Everything you need to know about Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest or October festival in German is a major Munich beer festival, famous around the world for its 16 to 18 days of festivities on the Theresienwiese. Considered one of the biggest events in the world, it has also fallen victim to the black market, fraud, and excessive alcohol consumption, which does not prevent more visitors from coming each year to celebrate craft beers and the German and Bavarian tradition.
Originally, German beer festivals existed long before Oktoberfest and allowed brewers to get rid of their March beers, before the new brewing season began. The princely marriage of the future King Ludwig I of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen was a golden opportunity to sell off the stocks of the local brewery and ensure that it was seen as a wedding gift. In short, a nice ruse that eventually suited everyone. Thus, October 12, 1810, will mark the first beer festival which will take place 5 days after the event. Why? Because the couple had organized a big horse race in a meadow in Munich, - which would become the famous Theresienwiese, in honor of the bride - that would attract a lot of people, but also because people were thirsty for hops. From then on, the event was renewed every year at the request of Maximilian I, the father of Louis I, so that it becomes a national holiday and strengthens the feeling of Bavarian unity.
From yesterday to today
Over time, the party evolved with a parade, a marching band, or a procession, but you can imagine that in more than 200 years, it has little to do with its beginnings, even if it does remain just as festive. Be aware that the Oktoberfest begins on the first Saturday of the second half of September and ends on the first Sunday of October, unless it is on October 1 or 2, in that case, the party will continue until the 3rd, got it?
For the start of the festivities at noon sharp, the mayor of the city of Munich comes to put on a show and must open the first barrel of the festival with a hammer. Every year, many people make bets on how many strokes it will take for the mayor to break through those barrels. Since 1950, when this Bavarian tradition was established, the strokes have varied from 2 to 19. Once it is done, the mayor shouts "O'zapft is", literally translated as "It is tapped", announcing that the beer sale is open.
The next day at 10 am you will see an incredible parade of over 9,000 people dressed in traditional Bavarian costumes, namely the skin panties for the men and the white puff-sleeve dresses covered with an apron for the women. There will also be people from Europe or from other German regions, dressed in their own traditional outfits. If a few other activities also take place during these two weeks, such as the greatest number of mass (a one-litre glass of beer) to be carried over a few meters without spilling a drop, many visitors come for the immersion, and especially for the taste of the beer brewed for the occasion, very anchored in Bavarian traditions.
The Oktoberfest festival, hyper chauvinistic and careful of the quality of its beer, only accepts brewers from Munich who must also respect the reinheitsgebot, the German purity law which stipulates that only three ingredients are allowed in the conception of a beer: barley, water, and hops. Yeast was already present and used at the time without them knowing it since it was at the origin of spontaneous fermentation. In this sense, you will find the six breweries for these craft beers: Augustiner-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Spatenbräu, Staatliches Hofbräu-München, all offering several beers which will be ingested to the tune of 7 million litres for approximatively the same number of visitors.
Figures and the unusual
If we talk about Oktoberfest as one of the biggest events in the world, it is because it is a gigantic funfair animated by brass bands, merry-go-rounds, and parades of traditional costumes around beer mugs, pretzel, sauerkraut, and sausage. Millions of visitors come together in a festive carnival atmosphere under tents with numerous folk activities. You will more easily realize the scale of the event by looking at the numbers in the 420,000m² area.
If most of the objects found at the end of the festival are generally clothes, identity cards, keys, glasses, phones, or wallets, you should know that every year, there are also pretty unusual objects... From a license plate to a ping-pong racket, to a playboy magazine and a hearing aid, it takes a lot of imagination to guess what will be found year after year. Too bad we cannot know how many litres of beer (hectolitres?) are poured between the start and the end of this international festival.
Fraud and black market
Changing the subject, while remaining in the Oktoberfest, imagination is simply not what some people lack. As you may have noticed above, there are different tents, but the tables set up in them are very difficult to access and since the owners are innkeepers, they favor their regular customers. The others then put their names on an endless waiting list in the hope of getting it at some point. As a result, some smart kids had the unscrupulous idea of reselling the reservation of their table which sometimes turns out to be completely false. Exorbitant prices have already been observed, around €1,850 on a Saturday evening. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to finally have a table, you should know that there is a minimum to spend in order to keep it. If the expense was more focused on half a chicken and two "mass" (one-litre beer) in the 90s, it is more around €65 today. Yes, tastings in tents tend to be a little discouraging.
For its part, the price of the mass is also constantly increasing, for example from €6.47 to €9.9 per Hofbräu from 2001 to 2014, without compromising on general consumption. Those who are unable to spend that much money have, in recent years, consumed beer and strong alcohol in the aisles of the festival before entering the tents.
Last warning before leaving on a trip, when an innkeeper starts to fill your mass, or that the waitresses approach, check that it is correctly poured since a handful of them do not hesitate to put you less than 0.9 liters, the minimum accepted by the city of Munich and this is also why the masses are now in glass and no longer in sandstone, in order to better perceive the content.
From the beginning to the organization, to the breweries, the tents, and the attempted scams, Oktoberfest remains an incredible event that you should do at least once in your life, just for the folklore and the immersion it offers. Just don't drink too much beer and don't be afraid of crowds.
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