HISTORY OF OKTOBERFEST
Why is the famous German beer festival held in September if it’s called Oktoberfest? Officially, the beer festival starts on the third Saturday in September and lasts 16 to 18 days through early October.
Oktoberfest 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s back again this year, starting tomorrow.
Let’s look back at the origin of what is now the world’s largest folk festival.
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 on 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 before the city’s gates. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese for the princess but are often abbreviated to d’Wiesn. Over the years, the celebration grew to become a celebration of Bavarian agriculture, culture, and food.
Oktoberfest kicks off with a parade of the landlords and breweries tomorrow, proceeds to the opening and tapping of the first barrel by the Lord Mayor at noon, includes an ecumenical mass in the Marstall festival tent next week, features the landlords’ concert, and concludes with a traditional gun salute on the last day.
It’s been going on for over two centuries and has only been interrupted 24 times previously by cholera epidemics and wars. The Coronavirus lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 marked the 25th and 26th interruptions. Typically, over six million people visit Munich each year and come to one of the 16 beer tents, which hold about 119,000 people at a time.
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.
This is not the only beer festival in Germany or even in Munich. The Munichers have a local one I’ve written about visiting called Starkbierfest.
Oktoberfest: a Royal Marriage
The married Bavarian couple I mentioned? They had a grandson you might know, Leopold II, perhaps the most famous King of Bavaria. He was called the Swan King, the Fairy Tale King, and 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. When Walt Disney visited Germany, he was inspired by it to create Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It’s Castle Neuschwanstein near Fussen, Germany.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian