The date of birth of the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest, is October 12, 1810. On this day, Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. About 40,000 happy Bavarians gathered for the celebration. That area, by the way, has since then been called “Theresienwiese” (Therese’s meadow) in honor of the Crown Princess. Ludwig must have been madly in love because the celebration was repeated every year on his wedding anniversary. Today, Theresienwiese is still the site of Munich’s annual Oktoberfest.
Oddly enough, the highlight of the first festival in 1810 was horse racing, not beer. However, this unfortunate misunderstanding was soon corrected – the Bavarians‘ love for beer was stronger than their passion for equestrian sports.
At the end of the 19th century, Oktoberfest becomes similar to the holiday that we can see today. The breweries built large beer tents in response to numerous requests from visitors, and the rides and dance floors were moved outside the beer pavilions. In 1881 fried sausages and chickens began to be sold, and in 1892 liter glass mugs, in which festive beer is still poured today, appeared.
The official prelude to Oktoberfest is a festive line-up of the beer tent and attraction owners, their families and brass bands, who then perform in the beer pavilions.
The convoy of about 1,000 participants passes under the arch at the north end of Theresa’s Meadow and into their respective tents. These days, the beer procession is led by Munich’s burgomaster and the symbol of the city, the Munich Child, on a festive harness.
Then at twelve o’clock in the afternoon, the city’s burgomaster drives a tap into the wooden stopper of the first barrel of Oktoberfest beer with a special hammer. The process ends with the cry of “O’zapft is!” (“It’s uncorked!”) and the Oktoberfest is then officially opened.
Traditionally, the first cup of beer goes to the Prime Minister of Bavaria. The subsequent twelve-shot salute tells the owners of the beer tents and pavilions that they can start serving the visitors.
Traditionally, only six old Bavarian breweries are allowed to participate in Oktoberfest: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu. Special March beers (Oktoberfest Märzen or Oktoberfestbier) with an alcohol content of 5.8-6.3% have been brewed for the festival since 1871, but Bavarian pale lagers (Helles, Lager Hell) are more prominent at the festival.
As beer snacks at Oktoberfest are popular brezels (huge pretzels with a diameter of 10-15 cm), pork hams, fried chicken, specialties of Munich sausages, coleslaw and potato salad, baked fish, etc.
From year to year, more than 6 million beer lovers from around the globe gather in the huge beer halls to the music of local orchestras.
It is impossible not to mention the rides at the festival – from the traditional merry-go-rounds, which are presented for over 80 years to the roller coaster, Ferris wheel and simulation of free fall from 66 meters high.
Useful information for those who are going to visit the Oktoberfest
On some days to be seated at one of the tables in the Festhalle building, you first have to stand in line, which does not move very quickly also because of the police control at the entrance. This becomes especially difficult on entrance days and in bad weather when there are not many people who want to spend time outside. Waiting time can be up to half an hour. On weekdays there is nothing like that and the entrance is available in any tent at any time. Keep this in mind when planning your trip.
It’s not a bad idea to try to get in through the back entrance or have a seat at a table near the tent until your turn comes up. But don’t try to get through at the expense of rudeness or force, the police will not be ceremonious with particularly brazen foreigners. Some tables can be reserved in advance, then the rule is that if the reservation starts at 16.30, the table must be vacated a few minutes before that time. It is incredibly difficult to book a table, as visitors do it much in advance and registration usually ends months before the start of the festival.