Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair). Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany,
It is a 16- to 18-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than six million people from around the world attending the event every year. Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds, Theresa’s meadows (Theresienwiese).
The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since the year 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event. During the event, large quantities of Oktoberfest Beer are consumed: during the 16-day festival in 2013, for example, 7.7 million litres (66,000 US bbl 1,700,000 imp gal) were served. Visitors also enjoy numerous attractions, such as amusement rides, sidestalls, and games. There is also a wide variety of traditional foods available.
The Munich Oktoberfest originally took place in the 16-day period leading up to the first Sunday in October. In 1994, this longstanding schedule was modified in response to German reunification. As such, if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or the 2nd, then the festival would run until 3 October (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival now runs for 17 days when the first Sunday is 2 October and 18 days when it is 1 October. In 2010, the festival lasted until the first Monday in October (4 October), to mark the event’s bicentennial.
History : Kronprinz Ludwig (1786–1868), later King Ludwig I (reign: 1825–1848), married Princess Therese of Saxe-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 royal event. The fields were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s Meadow”) in honour of the Crown Princess, and have kept that name ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wiesn”. Horse races, in the tradition of the 15th-century Scharlachrennen (Scarlet Race at Karlstor), were held on 18 October to honor the newlyweds. It is widely understood that Andreas Michael Dall’Armi, a Major in the National Guard, proposed the idea. However, the origins of the horse races, and Oktoberfest itself, may have stemmed from proposals offered by Franz Baumgartner, a coachman and Sergeant in the National Guard. The precise origins of the festival and horse races remain a matter of controversy, however, the decision to repeat the horse races, spectacle, and celebrations in 1811 launched what is now the annual Oktoberfest tradition.
The fairground, once outside the city, was chosen due to its natural suitability. The Sendlinger Hill (today Theresienhohe) was used as a grandstand for 40,000 race spectators. The festival grounds remained undeveloped except for the king’s tent. The tastings of “Traiteurs” and other wine and beer took place above the visitors in the stands on the hill. Before the race started, a performance was held in homage of the bridegroom and of the royal family in the form of a train of 16 pairs of children dressed in Wittelsbach costumes, and costumes from the then nine Bavarian townships and other regions. This was followed by the punishing race with 30 horses on a 11,200-foot (3,400 meters) long racetrack, and concluded with the singing of a student choir. The first horse to cross the finish line belonged to Franz Baumgartner (one of the purported festival initiators). Horse racing champion and Minister of State Maximilian von Montgelas presented Baumgartner with his gold meda
Transformation into a public festival , 19th century : In 1811, a show was added to promote Bavarian agriculture. In 1813, the festival was canceled due to the involvement of Bavaria in the Napoleonic Wars, after which the Oktoberfest grew from year to year. The horse races were accompanied by tree climbing, bowling alleys, and swings and other attractions. In 1818, carnival booths appeared the main prizes awarded were of silver, porcelain, and jewelry. The city fathers assumed responsibility for festival management in 1819, and it was decided that Oktoberfest become an annual event. Later, it was lengthened and the date pushed forward because days are longer and warmer at the end of September. The horse race continued until 1960, and the agricultural show still exists today and is held every four years in the southern part of the festival grounds.
To honour the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, a parade took place for the first time in 1810. Since 1850, the parade has become an annual event and an important component of the Oktoberfest. Eight thousand people—mostly from Bavaria—and dressed in traditional costumes walk from Maximilian Street through the centre of Munich to the Oktoberfest grounds. The march is led by the Munchner Kindl.
Since 1850, the statue of Bavaria has watched over the Oktoberfest. This worldly Bavarian patron was first sketched by Leo von Klenze in a classic style and Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler romanticised and “Germanised” the draft. The statue was constructed by Johann Baptist Stiglmaier and Ferdinand von Miller.
In 1853, the Bavarian Ruhmeshalle was completed. In 1854, the festival was cancelled after 3,000 residents of Munich died during a cholera epidemic. There was no Oktoberfest in 1866 because Bavaria was involved in the Austro-Prussian War. In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War again forced the cancellation of the festival. In 1873, the festival was cancelled due to yet another cholera epidemic. In 1880, electric light illuminated more than 400 booths and tents. In 1881, booths selling Bratwurst opened and the first beer was served in glass mugs in 1892.
At the end of the 19th century, a re-organization took place. Until then, there were games of skittles, large dance floors, and trees for climbing in the beer booths. Organizers wanted more room for guests and musicians which resulted in the booths becoming beer halls which are still used today. In 1887, the parade of the Oktoberfest staff and breweries took place for the first time. This event showcases the splendidly decorated horse teams of the breweries and the bands that play in the festival tents. This event always takes place on the first Saturday of the Oktoberfest and serves as the official prelude to the Oktoberfest celebration.
