Oktoberfest Celebrates 200 Years of Culture, Beer and Bavaria
By Alex Starace
Oktoberfest, Munich’s famously large celebration of beer and German culture, actually began as a wedding reception. Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen were betrothed on October 12, 1810 – and all of Bavaria was invited to celebrate on the fields in front of Munich’s city gates. The event, oddly enough, concluded with a horse race and was such a success that the fields were soon named Theresienwiese (or “Therese’s fields”) in honor of the princess.
The next year, another horse race was held in the same location, this time augmented with an agricultural fair. The event was called Oktoberfest – and one of the world’s great celebrations was born. Before long, carnival booths were added, as were a carousel and other amusements. Naturally, beer carts appeared, the proprietors helping visitors slake their thirst.
Oktoberfest Becomes Official
The event grew in popularity, prompting Ludwig I of Bavaria (the now-king who’d been married at the first Oktoberfest) to commission an immense Bavarian Hall of Fame overlooking the Theresienwiese, along with a bronze statue of a woman and lion. The statue, which was completed in 1850 and named “Bavaria,” was the first such large-scale all-bronze statue (shown at left) to be built since antiquity.
Measuring 60 feet high and weighing over 87 tons, lucky tourists can enter, climb its staircase and get a view of Oktoberfest from Bavaria’s crown.
Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t until 1892 that beer was served in the now-traditional enormous glass steins, and not until 1896 that the first beer tents opened. Since the beginning, however, quality standards have been rigorous: All beer must have a minimum of 13.5 percent Stammwürze (a brewer’s term describing the exact amount of extract in the beer’s wort) and must be brewed within Munich’s city limits. In fact, only seven breweries are officially licensed to produce Oktoberfest beer, including the well-known Spatenbräu and Paulaner brands.
Contrary to what many still believe, Oktoberfest has long since been pushed back to September – organizers quickly realized that the warmer weather and longer days made for a better celebration. The festival, which typically runs 16 days, ends on the first Sunday in October, meaning that the majority of the celebration takes place in the month prior.
In 1950, a new opening ceremony was initiated. Following a 12-gun salute, the Mayor of Munich tapped the first keg of the season, cried out that the job had been done (“O’zapft is!”) and passed the first beer to the Minister of Bavaria. The tradition has lasted to this day – and it’s still quite common to see waitresses (and female visitors) dressed in the traditional dirndl, while men wear their Bavarian lederhosen.
At the contemporary Oktoberfest, there are fourteen festival tents, each holding thousands of visitors and making for an event of seemingly unimaginable scale. Last year there were a total of 6.4 million visitors and 6.7 million liters of beer consumed, according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Another eye-popping stat comes from the festival’s lost-and-found, which reported 400 sets of keys, 520 wallets and 1,065 identity cards (including passports) lost.
All of which goes to show that whether you’re going to Oktoberfest for the beer, the tradition or the celebration, you’ll not be alone – and that you’ll likely have a great time, provided you hold on to your keys.
Oktoberfest 2014 Recommendations for Beer 360
By Alex Villasuso
If you’re celebrating Oktoberfest from Miami instead of Munich, Beer 360 has you covered. Head to 18090 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles, and have Gustavo and his team pour you a stein of one of these authentic Munich brews. I’ll get all official here and only recommend the beers Beer 360 has that meet the qualifications of the Reinheitsgebot (German purity laws), which qualify them to be served at Oktoberfest. These beers are all brewed to be 5.5-6% ABV or higher, and within Munich city limits… And can be enjoyed at Beer 360!
Be sure to keep eye contact as you raise your stein to your friends, cheerily declare, “Prost!” tap the stein on the bar, and finally, take a nice long drink. Auf wiedersehen!