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Oktoberfest is the most renowned German Festival in the world, with events taking place in the US, Australia, China and Brazil, just to name a few. These celebrations range from one-day events to full two-week festivals similar to the ones in Germany. But no matter the scale of the festival, there are certain elements that are always present.
If you are not in a large wooden beer hall, eating a pretzel while wearing a Lederhosen, surrounded by busty women in Dirndls, handing out enormous beers; you might not actually be at Oktoberfest. This narrow minded image of a country’s culture may usually be frowned upon, but at this festival it is not only celebrated, but encouraged!
Like most holidays and celebrations, Oktoberfest has evolved over time and is quite different from the first festival. Starting in 1810, in the capital of the Bavarian state (Munich), all citizens were welcomed to commemorate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
After five consecutive days of rejoicing, dancing and of course, drinking throughout, a horse race was held on the plains outside the city gates, these grounds were later named Theresinenwiese (Therese’s green/meadow) after the new princess. Later to be nicknamed “Wies’n”. This race became an annual event, and to encourage the agricultural trade, was combined with the state’s agricultural fair. While the annual horse race ended in 1960 (with the exception in 2010 for the 200-year anniversary), the agricultural show still proceeds, although now held only every four years at the southern end of the Wies’n.
What is now the main attraction of Oktoberfest (the drinking, dancing, carnival and parades) has been steadily growing since 1818, when the first rides and swings were introduced. And 1819, when the citizens of Munich were handed over the reins from the royals to continue the annual tradition. With the citizens in charge of governing the festivities, its length increased to weeks and brought forward to utilize the warm spring weather.
Millions people attend Oktoberfest every year around the world, Munich’s festival itself attracting over 6 million people over the two-week period. A far cry from the roughly 40,000 Munich citizens of 1810. While many people may only know Oktoberfest as an excuse to drink and dance, the Munich festival also includes a theme park and two enormous parades.
The first parade “Trachten und Schützenzug” (Traditional costume and Hunters parade) symbolises the origins of Oktoberfest, celebrating the marriage between the prince and princess. With over 9000 people in full traditional costume, decorated floats, marching bands and music, the parade wanders through the city over a 7km track.
The second parade “Wiesn Einzug der Festwirte und Brauereien” (The parade of the Wies’n landlords and breweries) is the opening parade of Oktoberfest, with approximately 1000 participants. The parade is usually filled with the local brewing companies, staff and family of people involved in the festival. Horses with carriages holding giant barrels of beer, decorated and paraded with much fanfare. The parade is concluded with the current mayor of Munich literally breaking opening the first barrel of beer.
The process of opening the barrel is traditional and nerve-racking for the mayor, he must use a large wooden hammer to hit a tap into the wood of the barrel, allowing the first drink to be poured. Sometimes this can be quite tough, and can take quite a few tries. The record for number of hits required stands at only two, while the longest is 19. It would be quite embarrassing for the major to be televised either missing his blow or to lose the record.
However once the tap has been secured, the major yells "O' Zapft is!” which literally means "it has been tapped”, but actually just means “It is party time”. This signals a twelve firecrackers to be set alight, the music to begin and for all the beer halls to start serving.
The beer at Oktoberfest is rather special as well, due to the origins of festival, it is only fitting that all the beer drunk must be Munich breweries. The six breweries that can serve beer are Augustiner-Brau, Hacker-Pschorr-Brau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner-Brau, Spatenbrau, and Staatliches Hofbrau-Munchen, and usually produce the special Oktoberfest beer under the trademarked name “Oktoberfestbier”.
The type of beer is a special low fermentation that is quite a bit darker than regular beer and usually contains approximately 6% more alcohol. While this may be an added bonus to those wishing to get more for their coin, the beer was produced before modern conveniences like refrigeration. This meant that it required a higher hop content, therefore more alcoholic.
So if you decide to host your own Oktoberfest, we recommend getting yourself a Munich beer glass and announcing “O’Zapft is!” as you pour a locally made or Munich beer.
While beer may be important to those attending Oktoberfest, food is also pretty high on the list of requirements. Luckily most Oktoberfest festivals also have traditional German cuisine, including meats, fish, breads and cakes. The perfect match for a strong beer, but not so much for those who are wanting to slim down. The German diet, especially while celebrating, is full of rich foods that are cooked with or in lots of fat.
If you are to sit down for a feast at an Oktoberfest celebration, you are likely to see Bretzels (often mistaken for a Pretzel) a thick, chewy baked dough, with a special soda salt. Weisswurst, a traditional spiced sausage made from minced veal, pork and lemon. Easily spotted by its very light grey appearance. Plus, a myriad of roasted meats such as pork, ham, steak and delicious desserts like sweet vanilla dumplings, strudels, apple cakes and gingerbread.
Whether you decide to attend an Oktoberfest celebration yourself, or host your own. The German Village shop has a large range of decorations, glasswear and attire just ready for you to celebrate in Munich style. Check out the Oktoberfest collection for everything from hats to Hofbrau-Munchen beer glasses and Bavarian flags.