Oktoberfest: The World’s Largest Festival

It is billed as the world’s largest festival.  Oktoberfest, which began as a German festival, circumvents the globe and is virtually celebrated in all parts of the world.


Oktoberfest’s roots begin in the Bavarian capital, Munich.  It began as a celebration of the October 12, 1810 marriage of Prince Ludwig, who later became King Ludwig I, to Princess Theresa of Saxony-Hildburghausen.  The Prince organized a horse race and issued an invitation to all the people of Munich.  It has been said that this grand celebration was attended by more than 40,000 guests.  The guests consumed copious amounts of beer.  In 1811, the celebration  with massive amounts of beer  and the horse race was reinstated as part of the state agricultural show.


Eventually, the horse racing segment of the celebration was dropped and the celebration was extended to a two-week period beginning in late September and running through the first weekend in October.


The celebration has grown.  In 1997, 6.4 million people attended the event.  Oktoberfest in Munich continues to be held in the same site, Theresienwiese (which means field or meadow of Theresa) as the 1811 party.  It opens each year with a parade of what is called the Oktoberfest “landlords” and breweries.  The parade highlights included traditional Bavarian dancers in costumes, the Riflemen’ Process, and of course music.  Even though the agricultural show is held only every third year, the brewery celebration is held annually.


In response to German reunification in 1994, the schedule of Oktoberfest was modified.  Now if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or 2nd day of the month, the festival  continues until German Unity Day which is October 3rd.  This makes the festival seventeen days long when the first Sunday is October 2nd as it is this year.  When October 1 is on Sunday, the festival is eighteen days.


In order to be served at the festival, a beer must be brewed with the city limits of Munich, designating it as Oktoberfest Beer, a registered Trademark by the Club of Munich Brewers.


Just how much beer are we talking about?  In 2007, 7 million liters of beer were consumed during the 16-day festival.


The festival is not all beer.  Visitors enjoy traditional Bavarian foods such and Hendl (chicken), Schweinebrated (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Wurstl (sausages) along with Brezn (Pretzel), Knodel (potato or bread dumplings, Kasspatzn (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Rotekraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).


The festival has been affected by world events in the past, especially the world wars.  From 1914 to 1918, World War I prevented the celebration of Oktoberfest. In 1919 and 1920, the two years after the war, Munich celebrated only an “Autumn Fest.” In 1923 and 1924, the Oktoberfest was not held due to inflation.


In 1933, the Bavarian white and blue flag was replaced with the swastika flag. During World War II, , from 1939 to 1945, no Oktoberfest took place. Following the war, from 1946 to 1948, Munich celebrated only the “Autumn Fest.” The sale of proper Oktoberfest beer—2% stronger in alcohol than normal beer—was not permitted; guests could only drink normal beer.


Since its beginnings the Oktoberfest has been canceled 24 times due to war, disease and other crises.


Still, it remains the most visited festival in the world.

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