Last night the mayor of Munich tapped the opening keg for this year’s Oktoberfest – you know, the “real” one. This event is such a big deal in Munich, that the opening ceremonies are broadcast on television. It’s inescapable when you’re there, and since that’s why you’re there at this time of year, you don’t really want to escape it.
It always starts in September, and for the most part takes place in September. So why is it called Oktoberfest?
Well, it’s really a historical thing. Oktoberfest is the longest running wedding reception in history. When King Ludwig I married Princess Therese on October 12, 1810, the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities. The event took place in a field, at that time in front of the city gates, which was named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow) in honor of the bride, and has been named that ever since. The Oktoberfest takes place there to this day, though the park is now in the middle of Munich. Horse races marked the end of the wedding events, and in subsequent years there was a decision to repeat the horse races, which began the Oktoberfest tradition. The horse races, at one time the most popular event of the festival, are no longer held.
In 1811 an agricultural show was added, and it is held every three years to this day. It was cancelled in 1813 due to the Napoleonic Wars, but after that, it grew year after year. In 1818 a few amusements were added – a carousel and swings. Beer stands grew up. In 1819 the city fathers took over festival management and made it an annual event though it was cancelled in 1854 and 1873 due to cholera epidemics, and in 1866 and 1870 because of wars. Then it was lengthened and scheduled earlier while the days are longer and the weather is warmer.1881 brought bratwurst stands, and glass mugs for beer were introduced in 1892. In 1896 the beer stands were replaced by tents and halls with the backing of the breweries. In the 1870s the fairground trade developed in Germany and the fun-fair (much like a state fair midway here in the US) is now a big piece of the festival. The Oktoberfest parade was introduced in 1887, showcasing the brewery horse teams and bands from the festival tents. And today it’s still an important part of the opening festivities.
So today, Oktoberfest ends the first weekend of October, starting two weekends prior. If you’re of German descent, love festivals and especially if you love beer, it’s a must-do! The crowds can be tremendous, but so is the fun. Many Germans dress in traditional lederhosen and dirndl, much like the Scots dress in tartan. The oompah bands play, the beer flows, and it’s simply a one-of-a-kind event.