As we enter into the middle of August, we are reminded that Oktoberfest season is right around the corner, not only in Munich, but perhaps around the corner from you. The U.S. and other corners of the globe are beginning to fill the calendar with local celebrations of Gemütlichkeit and German/Bavarian culture – with a greater or lesser degree of “authenticity.”
The original Oktoberfest always takes place toward the end of September – ending the first weekend of October. As many of you probably know, Oktoberfest started in Bavaria (southern Germany) but has become loved all around the world as a celebration of good beer, good food, and warm camaraderie among friends. In 1810, Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I, son of Maximilian I) married Princess Therese (hence, the location on “Therese’s Meadow,” translated as Theriesenweise or Weis’n in shorthand) of Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12, and invited the citizens of Munich to their wedding celebration on the fields in front of the city gates. The party lasted 5 days, and the main event was a horse race. The second year, an agricultural show was added to promote local farmers. In 1818, a carousel and two swings were added, and the party-goers were entertained by games such as wheel-barrow and sack races, barrel-rolling races, mush-eating contests, and goose chases. About 50 years later, the first mechanical rides were featured, and soon after came beer halls, sponsored by local breweries. Eventually the festival became a two-week affair, and the starting date was changed to mid-September, to take advantage of better weather. The last horse race occurred in 1960, and now the agricultural show is put on only every four years.
Today, the Munich Oktoberfest is held on 103 acres filled with amusement rides, game booths, beer tents and gardens, and vendors selling souvenirs and a large variety of delicious German food. The party draws 6+ million people every year, who spend €450 million on 1.5 million gallons of beer, 480,000 roasted chickens and 200,000 pairs of pork sausage. Impressive, too, is the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest, in which 7,000 people participate. Dressed in traditional Bavarian costume and historical uniforms, a huge procession of marching bands, riflemen, horses, carriages and floats makes its way through the center of Munich.
It must be said, however, the Munich event is HUGE – seriously, you cannot imagine until you’ve been there and tried to find a seat. It’s one of those things that should probably be on your “bucket list,” but honestly, is not always enjoyable because of the crowds and some of the behaviour. In fact, many Münchners stay away from the tourist masses and there is the ongoing controversy over the beer that is served as the event is a tremendous revenue source for all involved.
I much prefer the smaller city celebrations held throughout Bavaria, and the U.S. is now home to numerous celebrations, big and small. I’ll have my lederhosen on here (you can like the Facebook page here), at a minimum, and may find a few others as well.
Regardless of your destination, check one out nearby if you can – and PLEASE avoid drinking domestic swill while you’re at it. Use this as an opportunity to try actual German beer or a local, craft version thereof!