Oktoberfest is an annual 16-18 day folk festival that has been held in Munich since the early 19th century. It is a celebration of Bavarian music, food, dress, community, and beer. Lots and lots of beer.
The festival began as a celebration of the October 12, 1810 wedding between the Crown Prince (and later King) Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. (Fun fact, Ludwig and Therese would later become the grandparents of the infamous King Ludwig II, whom I’ll talk about in a later post). Festivities were held on the fields in front of the city gates on October 18, and all of the citizens of Munich were invited. The fields were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honour of the Princess. The event began with a parade of 16 pairs of children dressed in costumes that honoured the royal Wittelsbach family and the nine Bavarian townships and regions. A horse race followed, with beer and wine tastings taking place in the grandstands. A student choir then performed to close out the event. It was such a success that it was held the next year, and then the next, and so on until we get to this year, the 184th!
In 1811 an agricultural show was added to the festival to promote Bavarian agriculture, and it continued to grow year after year. In 1818, carnival booths were set up. In 1819 the city of Munich took on the management of the festival and it became an official annual event. The starting dates of the festival were pushed back into September to take advantage of the warmer weather. The horse races continued until 1960, and the agricultural show takes place every four years.
Below is a picture of Oktoberfest being celebrated in 1823.
The Bavarian statue has presided over the festival since 1850.
Below are pictures featuring part of the Oktoberfest grounds in 2017.
Two parades take place at today’s Oktoberfest celebrations. The Tent Owners and Breweries Parade, which first marched in 1887, starts in downtown Munich at 10:45 am on opening day, and winds its way toward the Oktoberfest grounds. The Parade is led by the Münchner Kindl, the Munich city mascot, and is followed by the horse cart with the Mayor of Munich. The owners and staff of the tents and breweries come next on horse carts and beer wagons decorated with flowers, interspersed with marching bands.
The lively music was a fun way to get everyone’s spirits up on the rainy opening morning!
I loved the flowers on all the carts and beer wagons, of course.
It was funny watching all the people on the parade floats drinking their morning beers.
Getting up close with the flowered beer wagons.
Since 1950, the festival has always opened the same way. At noon on the opening day (a Saturday), the first keg is officially tapped by the mayor of Munich, followed by a 12-gun salute. No beer can be consumed until the Mayor has tapped that first keg and cried out, “O’zapft is!“, which means “It’s tapped!” in the Austro-Bavarian dialect. Then, the revelry officially begins. I overheard a tour guide say that the tapping is broadcast live on television and, while two attempts to tap a keg are acceptable, a third tapping certainly means the mayor won’t get re-elected. Luckily, this year I think it only took one tap.
There was no way we would have been able to get into the crowded beer tent where the tapping was happening. You can pretend instead that these people are kicking off the event (and this section of my post) by blowing these horns.
Below is the official art of the 2017 Oktoberfest. This year, 6.2 million guests attended and drank 7.5 million litres of beer! (We helped with a few of those).
If you’ll recall, a children’s costume parade took place at the wedding reception in 1810. In 1835, a second parade was held to commemorate the royal couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. Since 1950, the Traditional Costume Parade has been a regular event. It takes place on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest. Marching bands, dancing routines, horse drawn beer wagons, costume clubs, flag bearers, and even a group with a riding whip routine that snapped in the air to the beat of an accordion song, make for a very entertaining spectacle.
I seriously geeked out over the old fashioned bicycles.
The bikes might have been my favourite part of the parade.
On a side note, don’t go to the Oktoberfest grounds to watch the parades. By the time they get to the grounds, the parade is mostly over, and it starts to disperse. We did that the first day for the Tent Owners and Breweries Parade and almost missed it because we were standing in the wrong spot. For the Traditional Costume Parade we went downtown, and enjoyed it much more. We then followed the parade route to the Oktoberfest grounds.
This guy reminds me of a few Vancouver friends back home.
Instead of candy, people on the parade floats were throwing small gingerbread cookies. Someone came up and gave this police officer one. Then he stood there wondering what to do with it. He made me think of my brother being stuck on parade duty.
Ooops. Totally busted taking his picture.
Now watch me whip. Watch me… (how is it possible that I know how this song goes even though I’ve never listened to it?)
Let’s take a minute to talk about costumes.
Tracht refers to the traditional garments of German-speaking countries, usually Bavaria or Austria. The dirndl (for women) and lederhosen (for men, although I did see a few women rocking them as well!) are the most popular outfits seen at Oktoberfest.
Lederhosen are short, leather breeches. There is a longer version of these pants that come down to the knee, but these are usually called Bundhosen or Kniebundhosen. These leather breeches were once common workwear found across central Europe. Traditional lederhosen are made of tanned deer leather, which makes the fabric soft and light, but strong and extremely tear-resistant. They were very valuable and could last a lifetime, so could even be passed down in families. They were popular for riding, hunting, and other outside activities. Their popularity dropped in the 1800s as they were seen as “uncultured peasant clothing.” However, in the 1880s an interest in preserving traditional rural clothing styles led to their resurgence. Stockings and a classic white or checked shirt complete the outfit, with the optional addition of either a vest or a SENSIBLE! CARDIGAN!
The “sensible cardigan” was my running joke while we were in Munich because it was cold and rainy. I kept encouraging Neil to get one.
A dirndl consists of a bodice, a low-cut blouse with short, puffy sleeves, a full skirt, and an apron. The dirndl originated as a form of dress worn by domestic workers in Austria. “Dirndlgewand” means “maid’s dress.” The Austrian upper class adopted the dirndl as high fashion in the 1870s. The more decorative form of the dirndl appeared in eastern Switzerland in the 1890s and spread throughout southern Germany, as well as other regions, shortly thereafter.
Different styles were worn in different regions, and different clothing materials are used based on different seasons (lightweight cotton in the summer, heavier wool in the winter).
This outfit was my favourite. If we weren’t at the beginning of a year-long trip living out of only a carry-on backpack, I would have definitely bought it. (Note the sensible flower cardigan).
There is a wide range of quality in the outfits that were worn to Oktoberfest. Regular attendees tend to invest in tracht made of better material with more personal touches.
Ladies, stay away from large groups of guys dressed in identical outfits. Unless, of course, that’s what you’re into.
Of course, if you want to get in on the fun, there are lots of opportunities at many different price points – with varying degrees of historical authenticity.
Blue and white are the colours of Bavaria, so you have that!
A flower crown was my self-anointed reward for drinking 1 Litre of beer in an Oktoberfest tent.
I didn’t even notice the jewelled headbands at the bottom at the time!
Merchandise sellers make it easy in the tents to purchase various accessories… after a couple of beers have brought your inhibitions down.
The chicken hat, with motorized dancing chicken legs, definitely increases in attraction as a viable purchase as the day/night wears on.
Oktoberfest is a very family friendly event. A large fair ground and carnival games offer fun for people of all ages. There is delicious food, drink, and treats (chocolate covered everything) to be enjoyed by everybody.
Chocolate covered strawberries. Yes, please!
A 5-loop rollercoaster is best enjoyed before you do any drinking.
This guy kind of looks like Nicolas Cage.
These gingerbread cookies are everywhere. “Ich liebe dich” means “I love you” in German.
Their value is mostly in how pretty they are, just as a word of advice. They don’t taste bad, they just don’t taste as good as you (meaning I) would like.
All right, I hope this post gives you a good overview of what Oktoberfest is like. In the next post, I’ll take you on a tour of the different tents!