20th century : At the 100th anniversary of Oktoberfest in 1910, an estimated 120,000 litres of beer were consumed. Three years later, the “Braurosl” was founded, which at that time was the largest pavilion to have ever been built, accommodating approximately 12,000 people. Due to World War I, Oktoberfest was temporarily suspended from 1914 to 1918. The two years after the war, in 1919 and 1920, Oktoberfest was replaced by the so-called “kleineres Herbstfest” (which can be translated as “smaller autumn celebration”), and in 1923 and 1924 the Oktoberfest was canceled due to heavy inflation.
During National Socialism, Oktoberfest was used as part of Nazi propaganda. In 1933, Jews were forbidden to work on the Wiesn. Two years later, Oktoberfest’s 125th anniversary was celebrated with all the frills. The main event was a big parade. The slogan “proud city – cheerful country” was meant to show the alleged overcoming of differences between social classes, and can be seen as an example of the regime’s consolidation of power. In 1938, after Hitler had annexed Austria and won the Sudetenland via the Munich Agreement, Oktoberfest was renamed to “Grossdeutsches Volksfest” (Greater German folk festival), and as a showing of strength, the Nazi regime transported people from Sudetenland to the Wiesn by the score.
During World War II, from 1939 to 1945, no Oktoberfest was celebrated. Following the war, from 1946 to 1948, Munich celebrated only the “Autumn Fest”. The sale of proper Oktoberfest beer—2% stronger in gravity than normal beer—was not permitted guests could only drink normal beer. Since its foundation, there have been 24 years in which Oktoberfest was not celebrated. Beginning in 1950, the festival has always been opened with the same traditional procedure: At noon, a 12-gun salute is followed by the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer by the Mayor of Munich with the proclamation “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!” in the Austro-Bavarian dialect). The Mayor then gives the first litre of beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria. The first mayor to tap a keg was Thomas Wimmer.
Before the festival officially starts, parades are held with the traditional marksmen’s clubs, beer-tent waitresses, and landlords participating. Actually, there are two different parades which both end at the Theresienwiese. They start around 9:45 a.m. to 10.50 am. During Oktoberfest, some locals wear Bavarian hats (Tirolerhute), which contain a tuft of chamois hair (Gamsbart). Historically, in Bavaria chamois hair was highly valued and prized. The more tufts of chamois hair on one’s hat, the wealthier one was considered to be. Due to modern technology, this tradition has declined with the appearance of chamois hair imitations on the market.
For medical treatment of visitors, the Bavarian branch of the German Red Cross operates an aid facility and provides emergency medical care on the festival grounds, staffed with around 100 volunteer medics and doctors per day. They serve together with special detachments of Munich police, the fire department and other municipal authorities in the service centre at the Behordenhof (authorities’ court), a large building specially built for the Oktoberfest at the east side of the Theresienwiese, just behind the tents. There is also a station for lost & found children, a lost property office, a security point for women and other public services.
Since the 1970s, local German gay organizations have organized “Gay Days” at Oktoberfest, which since the 21st century always begin in the Braurosl tent on the first Sunday
Oktoberfest today : To keep the Oktoberfest, and especially the beer tents, amicable for the elderly and families, the concept of the “quiet Oktoberfest” was developed in 2005. Until 6:00 pm, the orchestras in the tents only play quiet brass music, for example traditional folk music. Only after that may Schlager pop or electric music be played, which had led to excess violence in earlier years. The music played in the afternoon is limited to 85 Decibels. With these rules, the organisers of the Oktoberfest were able to curb the tumultuous party mentality and preserve the traditional beer-tent atmosphere. In 2005 the last travelling enterprise amusement ride of Germany, called the Mondlift, returned to the Oktoberfest.
Starting in 2008, a new Bavarian law was passed to ban smoking in all enclosed spaces open to the public. Because of problems enforcing the anti-smoking law in the big tents, an exception was granted to the Oktoberfest in 2008, although the sale of tobacco was not allowed. After heavy losses in the 2008 local elections, with the smoking ban being a big issue in political debates, the state’s ruling party implemented general exemptions to beer tents and small pubs.
The change in regulations was aimed in particular to benefit the large tents of the Oktoberfest: So, smoking in the tents is still legal, but the tents usually have non-smoking areas. The sale of tobacco in the tents is now legal, but is widely boycotted by mutual agreement. However, in early 2010, a referendum held in Bavaria as a result of a popular initiative re-instituted the original, strict, smoking ban of 2008; thus, no beer will be sold to people caught smoking in the tents. The blanket smoking ban did not take effect until 2011, but all tents instituted the smoking ban in 2010 to do a “dry run” to identify any unforeseeable issues.
The year 2010 marked the 200th anniversary of the Oktoberfest. For the anniversary, a horse race in historical costumes was held on opening day. A so-called historische Wiesn (historical Oktoberfest) took place, starting one day earlier than usual on the southern part of the festival grounds. A specially brewed beer (solely available at the tents of the historical Oktoberfest), horse races, and a museum tent gave visitors an impression of how the event felt two centuries ago.
