The 183rd Oktoberfest got underway on Saturday 16th September so starting 16 days of festivities. The annual beer festival in Munich attracts over 6 million people from all around the world making it the world’s largest fair. We take a look at its history and what makes the event so popular.
Tapping of the first barrel
The traditional tapping of the first barrel signals the official start of Oktoberfest. This year, as it has been for a number of years, it was left to long time Mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter to hit the tap into the beer barrel with a mallet and say the words “O’zapft is!” – “It’s tapped!” to loud cheers all round. And so starts the 16 days celebration of Oktoberfest.
Image Tim Sheerman-Chase
The event has a long tradition and is an important part of Bavarian culture. It has been around since 1810 and today it is also celebrated in many other cities around the world.
It all began back in 1810 when good old Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (crowned as King Ludwig I) decided to allow the public to share in his celebration of getting married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. This was pretty radical as invites to such royal celebrations usually only went out to nobles. Around 40,000 Bavarians attended the celebration in Munich on what is now called Theresienwiese (the Teresa Meadow) and over 200 years later the same area is used for Oktoberfest.
Although obviously there was lots of beer consumed at old Ludwig’s bash subsequent events were centered around a horse race and agriculture show. Oktoberfest as we know it today only really started taking shape in 1818 when food and beer stands were introduced.
Steins, sausages and beer tents
Germans in Bavaria take their beers very seriously which is obviously apparent at Oktoberfest. It’s really worth sampling a variety of different beers and being a little more adventurous than maybe you normally are with your choices as it’s all pretty good. It’s a nice experience of being gently persuaded to try a beer you are not sure about and going “oh actually that’s really nice” and this seems to happen quite a bit.
Of course serious beer connoisseurs will have no trouble diving straight in like a kid in a familiar candy store. Hangover wise, the beers at Oktoberfest seem more forgiving than more chemical tasting beverages you find in other parts of the world sometimes. This could be down to the old much cherished Bavarian purity laws “Reinheitsgebot“ which means that only water, barley and hops are used as ingredients.
The ubiquitous drinking receptacle of choice is the stein, a supremely oversized glass that takes a little getting used to as its quite big but once comfortable with seems like an extension of your arm and you can visually see your Popeye biceps growing. Obviously to prevent yourself from falling over due to excessive drinking, regular interludes of bratwurst are advisable, which seem to come in two varieties, white or dark, both pretty damn good with beer.
Image andrijbulba via Flickr
A lot of the festivities at Oktoberfest occur inside large tents with long tables that can accommodate a large number of people. The tables in the tents are very popular and you have to book and reserve this in advance. There is a great social atmosphere at the festival both inside and outside of the main tents.
Along with lots of lederhosen one of the most impressive sights is seeing super sturdy traditionally dressed fräuleins effortlessly carrying huge trays of roasted chickens or ridiculous amounts of beer, and all day. Must be something to do with the water or maybe the beer, prost!
The 182nd Oktoberfest runs from 20 September to 4 October. More details at www.oktoberfest.de/en/