7600) celebrates German Unification Day and Oktoberfest on Oct. 3, while Cafe Mozart on H Street (347-5732) spritzes up for Oktoberfest with accordionists and other musicians in its cozy restaurant & deli. And anywhere you can sit in crisp air outdoors with a tall glass of anything and brisk German music in the background can be the site of an impromptu Oktoberfest.

The Schmankerl Stube in Hagerstown (301/797-3354) is such a place. You can spend all day (or night) sipping from a five-liter mug of Munich's Hacker-Pschorr Weissbier (or drink moderately from an unusually shaped liter glass) in a garden setting with authentic Christmas lights and a "Happy Wanderer" accordionist. And although the food is Bavarian haute cuisine, the portions are still Oktoberfest-plenty. "{Owner} Charlie Sekula, he really does it nicely," says Kainz.

And if you want to go absolutely dry, Kainz says that's fine. "A lot of people go just for seeing old friends, saying hello, and maybe having a hot dog."