Oktoberfest started in Munich, Germany but the beer festival concept has spread throughout the world, including hundreds of events in North America, and several large Oktoberfests in South America and beyond.
Do you picture Oktoberfest as a quaint but lively get-together of rosy-faced Germans, wearing lederhosen, clinking beer steins and yodeling in pleasant harmony? Forget it!
The largest beer festival in the world has become a hugely commercial orgy of brewery tents, food vendors, brass bands, costumes and carnival rides. Some 7 million liters of beer are consumed, worn and sloshed about during a 16 day period. Besides quenching their thirst and inebriating their spirits, the over 7 million visitors also use the beer to wash down hundreds of thousands of sausages and rolls.
According to the Munich tourist board, Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to celebrate the happy royal event at festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates. This proved so much fun that the party endured for 16 days. The fields have been named Theresienwiese ("Theresa's fields") in honor of the Crown Princess, and the locals just call it "Wies'n." Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event which was treated 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, but are no longer part of it today. Small beer stands were replaced in 1896 by tents from the breweries. Later, a livestock show and a carnival with carousels were added.
Whether by accident or intention, the 1810 wedding festival came at a time when the spring's stockpiled beers had to be depleted to make room for the fall's production. You see, March (or Marzen) is the last month that beers would be made due to the unpleasant taste that plagued beers made in warmer months. With alcohol being a natural preservative, these beers were intentionally made with a higher alcohol content (about 5%). Full-bodied, they may be known as Oktoberfest or Marzen beers, containing almost no hops and bearing a sweet, malty taste.
For more information see Oktoberfest! by Lucy Saunders.
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This page modified January 2008
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