Oktoberfest - A Truly German Tradition
Enlarge image Visitors find that there is more to Oktoberfest than beer. (© picture-alliance/ dpa ) Over the course of the 16-day festival in Munich—which takes place this year from September 22 to October 7—some 1.85 million gallons of beer and hundreds of thousands of pork sausages and spit-roasted chickens are consumed by over six million visitors from around the world. How and why did this popular tradition begin?
The origin of Oktoberfest can be traced back to October 12, 1810, the wedding day of Bavaria's Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Against tradition, the couple invited Munich's common people to the festivities. The events were held over five days on the fields in front of the city gates—now called Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow) after the bride. Forty thousand people showed up. A year later, they decided to throw the party all over again as an anniversary tribute to the royal couple.
The big event at the first festival was a horse race and then an agricultural show. By 1818, events included a carousel and swings, tree-climbing competitions, wheelbarrow and sack races, barrel rolling races and goose chases. Mechanical rides were added in the 1870s. And in 1908, the Oktoberfest boasted Germany's first roller coaster.
Enlarge image Horse racing was a big feature at early Oktoberfests. (© picture-alliance/akg-images ) To really get the party started, makeshift beer and food stands began cropping up by 1818. They kept coming until 1896 but were soon replaced by sponsored beer halls, much like today's local brewery-hosted beer tents. The horse races ended in 1960, and the agricultural show now happens once every four years.
Over time, the fair's dates were extended and eventually moved forward, to the end of September for better weather. The first Sunday in October marks its finish. It still takes place on the Theresienwiese, known to locals as "Wies'n." For two weeks, the meadow's 103 acres become a metropolis of beer tents, amusements, rides, performers and booths, peddling gastronomic delights and traditional confections. Visiting photographers are amazed by dirndl-sporting waitresses carrying almost six gallons of beer at a time—the equivalent of 66 12-ounce bottles.
Munich's mayor always opens the festivities by driving a wooden tap into a barrel of beer and proclaiming, "O'zapft is!" ("It's tapped!").
Enlarge image Women in traditional Bavarian dress participate in a parade through Munich. (© picture-alliance/Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo ) On the first Sunday, the Costume and Riflemen's Procession takes place. About 7,000 performers, marching bands, riflemen, groups in traditional garb and historic uniforms, horses, old-fashioned carriages and floats parade for two-and-half hours through the city center. The second Sunday features an open-air concert by 400 musicians from all of the Oktoberfest bands. Between events and beer tents, guests can ride a Ferris wheel, roller coaster or water slide, navigate a labyrinth, visit a haunted house, watch a variety of performers or play dozens of midway games.
Not surprisingly, Oktoberfest has inspired many similar festivals around the world, all modeled on the Bavarian original. The largest by attendance each year is in the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. The largest in the U.S. is Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati in Ohio with a half-million visitors each year. And there are at least 110 more U. S. Oktoberfests in 36 of the 50 states, including eight each in California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.