History of Germany’s Oktoberfest
On October 12, 1810 Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Bavaria married, and they invited the citizens of Munich to celebrate with them at the fields in front of the city gates. Horse races for the Royal Family closed the event. The horse races were repeated again the following year, and the tradition of the festival was born. The festival was extended to 16 days, and was moved ahead to September because of the better weather.
The festival has gone through many changes since 1810. Agriculture became a focus of the celebrations. Throughout the years, carnival booths appeared and a yearly parade was added to the festivities. Bratwurst was first sold in 1881, and beer sales began in 1892. Today, over 6 million people from all over the Germany and the world come to Munich for the largest festival in the world. The focus has shifted from a royal wedding to a celebration of German beer and food, with approximately 7.1 million litres of beer consumed by patrons.
Oktoberfest takes place during the 16 days up to, and including, the first Sunday in October. The event begins with a parade of horse-drawn carriages, floats, and music bands, and ends at the Theresienwiese on the first Saturday of the festival. The mayor of Munich official begins the festival during a ceremony at noon, where he taps the first Oktoberfest keg to signal the beginning of the festivities. The rest of the celebrations include additional parades, various concerts, carnival rides and booths, and lots of beer.
Because of the large number of visitors to Munich and Oktoberfest, early planning is essential. It can be quite difficult to find a place to stay the longer you wait. Beer tents take reservations for parties of 10 or more, and they usually start making reservations eight to ten months in advance. While a reservation is not necessary to enjoy the food and drink offered at the tents, patrons may be denied access to a full tent. Weekday mornings are best for getting a table with no reservation.
Wearing traditional costumes is not required, but is a tradition for many Germans. Women wear Dirndls; dresses that consist of a bodice, a blouse, a full skirt, and an apron. Men wear checked shirts, long socks and lederhosen; short or knee-length breeches traditionally made of leather. The best places to purchase traditional German outfits are in the shops of Munich.
Here are some additional tips to help you enjoy all Oktoberfest has to offer:
- Take the subway or train to Theresienwiese; cabs and parking spaces can be hard to find
- Bring plenty of cash, as some beer tents do not accept credit cards
- Families are welcome at Oktoberfest, and the best time for children to visit is weekdays before 5pm
- Use the websites of the tents to decide beforehand which tents to visit and to make reservations
- Oktoberfest beer has a minimum of 6% alcohol—more than many beers from other regions—and patrons of the beer tents should pace themselves, have plenty to eat, and stay hydrated
- Bavaria has strict non-smoking laws, and smoking is unlawful in the beer tents