That the Oktoberfest serves beer is not a new thing, but the festival notoriously celebrated for this feat also boasts of several other traditions. A read through this CelebrationJoy article will give you a blow-by-blow account of what this festival is all about.
History of the Oktoberfest
The festival was first held on October 12, 1810, as a celebration of the marriage of the Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. It was a 5-day celebration that ended with a horse race on October 17, 1810.
Many of the original traditions continue even today, though the horse race was discontinued in 1838, and beer was only introduced to the festival in 1887.
Come September, and beer lovers around the world will rejoice. The mere mention of Oktoberfest, and the eyes of even grown-up, badass men twinkle with complete, unparalleled joy. Of course, it is not difficult to understand why―to know that an entire festival has been dedicated to drinking beer will guarantee this reaction. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival, and while it began as a local celebration back in 1810, today, it has achieved international fame.
Though drinking beer is the highlight of the festival, the festival offers several other things as well that run into entertainment and otherwise. Going to Germany and taking part in this fest seems like the perfect plan, yes; however, there are a few things about the Oktoberfest that you should know before you start packing. In this CelebrationJoy article, we are giving you some important facts and information about the fest so that you will appreciate and enjoy the same much better. But before that, take a look at what all to expect at the Oktoberfest through this slideshow.
A top view of the tents and stalls at the Theresienwiese ground in Munich where the Oktoberfest is held every year.
The Dirndl and the Lederhosen―inspired by the clothes that peasants used to wear―is donned by the women and men, respectively.
The Oktoberfest tents are done up in exquisite lighting and are lined with benches. They have a space in the center for the band to play.
The Oompah bands form the main entertainment in the tents and outside. The band members don the traditional Lederhosen costume for the shows.
Smoked pork with pretzels, and a stein of beer is one of the many popular dishes served at the Oktoberfest.
Smoked and salted fish is a delicacy that is served exclusively at the Fischer-Vroni tent at the Oktoberfest.
Beer is usually served in 1-liter beer steins at the Oktoberfest. These belong to the tent owners or the beer halls.
Gifting heart-shaped gingerbread with varied messages to someone you love or someone you want to get to know is a very popular practice at the Oktoberfest.
Facts, Information, and Traditions
1. Ladies And Gentlemen, Mark The Dates
The Oktoberfest commemorates in the month of September (first Saturday after September 15) and lasts until the first Sunday of October or October 3rd―whichever comes later. The festival usually lasts for a period of 16-18 days. This year, the fest will be held from September 20th-October 5th, 2014.
2. The Septemberfest-Oktoberfest Conundrum
Even though the fest is known as the ‘Oktoberfest’, it usually starts in September. This was done in order to benefit from the early-fall weather which is warmer. This also attracted bigger crowds.
3. And The Venue Is …
The festival is held on the grounds of Theresienwiese in Munich―also called Festwiese or Wiesn, for short, by the locals. The ground is named Theresienwiese in honor of Queen Therese and is the original ground on which the prince and princess were married. The open grounds of asphalt are converted into fairgrounds full of beer tents, food stalls, carnival rides, and roller coasters in a span of approximately 2-3 months- disassembling them takes a month’s time.
4. The Fest Starts Off With …
The festival begins with a 12-gun salute and the mayor of Munich tapping the first beer keg at noon while announcing O’zapft is!―It’s tapped! in the Austro-Bavarian language. The first beer is then handed over to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria, and the festival is officially opened. This practice first started in the year 1950.
5. What Is Happening In Those Tents?
It is suggested that you enter a tent around 4 p.m. to secure a place for yourself. As the evening approaches, the tents start to get crowded, and then, the only way you can get a seat is if someone leaves. Even though the seating capacity for each tent is in thousands, there are times when the tents are closed due to overcrowding; in such a case, the doors are locked, a guard is placed to man the door, and a sign announcing the same is put up. Once the crowd has dwindled a little and there is more space, the sign is taken down and more people are welcomed in once again.
6. Keep The Cash Ready
Entering the tents and sitting down at a bench is free. But everything else from that point on comes at a price. Credit cards are not accepted at the festival. So keeping a stash of Euro is important. With beer, food, and public transport rides, the cost of one person for one evening can cost about 40-45 Euro (USD 50-60). This is without factoring in the cost of buying souvenirs or taking the rides. It is recommended that you keep at least 60 Euro (USD 80) for a day, if you plan to eat, drink, use the public transport to visit the festival, and participate in certain activities.
7. Beer Is Served!
There are 14 tents which are set up on the grounds. The timings for serving beer is 10 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 10.30 p.m on weekends and holidays. An exception to this rule is the Käfer tent which closes at 1 a.m.―the last orders for which have to be placed by 12.15 a.m. Smoking is not allowed in any of the tents.
