The History of Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest has been around for over two hundred years! Over time, it has changed in many ways from the first event in 1810 and the complete focus of the festival has shifted during these last few centuries. Read below if you are curious to know how it all started!

The First Oktoberfest

The first Oktoberfest began in Munich on October 12, 1810 in celebration of the royal wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The celebrations were held on the fields outside of the city’s gates and lasted for five days. On the last day, horse battles were held to conclude the occasion. While there was food, beer and wine, this first Oktoberfest was only vaguely similar to the Oktoberfest we now celebrate. Today, this festival is synonymous with “beer fest,” but back in 1811 it was the horse battles that compelled the government to make it an annual event.

How Oktoberfest Progressed

Every festival needs activities. The horse races covered only one day of the event, so other attractions were included over time. In 1811, Oktoberfest got its own agricultural show that still runs today. Other attractions included bowling, swings, parades, tree climbing and carnival rides that gained popularity around the 1820s. Small beer stands gradually grew and by the late 1800s turned into beer tents selling beer from well-known breweries. Fascinatingly, horse races got the whole Oktoberfest phenomenon burned out and were no longer apart of the festival.  

While the first Oktoberfest took place in October, the dates were eventually moved back to appreciate longer and hotter September days. A modern Oktoberfest (or Die Wies’n as locals call it) is typically a sixteen-day event that runs from late September through the first weekend in October.

Oktoberfest Now

From what was originally a party for the citizens of Munich, Oktoberfest expanded to host all of Bavaria, and has now become an international event. It is still held in the same location as its origin in 1810, only now it is much closer to the center of Munich.

Germany and Bavaria are well-known for their world-renowned breweries and by the late 1800s beer became a huge part of the Oktoberfest celebration. Over one million gallons of beer are consumed each year at Oktoberfest. Many Oktoberfest traditions still include, or revolve around, beer. Each festival still begins with the tapping of the first keg by the Mayor of Munich.

Beers served in the tents at Oktoberfest always come from the six Munich breweries: Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Augustiner and Spaten. These breweries prepare a special Oktoberfest brew that is slightly sweeter and higher in alcohol content than their normal beer. This causes some inexperienced attendees to miscalculate their drinking capacity and turn into what Germans kindly call “beer corpses” (Bierleichen).

Oktoberfest Beer

The Oktoberfest Beer has also changed over time. Dunkel was the first beer served, then Marzan, and now Festbier. It may surprise many people, especially here in United States, that what we overwhelmingly consider the style of Oktoberfest, Marzan, is not what is served at Oktoberfest. This is actually a common misconception because Marzan was known as the original beer served at Oktoberfest.

Festbier, sometimes called Wiesn, Festbiere or Oktoberfestbier, a name that can only be used by Breweries in Munich, have taken the place of Marzan in the beer tents dotting the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow) in Munich during the Oktoberfest celebration. It is a relatively young, and mostly unknown, style here in the United States.

Oktoberfest Around the Universe

Even though it was originally a German festival, Oktoberfest has exploded in popularity and become part of many different countries annual traditions. It’s not only chosen by the Germans who live abroad or people with German roots but folks of all nationalities and ages are embracing the Oktoberfest tradition and the opportunity to immerse themselves in German culture. In the U.S., Oktoberfest events are held on many levels from private family parties to county and statewide festivals.

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