A Brief History Of Oktoberfest
Fall is packed with festivals and celebrations across cultures and nations. While Halloween is a holiday kids look forward to, Oktoberfest is one for the adults. Beer comes to mind when we think of Oktoberfest, but it's about much more than just steins full of suds. Here's a brief history of Oktoberfest.
The first Oktoberfest was held on October 12, 1810. But rather than a festival, it was a wedding celebration. The Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig (later to become King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, but wanted to include civilians in the festivities. They opened up the grounds, which are now referred to as "Wiesn" (short for "Theresienwiese" or "Therese's Meadow"), for five days of festivities, closing with a horse race.
Germans loved the wedding celebration so much that the festival was brought back the following year, with the addition of an agricultural show. Each year, the festivities and events grew and evolved with technology. By 1870, it was very similar to what we know as a carnival with games, attractions and rides. In 1908, Oktoberfest introduced Germany to its first roller coaster. By 1960, the horse races were dropped from the festival schedule and the agricultural show was cut back to every three years rather than an annual element. In the more than 200 years of Oktoberfest, it has been cancelled 24 times. It took a hiatus during the first and second World Wars and during times of economic insecurity.
Though beer is the main attraction to Oktoberfest now, it didn't become a key component of Oktoberfest until the late 1800s. At first, beer was sold at beer stands and by the turn of the century, the beer stands evolved into beer tents with wooden picnic tables similar to what they have now. Today, beer is the main focus of Oktoberfest. The festival kicks off with a parade of brewers and barmaids, and the mayor of Munich taps the first keg in a special ceremony. Because Germans take their beer very seriously, the only beer served at Oktoberfest is brewed within Munich city limits according to German purity restrictions.
While the first Oktoberfest started on October 12, the dates of the fair had to be shifted to take advantage of nice weather. Like Election Day or Thanksgiving, Oktoberfest has an official formula for the dates: it lasts sixteen days ending on the first Sunday in October and includes the German public holiday German Unity Day (October 3).
Bavarians hold dear their traditional peasant clothing, but only for Oktoberfest. At Oktoberfest, the men and boys are dressed in lederhosen -- leather shorts and suspenders -- while women and girls wear dirndls -- a full skirt falling just below the knees that laces up the front over a white puffy blouse and accented with an apron. It's all in honor of their Alpine peasant forefathers.
Today, Munich's Oktoberfest attracts people from all over the world. Each year, it averages about six million visitors. Together, they consume more than 1.7 million gallons of beer and just over 400,000 chickens. Those are things you pay for; entry to the festival is free to anyone who wants to go.