If for some reason you’ve never heard of Oktoberfest, it’s the world’s largest beer festival and traveling funfair, with more than 6-7 million people attending from around the world each year across 16 days.
The origins of Oktoberfest go back to October 12, 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of of Saxony-Hildburghausen and the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the wedding festivities on the fields in front of the city gates, where about 40,000 people showed up.
A major in the Bavarian National Guard suggested that they hold horse races on October 17 to end the giant party and, when the horse races were repeated a year later, Oktoberfest was born.
Year after year the festival continued to grow and grow, with more attractions added each year such as an agricultural show in 1811, with carousels, bowling alleys and dance floors following in subsequent years. In 1819 the Munich city fathers decided to make it an annual event, though eventually the dates were moved to the end of September because the days are longer and warmer.
While Oktoberfest is an annual tradition, there have been momentary interruptions when Oktoberfest was not held:
in 1813, when Bavaria was tied up in Napoleonic wars
in 1854 when 3,000 Munich citizens died of cholera and again in 1873
in 1866, when Bavaria was involved in the Austro-Prussian War
in 1870, when Bavaria was involved in the Franco-Prussian War
Beer has, of course, been a mainstay at the event from the beginning, but initially they were confined to small beer stands. As the popularity grew, so did the number of beer stands. In 1896 the first beer tents and halls were established with the backing of the breweries.
The modern day Oktoberfest bears many similarities to the early days, though it’s considerably larger in scope. The agricultural show only appears every 3 years and horse racing was done away with several decades ago, but you can still find dancing, carousels, bands, and of, course, plenty of beer, though today’s Oktoberfest beers are lighter than the original Maerzen-style.
Today six major German brewers back seven large beer halls that hold 94,000 people. Inside you can find live music, food, and dancing. Over one million gallons of beer and 12,000 gallons of wine are consumed each year inside these tents.
Much like Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day, the tradition of Oktoberfest has spread from its roots in Bavaria and is celebrated as a holiday around the world, though usually only on one to three days in most cities. Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States claims to hold the largest authentic Oktoberfest in the US, which attracts about 500,000 people each year.
So, if you can’t buy a ticket to Germany, throw on your dirndl and a tuba and head to your local Oktoberfest. If there’s no Oktoberfest in your area, just throw on a dirndl for fun and head to your local pub.