In 2013, 6.4 million people visited Oktoberfest, and visitors were served 6.7 million litres of beer
Highlights : Entry of the restaurateurs and breweries : The story of the entry of the Oktoberfest restaurateurs and breweries for the opening of the Oktoberfest began in 1887, when the then manager, Hans Steyrer, first marched from his meadow to the Tegernseer Landstrasse with his staff, a brass band and a load of beer to the Theresienwiese.
In its current form, the parade has taken place since 1935, where all the breweries first took part. Since then, the parade is led by the Munchner Kindl, followed by the incumbent mayor of Munich in the Schottenhammel family carriage since 1950. This is followed by the decorated horse carriages and floats of the breweries and the carriages of the other restaurateurs and showmen. The music bands from the beer tents accompany the parade
Beer barrel tapping : After the parade of the restaurateurs on carriages from downtown to the festival grounds, at exactly 12:00 clock the lord mayor opens the first beer barrel in the Schottenhammel tent. With the initial pass and the exclamation “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”) the Oktoberfest is declared as opened.
Twelve gunshots are then fired on the stairway of Ruhmeshalle. This is the signal for the other restaurateurs to start with the serving of beer. Traditionally, the Bavarian Minister-President is served the first litre of beer. Then in the other tents, the first barrels are tapped and beer is served to the visitors.
Every year, visitors eagerly await to see how many strokes the mayor needs to use before the first beer flows. Bets are even made. The best performance is still two strokes (Christian Ude, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 Dieter Reiter, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018), and there was also 19 strokes required (Thomas Wimmer, 1950).
Costume and riflemen parade : In honor of the silver wedding anniversary of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Therese, a traditional costume parade took place in 1835 for the first time. In 1895, the Bavarian novelist Maximilian Schmidt organized another parade with 1,400 participants in 150 traditional costume groups.
Since 1950, this parade is organized annually and has become one of the highlights of the Oktoberfest and one of the worlds largest parades of its kind. On the first festival Sunday, 8000 participants march in the parade in their historic festival costumes from the Maximilianeum on a seven kilometer stretch to the festival grounds. This parade is also led by the Munchner Kindl followed by notables of the city council and the city administration and the state of Bavaria, usually the minister-president and his wife, traditional costume and rifle clubs, musical bands, marching bands, flag-wavers and about 40 carriages with decorated horses and carts. The clubs and groups come mostly out of Bavaria, but also from other German states, Austria, Switzerland, Northern Italy and other European countries.
Facts and data : Size : The Oktoberfest is known as the largest Volksfest (folk festival) in the World. In 1999 there were six and a half million visitors to the 42 hectare Theresienwiese. – 72% of the people are from Bavaria. – 15% of visitors come from foreign countries like the surrounding EU countries and other non-European countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and East Asia.
Besides the Oktoberfest, there are other public festivals that take place at the same location. In April/May it’s the Munich Fruhlingsfest (spring festival) and Tollwood Festival in December with 650,000 visitors. After the Oktoberfest the next largest public fairs in Germany are the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart with about 4.5 million visitors each year, the Cranger Kirmes in Herne (Wanne-Eickel) (the largest fair in Northrhine-Westphalia) with 4.4 million visitors, the Rheinkirmes in Dusseldorf (called largest fair on the Rhine), and the Freimarkt in Bremen (the biggest fair in northern Germany) with over 4 million visitors per year each.
Also noteworthy is on the one hand the Schutzenfest Hannover, the world’s largest marksmen’s Fun Fair in Hannover with over 1 million visitors per year and on the other hand the Kiel Week, the world’s biggest sailing event and Volksfest in Kiel, with about 3 million visitors.
Other information : Experienced waiters need an average of only one and a half seconds to fill a Mass. Letters, which are placed in the Oktoberfest mailboxes receive a special stamp from the post office. One attraction, which does not exist at other festivals, is the flea circus. It has been an attraction at the Wiesn since 1948 and a “team” of about 60 fleas provide for the entertainment especially for the children.
After the attacks on 11 September 2001, in the same year, the traditional beer tapping was omitted, instead there was a contemplative celebration in Schottenhamel tent.
Since 2009, the Theresienwiese is closed off during the construction and dismantling of the festival. The city of Munich wants to prevent any accident to visitors at the construction site that the city would be accountable for.
In 2015, the festival officially served 7.3 million litres (62,000 US bbl) of beer for perspective, that is enough to fill nearly three (2.9) Olympic-size swimming pools.
One famous song in a beer tent is “Ein Prosit der Gemutlichkeit” which means translated “A toast to cheer and good times”. The band leader plays this song several times to invite the guests to toast and drink