One of the world’s most famous beer festivals is rolling around again next month: Munich’s Oktoberfest. What piqued my interest was to find out why the festival is celebrated in September but called Oktoberfest. Together with other curiosities, snippets and bits of information, I have compiled this post thinking it might be of interest if you are headed for the festivities.
This year the Oktoberfest lasts from September 22nd to October 7th. It all started on October 12th 1810, when crown prince Ludwig, later King Ludwig I of Bavaria, married princess Therese of Bavaria. The entire population of Munich was invited to join in the celebrations which took place on fields well outside the gates of Munich. The venue was called Theresienwiese, since then popularly referred to as Wiesn. The merry making, eating and drinking ended with horse races, a tradition which lasted until 1960, but was basically responsible for the change of dates for the Oktoberfest.
Since 1810, year after year the Oktoberfest was repeated and grew in size as well as in popularity. To take advantage of better weather conditions, the date was moved back to September. Today, the Oktoberfest lasts 16 days and ends at the first Sunday in October.
You might think it’s all about drinking the specially brewed Oktoberfest beer and eating Haxn, Brezn and Weisswurst in one of the many tents, but there is more to the festival. Since 1850,a parade of approx. 8000 people in traditional costume march from Maximilianstrasse through the center of Munich to the Wiesn, led by the Münchner Kindl. The symbol is the coast of arms of Munich since the 13th century and was originally the image of a munch holding a book. Nobody seems to have found out why it was changed to a child with a peeked hood, holding a beer mug or a horse radish.
Since 1887, the splendidly decorated horses of the breweries and the colorful musicians who play in the tents parade after the festival is opened by a 12 gun shot salute.
And then, of course, there is the tapping of the first keg. It’s the privilege of the incumbent mayor of Munich to swing the wooden mallet and to deliver the first tap with the beer sprouting out and him uttering the traditional words: O’zapft is’. Until such moment, no tent on the Wiesn is allowed to sell beer. Every year the scene is a source of much amusement because often the tapping skills of the mayor leave a lot to be desired and he gets drenched in foam and beer.
The statistics of the Oktoberfest are impressive. 5 mill visitors every year who consume 7 mill liters of beer, served in the traditional liter mugs, called Maß. If you visit, enjoy yourselves, but bear in mind that the Oktoberfest beer has an alcohol content between 5.8 and 6% and also a high sugar content. Not surprisingly, a not so pleasant sight are the Bierleichen, people who have passed out from too much drink. On the other hand, the beer seems to have healing properties because among the lost items feature 500 crutches!!!
Most everybody dresses up in Lederhosen and Dirndl, the locals anyway and so do the visitors. A modern version of the drindl can be worn as a summer dress anywhere, so it might be a good idea for a woman to get one as a souvenir. Lederhosen however….. not so much.