Oktoberfest is celebrated around the world, but no one does it better than the people of Munich—the traditional home of the world’s biggest festival. This year, Oktoberfest runs from September 20th to October 5th, and more than six million people are expected to attend.
Click here for The Atlantic’s great photos from opening weekend at Munich. Really. It’s worth it.
A Wedding and a Horse Race
In October 1810, the first Oktoberfest was held to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The townspeople were all invited to the party—which was very unusual in those days—and for five days enjoyed food, drink, parades and music in honor of the big day. The celebration wrapped up with a horse race at a meadow just outside town, and such fun was had that the town decided to repeat the horse race (and the accompanying festivities) the following year.
Bring on the Beer!
Beer didn’t really make an appearance at the celebration until about eight years later, in 1818. But it caught on quickly, and by 1896 the small beer stands had been replaced by large beer tents and halls backed by local breweries. Typical of Germany’s particular brewing standards, only local beers from Munich brewers can be served at the event. The traditional Munich Oktoberfest beer was a Märzen—a bottom-fermenting, amber lager—but lighter beers have been gaining popularity since the 1970s. Many German brewers now have replaced the malty amber brew with a light, golden lager called Weisn, also brewed specifically for the festival, and choose to ship their richer Märzens to the U.S.—if they make them at all.
And Make Room for More!
Marz is the German word for March, and Märzens are traditionally brewed in the spring. Before refrigeration, it was very difficult to brew beer during the hot summer months. Beers brewed in the spring would be stored in a cool space, such as a cave, during the warm months to be enjoyed in the fall—when brewing would resume again. According to some sources, one reason beer-drinking became such a part of the traditional Oktoberfest celebrations was the need to finish off those last casks of spring-brewed Märzen in order to make room for the next round of fall brewing.
The horse races ended in 1960, but the people kept coming, and today’s Munich Oktoberfest is considered the largest festival in the world. Interrupted only by World Wars, the event has continued for more than 200 years, with last year’s fest seeing more than 6 million attendees! Between them, the group managed to drink 6.7 million liters of beer and eat 114 oxen over the two week period.
In Munich, the event is called Weisn—named after the field in which it is still held. The word Weisn is a shortened version of Theresienwiese, the name of Prince Ludwig’s bride.
Passed-out drunks at the event are called ‘Bierleichen’—German for ‘beer corpses.’
After the German reunification in 1994, the dates for Oktoberfest were altered so that it would always run through October 3rd, which is German Unification Day.
Oktoberfest in the U.S.
The U.S. is home to many German descendants (and beer-lovers), and Oktoberfest has become a fall tradition across the country. Click here for a list of Oktoberfest events arranged by state and check out what’s going on in your zone, then let us know how you plan to celebrate this year!
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