Incredible, but true:
- NO, it does not happen in October!
- The locals call it ‘Weisn’.
- Albert Einstein worked there.*
- Paris Hilton is permanently banned from the fest. **
Why? Read on to find out:
How it all began
On the 12th of October, 1810, a large lusty crowd gathered in the fields outside the city gates. The Crown Prince of Bavaria, Ludwig I, was getting married to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Around 40,000 citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities, celebrating the royal event.
Food and drink flowed in abundance. But the main highlight of the celebrations happened to be the horse race, which marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria.
In the following year, it was decided that the races would be repeated, giving birth to the annual tradition of Oktoberfest. Horse races? Really?
Today, Oktoberfest is synonymous with beer; horses don’t even come close. So, how in the world did an event about horses transform into a revelrous celebration of beer?
Oktoberfest over the years
In 1811, there was also an added feature; the Agricultural Show, a tactic to boost Bavarian agriculture. Over time, while the horse races faded away (the last one was held in 1960), the Agricultural Show retained its position and is still held once every four years during the annual Oktoberfest.
The carousel and swing sets came in 1818. Visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands which grew rapidly in number. By 1819, beer pubs were officially added to the festival.
By the time 1896 rolled around, entrepreneurs had replaced the beer stands with beer tents, thanks to the backing of huge breweries.
In 1950, the opening ceremony ritual was introduced, where the Mayor of Munich had the honour of tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. Once the barrel had been tapped, the visitors would proceed to quench their thirst at their heart’s content.
By this time beer had officially become the ‘essence’ of the Oktoberfest.
Centennial & Bicentennial Celebrations: When it became all about das Bier!
In 1910, Oktoberfest celebrated its 100th anniversary, creating a record with the consumption of about 120,000 litres of beer (phew, that’s a lot!). Bräurosl, the largest tent with 12,000 tents, was built in 1913 to accommodate the growing number of visitors.
Meanwhile, 2010 was the 200th anniversary of the fest, celebrated as the ‘Historical Oktoberfest.’ A horse race was held to pay homage to the origin of the festival, while special beer was brewed just for the event.
What were the beers like back then? And snacks?
Today, Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, hosting nearly 6 million visitors from all over the world. The Maerzen beer served at the festival is manufactured by six major brewers; Hacker–Pschorr, Lowenbrau, Spaten, Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner, and Paulaner.
The Oktoberfest beer was originally an amber-gold Lager, with 6 percent alcohol. This same beer was served at the Crown Prince’s wedding in 1810. Today, the biers are lighter in colour and body than the traditional Maerzen style.
Snacks: The beer is paired with delicious German food along with Bavarian traditional food such as Obatzda (a fatty, spiced cheese-butter concoction) and Weisswurst (a white sausage). Basically, this is a time to abandon all diet plans!
Oktoberfest is now held in September, because the weather is milder compared to October. The fields where the fest is held, have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) in honour of the Crown Princess ever since; the locals prefer the simpler abbreviation, Wiesn.
The fest lasts for 16 days, beginning on a Saturday, and ending on the first Sunday in October. It opens with a grand parade of the Oktoberfest “landlords” and breweries, and features traditional dancers, costumed performers, the Riflemen’s Procession, music and, most definitely, beer!
The beer tents have long been replaced with giant brewery-sponsored beer halls that can hold up to 5,000 people apiece!
Outside the halls, dancing, sideshows, and carnival rides continue. For the underage visitors, or those who don’t consume alcohol, non-alcoholic beer is a popular option too, making sure that everyone gets a taste of the Oktoberfest. Be sure to keep the kids away from actual beer, while you’re busy having fun.
Oktoberfest 2015 commenced on the 19th of September, and ended on the 4th of October. The festival is an experience of a lifetime, whether you’re a beer-lover or not, and promises some great fun.
Do you need any more reasons to head to Munich next year?
Take a look at what happened at Oktoberfest 2015 in Munich!
* Albert Einstein once worked as an electrician and helped set up one of the beer tents in 1896.
** Paris Hilton went to the event dressed in a golden and shiny Bavarian Drindl to promote a brand of canned wine. Locals got the organisers to ban her because they were offended by how she was dressed.