Today is the first day of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, one of the world’s most famous beer festivals, though the German consider it a folk festival. I confess I’ve never gone and while I’d like to go at least once in my lifetime, I suspect it’s one of those experiences where once will be enough. As has been the tradition since 1950, today the Mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, tapped the first keg signaling the start of the festivities. In German, this tradition is called “O’zapft is!” meaning “it is tapped.” The first liter of beer poured was consumed by German premier Edmund Stoiber.
The festival will last sixteen days, ending, as it does each year, on the first Sunday in October. Since 1990, a modification has been introduced into the schedule so that is the first Sunday is either October 1st or 2nd then the festival will end on October 3rd, which is a holiday, German Unity Day, celebrating Germany’s reunification. This year, Oktoberfest ends on October 7. Unlike most beer festivals, it’s all day affair, with beer first served during weekdays at 10:00 am with last call not until 10:30 pm, and on the weekends things get started an hour earlier at 9:00 am.
There are over 100,000 seats in fourteen tents on just over 100 acres. About 72% attending are from locals from Bavaria with about 15% from outside Germany. Many of these aren’t used to handling a lot of alcohol and some pass out as a result of over-indulging. Locals call those who pass out “Bierleichen” (or if female, “Bierleiche”), which means “beercorpse.” Over the sixteen days of the festival last year the more than six and a half-million people attending Oktoberfest consumed an astounding:
- Beer: 6.9 million litres (1.82 million gallons, or over 14.5 million pints)
- Roasted steers: 102
- Sausages: 144,635 pairs
- Roast chickens: 494,135
- Knuckles of pork: 43,492
Undoubtedly even more will be enjoyed this year.
One of the many Oktoberfest waitresses in the traditional “dirndl” dress (from the BBC’s Oktoberfest in Pictures) though the steins of beer are covering her bow. According to an AAP account, “[t]he dirndl has in any case become a fashion item this year. The knot in the bow reveals key information to potential suitors – on the right means the woman has a partner; on the left indicates she is available.”
Though the first Oktoberfest took place in 1810, it didn’t become an annual event until 1850. Here’s a history of the event, from the official website:
The Royal Wedding
Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on 12th 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 happy royal event. The fields have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) in honor of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n”.
Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest.
The Oktoberfest continues in 1811
In 1811 an added feature to the horse races was the first Agricultural Show, designed to boost Bavarian agriculture.
The horse races, which were the oldest and – at one time – the most popular event of the festival are no longer held today. But the Agricultural Show is still held every three years during the Oktoberfest on the southern part of the festival grounds.
In the first few decades the choice of amusements was sparse. The first carousel and two swings were set up in 1818. Visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands which grew rapidly in number. In 1896 the beer stands were replaced by the first beer tents and halls set up by enterprising landlords with the backing of the breweries.
The remainder of the festival site was taken up by a fun-fair. The range of carousels etc. on offer was already increasing rapidly in the 1870s as the fairground trade continued to grow and develop in Germany.
174th Oktoberfest 2007
Today, the Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, with an international flavor characteristic of the 21th century: some 6 million visitors from all around the world converge on the Oktoberfest each year.
And since the Oktoberfest is still held on the Theresienwiese, the locals still refer to the event simply as the “Wies’n”. So “welcome to the Wies’n” means nothing other than “welcome to the Oktoberfest”!