The History of the Oktoberfest and why it is celebrated
Oktoberfest is an annual festival that occurs in Munich, Germany. The event takes place over a period of two weeks, ending on the first Sunday in October every year.
The festival dates back to October 12, 1810 when Bavaria’s crown prince, Ludwig 1, married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in a celebration like no other. The crown prince later became King Louis I.
Munich citizens were invited to the ceremony that was held in the fields lying in front of the city gates. Many people attended the royal event. It was the fields that were named “Theresa’s fields” (Theresienwiese), in honor of the Crown Princess. It’s also referred to as the “Wies’n”.
The royals organized a public wedding, straying from the bougie tradition. They invited people from Munich to grace the occasion and celebrate the union.
During the wedding ceremony, attendees were offered free food and beer. The beer served at this event resembled a Munich dunkel, darker in tone and maltier in taste.
The festival ended five days later with an open horse race known as Theresienwiese (meaning “Therese’s green”). In the next year, the race was combined with a state agricultural fair, making it an even larger festival.
Oktoberfest began in the following year when the horse races were repeated, hence the festival tradition.
In 1818, food and drink booths were introduced into the festival for better and fun experiences. The booths transitioned into large beer halls by the end of the 20th century. They were made of plywood and had bandstands, including interior balconies.
Munich brewers setup the temporary structures with a capacity of at least 6,000 seating. During the opening of the festival, the Munich mayor taps the first keg to usher in the event.
Attendees at the festival consume over 2 million gallons (more than 75,800 hectoliters) of beer. Parades include breweries and feature beer floats and wagons as well as people wearing folk costumes.
Other forms of entertainment available during the festival include music, games, dances, and amusement rides. The festival attracts over 6 million people every year, with the majority comprising of tourists.
The Oktoberfest in the 1800s
The first Agricultural Show was included in the event that already featured horse racing in 1811. This was done to promote Bavarian agriculture. At that time, horse races were the most popular and oldest activities at the festival. However, it’s no longer held today.
The Agricultural Show continues to-date. The show is held every three years during the festival in the southern areas of the festival venue. Entertainment or fun amusement options were rare during the festival’s humble beginnings. The first carousel and a couple of swings were set up in 1818. Visitors stopped at small beer stands to quench their thirst for their favorite drink, something that grew in popularity. Similarly, beer stands also increased in number.
Enterprising landlords introduced the first beer halls and tents introduced in 1896, with support from breweries. They eventually grew in number, replacing the small beer stands.
A fun-fair took over the rest of the festival. In the 1870s, the number of fun rides and a range of carousels at the festival began to increase quickly. The fairground trade also continued to grow and spread throughout Germany.
In the late 1800s, those attending Oktoberfest, according to the American Homebrewers Association, switched to a Vienna-style lager because Munich breweries ran out of the darker beer.
The darker lager evolved into a reddish-brown hue (Marzen-like) post the First World War. Today, the beer served at the festival is typical of session strength, a malt-like lager with attractive color, ranging from copper to gold.
Who knows – the Oktoberfest beer style could change further in taste and look, 5 decades later.
Today, the Oktoberfest festival is mainly an agricultural celebration of Munich’s last harvest prior to summer. In March, Marzen was brewed and in summer laid down in casks. The lager was aged over the few months before summer in preparation for the festival celebrations.
Munich residents brewed the last beer of the year prior to planting their fields in summer; this happened in March. Summers were too warm for yeast fermentation, hence brewing over summer was impossible.
Instead, the residents of Munich worked in the fields over the summer months. After harvesting in September or October, harvest celebrations began.
Today, Oktoberfest, for many fans, is a bounty celebration of the fertile lands, tying it back into the beer. It’s a time for farmers and beer lovers to slow down and reflect on the summer work in the fields.
Despite the original celebration embracing a horse race and a wedding, the festival today includes pretzels, stein-hoisting and lederhosen.
What’s more, the Oktoberfest festival is celebrated across the world, including the United States of America.
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