8. What About The Music, Sir?
Each tent usually has a band playing in the center―the mood and feel of the entertainment offered will be different in each tent. Most tents will feature the full brass oompah bands and a rotation of the classic Deutsch songs will follow. As evening approaches, people are likely to climb onto the benches and sing along with the band―the lights are dimmed, and after a couple of rounds of beer, the crowd tends to get a little rowdy.
9. Where’s It All Brewing?
Interestingly, only 6 breweries are allowed to participate in the festival. All these breweries are located within the city limits. These being―Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu, Hofbräuhaus München, Paulaner Bräu, Augustiner Bräu, and Löwenbräu. Each of these breweries has a dedicated tent and only their beer is served in it. The beer brewed for the festival is extra strong―containing 6% alcohol by volume. It is therefore important to pace yourself.
10. That Stine’s Not Mine!
Glass steins were introduced to the festival in 1892, before which, stone and steel ware was used to serve the beer. The festival now has official Oktoberfest beer mugs of 1-liter capacity, which are the property of the tent or the beerhall. Every year, people try to take off with these glasses as a souvenir; however, there are security guards stationed at the entrance who look out for mugs being smuggled out. If caught, you can be charged with theft. So what if you simply must have one? Purchase one from the festival grounds―simple.
11. Yummy Bavarian Cuisine … Stock Up!
No outside food or drinks are allowed in the tents. But every tent will have a large kitchen and multiple chefs who serve a wide variety of Bavarian cuisine like pretzels, sauerkraut, sausages, schnitzel, pommes frites, schweinshaxe, apple strudel, pork with dumplings, and roast chicken and duck. Some tents will even offer delicacies like roast ox and smoked fish.
12. What Is Everyone Wearing?
The official costume of the Oktoberfest is the Dirndl for women and the Lederhosenfor men. Most people at the fest will be dressed in this attire, and it is rather encouraged that you do as well. These garments can be ordered online, or they can be purchased once in the city. Interestingly, a little bow worn on the Dirndl can tell you a lot about the lady wearing it―a bow on the left side means that the lady is single, a bow on the right means that she’s already taken, and a bow on the front of her dress means that she’s a virgin. Unfortunately, there are no such signs used when donning the lederhosen.
13. I’ll Drink to That!
The official cry for ‘cheers!’ in German is Prost!. Another popular phrase is zum wohl (pronounced, tzoom-vohl), meaning ‘to your health’. The official permissible beer-drinking age in Germany is 16 years. So don’t be surprised to find kids there.
14. To Pee Or Not To Pee
There are plenty of restrooms erected on the grounds―there are 965 toilets and 1 km of urinal toilets at the ground. But depending on when you visit these, you might have to wait in line.
15. The No-shows
During WWI, WWII, and cholera epidemics, the Oktoberfest has had to be canceled.
16. It’s All About The Family
Oktoberfest is a kids-friendly festival as well, featuring many activities like roller coasters, carousels, and Ferris wheels. Several teetotallers and non-drinkers also attend the festival. In order to maintain the family-oriented feel of this fest, loud music and partying is not allowed till 6 p.m. in the evening. In addition, every Tuesday is Family Day (from 12 p.m. To 6 p.m.), and families receive a discount on most rides and games.
17. Pass Me Some Gingerbread, Will Ya?
A very interesting tradition of the festival is that of gifting huge gingerbread hearts by lovers and admirers as a sign of their affection. Before these are eaten, the hearts are worn around the neck, and feature several phrases like Ich liebe Dich, meaning ‘I love you’.
18. Of The Old in the New
A ride on the historic Krinoline merry-go-round is a must for every visitor. It is the fest’s oldest carnival ride, dating circa 1900. In recent times, a live oompah band has been installed to entertain the guests who wait their turn.
19. The Waitress From Bavaria
In 2008, Bavarian waitress Anita Schwarz set a Guinness World Record for carrying the most steins without spillage. She carried 19 full steins of beer (5 in either hand and 9 on top), weighing over 45 kg, and walked a distance of 40 meters before placing them on a table without any spillage.
20. No, We’re Not Drunk! Hic!
Around USD 96,178,668 worth of beer is served every day at the Oktoberfest. In 2013, 6.7 million liters of beer was consumed during the festival―the beer record was set at 7.5 million liters in 2011. Also, be prepared to run into many beirleichen, or beer corpses, this is the official term for describing an individual who has consumed a pint too many and has passed out.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Like a fairytale land, but with all the beer in the world for company… sigh. Seriously though, if you happen to be in Germany at this time of the year, you must plan a trip to the Oktoberfest. Or better still, plan a vacation around it.
Chant with me then … Germany. Germany. Germany.