Oktoberfest is celebrated in many different places all over the world. Most of these celebrations consist of drinking a lot of beer and maybe eating some traditional German food in the final few warm days before fall comes in full force. Nonetheless, the real German Oktoberfest is a cultural celebration that goes back over two hundred years!
Oktoberfest is celebrated each year in Munich for the two weeks leading up to the first weekend of October. Over the past decade, an average of 6 million people has attended each year this world-renowned festival. And as you might be able to guess, they drink a lot of beer. Almost 7 million liters, to be exact. However, while beer serves as a common thread, the real celebration is about the culture and history of the area.
TAKEAWAY: Normally, Oktoberfest celebrations last for 16 days until the first Sunday of October. However, since 1994, when that Sunday falls on the 1st or 2nd of October, the festival lasts until October 3rd. That way, the celebration connects with German Unity Day, a public holiday in commemoration of the German reunification. So this year (since this is the case), you have 2 extra days to enjoy yourself!
Based on a royal wedding celebration
The first Oktoberfest was held during 5 days in 1810. It was a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. During those days, the people of Munich were invited to join in on the fun. They could eat, drink, and enjoy the music and entertainment put on by the prince and princess. The festival has grown and changed quite a bit over the last two hundred years. However, it remains a way for people to celebrate the history of the region.
The same kick start for the last 67 years
Photograph by Sandra Fencl.
The festivities begin with a prelude procession, a twelve-gun salute, and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. The prelude procession can include over 1,000 participants. They range from local families riding in decorated horse-drawn carriages, the Munich breweries, waitresses wearing traditional Bavarian costumes, and all the bands from the various beer tents. There are also troops of people from many different regions who join in the procession wearing the traditional historical garments. You can see people from many German states, as well as some neighboring countries. In some recent years, this parade has achieved such a scale it stretches for over 7 kilometers!
A wide variety of German beers
Some of the local breweries that contribute to the festival include Augustiner, Spaten, and Paulaner. You can only get ein Maß (a one-liter glass) of beer, so if you are planning to attend the real Oktoberfest prepare to order a lot if you want to try all the different beers offered. The most popular beer is Helles, which is a variation similar to a lager.
Over 14 tents, from the oldest to the newest
The term “tent” is used rather loosely here because they are actual wooden structures, many of which are decorated with draping fabrics to make them feel more tent-like on the inside. Most of them have long communal tables with benches where everyone mingles and enjoys the atmosphere. Some of the tents have been around for quite a while, like the Schottenhamel-Festhalle, which is the oldest and most traditional of all the tents. This one is also the tent where the first keg of beer is traditionally tapped by the Mayor of Munich at the start of the Oktoberfest celebration. The newest tent, Marstall-Festzelt, has arrived on the scene just this year. It can hold over 4,000 people, and the decor is horse themed because it takes its name from the former riding school of the Bavarian court.
Much more than just beer
The festival is actually meant to be a family event. They offer all sorts of traditional foods like grilled sausages, giant pretzels, and for those who enjoy adventurous eating, wild oxen. For those who do not prefer beer, there is a wine tent, called Kufflers Weinzelt. The wine tent has wooden paneling which is modeled after a traditional Franconian wine style. Instead of the long wooden benches that most of the tents have, here you sit at smaller tables that are arranged inside box-like structures. While Germany certainly is famous for their Beer, they have also been producing delicious wines for over two centuries.
Oktoberfest insider tips
If you go to Oktoberfest, you can get a more rounded feel for what the festival is all about by going to all the tents. If you really want to get an insider view of the event, go during the week. The locals prefer to avoid the weekends because it is very crowded. Apparently, Tuesdays are a popular time for families to attend, most of whom can be found in the Augustiner Festhalle. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, or if you prefer to go at a crowded time, the Oktoberfest website has created a handy barometer of when the most crowded times and days are. Moreover, Oktoberfest Insider answers lots of FAQs to ensure you get the most out of the festival.