OKTOBERFEST - The Largest Volksfest
The Munich Oktoberfest justly lays claim to being the world’s largest folk festival (no, it’s not just about drinking beer). Over the past decade, it has attracted an average of around six million visitors a year, who between them consume almost seven million liters of beer and munch their way through thousands of grilled sausages, chickens, giant pretzels and—for those really wanting to soak it all up—wild oxen.
The festival, which lasts between 16 and 18 days, is held annually in a meadow just outside the center of Munich. In addition to eating, drinking, and dancing, visitors can enjoy colorful parades, a variety of fairground rides, and for those not themselves in traditional Bavarian gear, admire those that are.
Time for Some History
When Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on the 12th of 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 honor 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 the 18th of 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.
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.
Märzen is the beer traditionally served at Oktoberfest. It is a lager that originated in Bavaria, has a medium to full body, and may vary in color from pale through amber to dark brown. Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot (the Bavarian Beer Purity Law), and brewed within the city limits of Munich, can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest. Only six breweries produce the beer served at the festival.
Established in 1328, it is Munich’s oldest brewery. According to their site, “Augustiner has one ironclad rule about the Wiesn, nowadays like in the past: our Augustiner Oktoberfestbier is served from wooden barrels only. Therefore Augustiner Brauerei is the last remaining brewery at the world’s biggest funfair to exclusively roll out wooden barrels to its Wiesn-counters, where they are freshly ‘o’zapft’ (tapped).”
Formed in 1972 out of the merger of two breweries, Hacker and Pschorr. Hacker was founded in 1417, 99 years before the enactment of the Reinheitsgebot Purity Law of 1516. This traditional Oktoberfest uses natural spring water, dark and light-colored malt from two-row Bavarian summer barley, a traditional Hacker-Pschorr centuries-old exclusive yeast strain, and Noble Hallertau hops. It has an amber color, rich and clean toasted malt flavors, a sweet hop aroma, and strong carbonation.
Founded in 1690, the lion emblem on its label originates from a 17th-century fresco in the brewing house, depicting Daniel in the lions’ den.
Established in 1634 in Munich by the Minim friars of the Neudeck ob der Au cloister. From their site, “This full-bodied beer with its rich malt flavor and dark toffee note, has an underlying fruitiness and masterful hop balance. It will instantly turn your own four walls into an Oktoberfest tent. Prost!”
Founded in 1397, the ownership of the brewery changed often until 1854, when the brewery moved to the location it still uses today. In 1867, it became the largest brewery in town, and in 1909 began to deliver beer to North America.
Founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V, the brewery is owned by the Bavarian state government. The Hof (court) comes from the brewery’s history as a royal brewery in the Kingdom of Bavaria. From their website, “Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier is a full-bodied, bottom-fermented special beer with a fine hop aroma that tastes just right with a Wiesnhendl [whole roasted chicken].”
Oktoberfest Beer Tents
Every year, the official prelude to Oktoberfest is the grand entry of the tent operators’ families and the Munich breweries. The tent operators, along with their families and guests, cheer to the spectators from their beautifully decorated horse carriages. Magnificent horse-drawn wagons from the breweries, marching bands and the traditional costume and riflemen’s procession, form the imposing triumphal procession, led by the Münchner Kindl (Munich child) and the mayor of Munich. It is true that the Oktoberfest-visitor doesn’t have it easy: with 14 tents to choose from, and each one awesome and unique!
Summing Things Up
If you aren’t able to visit the Munich Oktoberfest, fortunately, the celebration has spread worldwide, and you can enjoy many of these beers in your own home. Here at Liquor ‘n’ Wine, we’ll be stocking up to help you celebrate. Stop by one of our six locations, and one of our knowledgeable staff will help you find what you need to celebrate in style. O’zapft is!