When the Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on 12 October 1810, the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. Horse races in the presence of the royal family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in subsequent years gave rise to the tradition of Oktoberfest.
The Festival traditionally starts in the third weekend in September and ends the first sunday of October.
The royal party drew about 40,000 guests—a major rager, by ordinary standards, but only a small fraction of the 6.4 million people at Oktoberfest in 1997. A good time, and copious amounts of beer, were apparently had by all that first year. It was decided that the horse race would be held again in 1811, this time in conjunction with the state agricultural show.
Although the horse race was eventually abandoned, many characteristics of the early Oktoberfest celebrations have been retained, if not expanded upon. Munich’s annual celebration is still held on the original site, dubbed Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”), in front of the city gates.
The agricultural show continues to be a feature, though it is only held every third year now. The tradition of beer and food stands, begun in 1818, continues today and is perhaps the most significantly developed aspect of Oktoberfest.
The modern celebration has replaced the small tents with giant brewery-sponsored beer halls that can hold up to 5,000 people a piece. The party has also grown in length, to become a 16-day extravaganza ending the first Sunday in October.
The Oktoberfest in Munich has been cancelled at times in the past due to war and cholera. The festival opens with a grand parade of the Oktoberfest “landlords” and breweries, and features traditional dancers and costumed performers, the Riflemen’s Procession, music…and, most definitely, beer!
- The local name for Oktoberfest, “Wies’n,” is derived from Theresienwiese, the name of the field on which the festival is held.
- The festival halls in Munich can seat 94,000 people.
- The beers that the Munich breweries produce specially for Oktoberfest contain 4.5 percent alcohol.
- A stein will typically cost you 9-10 Euros each.
- Wishing good health to your drinking partners is a universal cheer. Raise your stein and say “prost!” before knocking back a lager at Oktoberfest. Another popular phrase is “zum wohl” (tzoom-vohl), meaning “to your health.”
- All beer served at the Oktoberfest tents must be from one of Munich’s six breweries—Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu. The beer must also follow the Reinheitsgebot. This “purity law” was enacted back in 1516 to control beer quality standards, and stipulates rules such as the recipe can only include barley, malt, yeast and hops. Brews contains up to 6 percent alcohol after being fermented and lagered for more than 30 days. At the festival, the beer is served in one-liter mugs full to the brim.
- At noon on the first day of Oktoberfest, the mayor of Munich kicks off the celebration by officially tapping the first beer barrel and shouting to the crowd, “O’zapft is!” meaning, “It is tapped!” From that moment on, the beer flows and the festival has officially begun. During the festival, beer is served on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., and between 9 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. on weekends. Tents officially close down by 11:30 p.m. As of 2011, smoking is banned in the beer tents. Not only will you not be served, but you may also be fined for doing so.
- Pay attention to the ladies’ Dirndl dresses during Oktoberfest, as a little bow can tell you a lot about the person wearing it. If the bow is on the left side, it’s understood she is single and willing to mingle. However, if her bow is on the right side, her affections are already given to someone else. Traditionally, a virginal woman will place the bow in front of her Dirndl dress. If you’re looking to meet a man, it’s a little trickier, since sadly, the same rules don’t apply to lederhosen.
- Considering the amount of drinking that goes on during Oktoberfest, it’s not surprising that certain things would get lost—chief among them, clothing. Last year’s festival resulted in 1,300 items of clothing and more than 1,000 identity cards being lost, along with 425 lost keys, 390 lost mobile phones, and 370 lost pairs of eyeglasses. Ninety cameras and 80 jewelry items were also turned in to the Lost and Found, along with a set of dentures, Viking helmets, crutches, wedding rings, and even passports. Luckily, the Lost and Found office, or Fundbüro, is open from 12:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night during Oktoberfest. But don’t wait too long to visit—items are typically held for up to six months, at which point they’re auctioned off to the public.
- The amount of beer consumed by Oktoberfest patrons is an astounding 7.5 million liters, or close to 1.98 million gallons—that’s enough to fill three Olympic swimming pools! While that may seem like a really high number, keep in mind that Oktoberfest brought in 6.9 million attendees in 2011.