HISTORY OF OKTOBERFEST
Why is the famous German beer festival held in September if it’s called Oktoberfest? Officially, the beer festival starts the third Saturday in September through early October for 16 to 18 days.
But not this year, Oktoberfest 2020 has been canceled due to to the Coronavirus pandemic. So let’s look back at Oktoberfest’s origin.
The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the royal wedding in Munich — the capital of the old kingdom of Bavaria — between Ludwig, the Bavarian Crown Prince and Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, princess of Saxe-Altenburg. The celebration began October 12 and lasted until October 17. In subsequent years the festivities were repeated, lengthened, and moved to September when the weather was better.
The festivities were originally held for the citizens on the fields in front to the gates of the city. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese for the princess but are often abbreviated to simply die Wiesn. Over the years the celebration grew to become a celebration of Bavarian agriculture, culture, and food.
This year would be the 187th Oktoberfest and would have started on September 19 in Munich. It’s been going on for over two centuries and has only been interrupted 24 times previously by cholera epidemics and wars. This year marks the 25th interruption. Typically over six million people visit Munich each year and come to one of the 16 beer tents, which hold about 119,000 people total at a time. There’s even an app for the event.
Recently 7.7 million liters of beer were served. If you were to lay down all the beer drinkers in Munich end-to-end they’d sleep better afterward. All over the world where there are German immigrants, Oktoberfest is celebrated. Large celebrations routinely occur in Canada, Brazil, Cincinnati, and even Denver where we see half a million gather in the Mile High City.
The married Bavarian couple? They had a grandson, Leopold II, perhaps the most popular King of Bavaria. He was called the Swan King, or the Fairy Tale King, or even Mad King Ludwig. He fairly showered castles upon the kingdom in the late 19th century. The largest of these is the most photographed castle in the world, and the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It’s Castle Neuschwanstein near Fussen, Germany.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian