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12 October 1810 - 200 years of Oktoberfest!

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    Posted: 12 October 2010 at 09:05


Oktoberfest, the world's largest beer festival, is held annually in Munich, Germany. The 16-day party attracts over 6 million people every year who consume 1.5 million gallons of beer, 200,000 pairs of pork sausage, and 480,000 spit-roasted chickens during the two-week extravaganza. While the event reinforces stereotypical images of beer-loving, meat-loving Germans dressed in dirndls and lederhosen, visitors to the annual event come from all over the world. Oktoberfest is in fact one of Munich's largest and most profitable tourist attractions. It brings over 450 million euros to the city's coffers each year. The folk festival has given its name to similar festivals worldwide that are at least in part modeled after the original Bavarian Oktoberfest. The largest Oktoberfest held outside of Germany takes place each year in the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo in Canada, where a large ethnic German population resides. The largest such event in the United States is Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati in Ohio, which boasts half a million visitors each year.

History of Oktoberfest

The Oktoberfest tradition started in 1810 to celebrate the October 12th marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the festivities which were held over five days on the fields in front of the city gates. The main event of the original Oktoberfest was a horse race.

Anniversary celebrations were held annually thereafter that eventually became larger and more elaborate. An agricultural show was added during the second year. In 1818, a carousel and two swings were set up for the revelers. Such amusements were few in the first decades of the festival, but party-goers were amply entertained by the tree climbing competitions, wheel barrow and sack races, mush eating contests, barrel rolling races, and goose chases. By 1870s, mechanical rides were an expanding feature of the festival and in 1908, the festival boasted Germany's first roller coaster. When the city began allowing beer on the fairgrounds, makeshift beer stands began cropping up, and their number increased steadily until they were eventually replaced by beer halls in 1896. The beer halls, like the beer tents of today, were sponsored by the local breweries.

The festival was eventually prolonged and moved ahead to September to allow for better weather conditions. Today, the last day of the festival is the first Sunday in October. In 2006, the Oktoberfest extended two extra days because the first Tuesday, October 3, was a national holiday. Over the past 200 years, Oktoberfest was canceled 24 times due to cholera epidemics and war.

Oktoberfest events

Since its origins in 1810, the Oktoberfest has changed substantially. The horse races were last held in 1960, and the agricultural show is put on only every four years. The event still takes place on the "Theresienwiese" ("Theresa's meadow"), which was named after the new bride; to the locals, it's simply known as "Wies'n". During the two weeks before the first Sunday in October, these fairgrounds are transformed into a city of beer tents, amusements, rides, performers, and booths of vendors peddling gastronomic delights and traditional confections. The mayor of Munich opens the festivities at noon on the first day of the fair when he drives the wooden tap into a barrel of beer and proclaims O'zapft is! ("It's tapped!").

The Costume and Riflemen's Procession takes place on the first Sunday of the festival, in which some 7000 performers -- groups in traditional costumes and historical uniforms, marching bands, riflemen, thoroughbred horses and other livestock, old-fashioned carriages, and numerous floats -- parade through the streets of Munich's city center showcasing the diversity of local, regional, and national customs. The second Sunday of the Oktoberfest features an open-air big band concert involving the 400 or so musicians who comprise all of the Oktoberfest bands.

Between events and beer tents, guests can traverse the 103 acre Oktoberfest grounds to ride a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, or water slide, navigate their way through a labyrinth, visit a haunted house, be entertained by numerous types of performers, take a look at the flea circus, stop off at one of dozens of game booths, or take a festival tour, among other things.

Oktoberfest beer

Oktoberfest beer is of a variety called Märzen. Darker and stronger than traditional beer, Märzen contains up to 6% alcohol, is bottom-fermented, and is lagered for at least 30 days. Before the advent of modern refrigeration techniques, this type of beer was brewed in March (as its name suggests) and allowed to age through the summer, so that it was ready to drink by late summer or early fall. Like all German beer, the Oktoberfest beer is brewed according to strict German standards (called the Reinheitsgebot and in effect since 1516) that precisely define the four ingredients allowed in the brewing of beer: barley, hops, malt, and yeast.

Just 6 Munich breweries - Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten - are permitted to serve beer at the festival. 14 larger and several smaller beer tents and beer gardens provide enough seating for 98,000 visitors at a time. Beer is served by the Maß, a one-liter mug, and costs about 8 euros. Beer maids and waiters must be able to carry 10 of these beer-filled mugs at a time.

Oktoberfest food

Visitors consume large quantities of food, most of which consists of traditional hearty fare. Readily available all over the fairgrounds are Hendl, whole chickens grilled on a spit and typically sold in halves. Variations are the spit-roasted duck or goose. Roasted meats, especially pork, and potato dumplings are served up with the traditional red cabbage and apple dish (Blaukohl). Local specialties such as roasted ox tails, grilled pork knuckles, or Bavarian Weißwürste, steamed white veal sausages served with sweet mustard, sauerkraut, and a pretzel or bread roll are found on just about every menu. Visitors hankering for some seafood might try the charcoal-fired fish-on-a-stick (Steckerlfisch).

Smaller appetites are satisfied by potato salad or potato soup, and even vegetarians won't go hungry, feasting on massive warm, soft pretzels, cheese plates with bread, or one of the many meatless dishes served up in each of the tents. Typical dessert dishes include Dampfnudel, a steamed honey-dumpling served with vanilla sauce, apple strudel, and Kaiserschmarrn, a sugared pancake with raisins.

Concessions peddling a variety of sweet snacks are also scattered across the landscape. From pan-roasted, sugar-glazed almonds (gebrannte Mandeln) to cotton candy (Zuckerwatte), from glazed fruits to ice cream, Munich's Oktoberfest has something to satisfy every sweet tooth. The decorated gingerbread hearts with slogans and phrases iced onto them might be more of a feast for the eyes than the stomach.

Oktoberfest music

Oktoberfest is known as much for its traditional folk music as it is for its beer drinking. Popular and folk music, marches, and polkas make up the oompah music Germany is stereotypically famous for around the world. As the evening wears on, the music becomes louder and more and more people begin to sing, linking arms and swinging beer mugs from side to side, some standing and swaying and dancing on benches or tables. Before each break, the band will offer up "ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit", a toast to contentment, congeniality, and relaxation.

German folk music is not the only sound you will hear emanating from the massive beer tents. International hits like "New York, New York", "Country Road", "YMCA" and even disco- and rock-inspired tunes emanate from the beer tents. Still, you won't have to look far to find a brass band pumping out a German drinking song: Eins … zwei … g'suffa! Prost!



Oktoberfest turns 200: a journey through its history


Horses and crowds through around a tent in this lithograph depiction of the first Oktoberfest


It all started with a wedding. On October 12, 1810, Bavarian crown prince Ludwig I married Saxon princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. To pep up the ceremony, a horse race was proposed and a race track built.


Charging horses weren't the only spectacle at the ceremony, though. Munich came alive with music and decorations, and the rich feast provided by Bavaria's future king prompted archivists to describe the event as a full-scale folk festival.


The horse race followed about a week later and drew 30,000 spectators. Visitors could catch a glimpse of the nobility, who entered in an elegant procession and went to a separate pavilion from where they would watch the race. They were followed by another procession of 16 pairs of children wearing the traditional attire associated with various regions in Bavaria. Each pair paid homage to Ludwig I and his wife.


The festivities also served as a kind of image campaign for Ludwig I. Napoleon had granted Ludwig's father rule of Bavaria just four years prior, and there were still many foreign influences in the region which worried the nobility. The wedding and revelry were a way to strengthen solidarity in the region.


That may explain why similar celebrations took place the next year and onward. By 1819, the event was declared an annual festival. Today's Oktoberfest takes place on the grounds where the original horse race was held.


From horse race to the 'big bang'


Well into the 19th century, Oktoberfest was much more about the king's solidarity with the folk than a certain beverage with hops. Uncivilized behavior was left to the many animals at the event, including the racehorses, prize-winning bulls and rams, and the soon-to-be-plucked game that served as targets for the marksmen.


People crowd around stands and attractions in this colorful postcard from 1896 depicting Oktoberfest

The first few carousels and swings appeared in 1818. By the late 1830's, beer and fish stands were on the lawn, but there were still few attractions and merchants. Even in 1881, records show that the festival offerings remained limited. There were 23 show booths, six rides and 12 gaming stands.


Nonetheless, the number of visitors was on the rise, with hundreds of thousands of annual guests on record in the 1880s. By then, Munich's population had increased six fold since the marriage of Ludwig I in 1810.


An expanding rail network also made it easier for other Bavarians to visit the festival, and German unification in 1871 was enticing more and more people from beyond Bavaria's borders to visit the festival.


Oktoberfest's "big bang" came in the 1890's, along with electricity and a host of clever entrepreneurs. New rides, attractions, magic shows, menageries and wax figurine cabinets shot up all across the festival grounds.


A waiter at Oktoberfest holds a number of glasses of beer as guests whizz past in the background

At the end of the century, Oktoberfest still wasn't a beer fest - in fact, some songs that encouraged drinking were forbidden. But beer and sausage consumption was growing, and the festival was extended to more than 14 days.


Growth and destruction in a new century


Oktoberfest's 100th anniversary in 1910 was held with the rather exaggerated motto: "The biggest Oktoberfest of all time." But it was true that the event had grown immensely and visitors would have scarcely recognized the Munich experienced by author August Lewald in 1835: "The moon hanging in a cloudless sky, the mountain tops ringed with haze, forests lying nearby and the thousand city lights burning alongside a few from villages beyond."


In the new century, the villages grew together and crowded out the forest. The thousand lights became 10,000, powered by electricity rather than gas. Those on the Oktoberfest lawn were drowned in the lights from the Ferris wheels, carousels and increasingly competitive beer halls.


In this evening snapshot, the colors from the rides at Oktoberfest swirl together

The kingdom of Bavaria came to an end with the Revolution of 1918-19, and Oktoberfest brought revelers a glimpse of the "good old days" prior to the war. Though the event did without the luster of the monarchy in the 1920's, a number of other famous guests filled in. Writers like Thomas Wolfe and Bertolt Brecht made their way to Munich. Even Albert Einstein was on the festival lawn - as a young apprentice, screwing lightbulbs into the facade of the Schottenhamel tent.


Staunchly against alcohol, Hitler never appeared at Oktoberfest. He regarded the event with suspicion, just as he did Christmas. But by 1936, Nazi flags had replaced all other flags on the festival lawn, and Jewish vendors were forbidden from participating. The last Oktoberfest before the war was held in 1938 and dubbed the "Great German Folk Festival."


As Munich still lay in ruins after the war, the festival was revived - although guests were more likely to find watery beer and fish sandwiches than the hearty refreshments of the past. By the 1960's, Oktoberfest was back on its feet and growing - just in time for Munich to play host to the Olympics in 1972.


What began as a horse race and became world-famous as a celebration of all things Bavarian is now an international trademark. Since the 1980's, the festival regularly attracts more than five million visitors - even if some Munich residents prefer to just stay home during the event.


Terror strikes


Against the joyous festival mood that defines most Oktoberfest celebrations, in 1980 tragedy struck.


On September 26, 1980, a bomb exploded at the festival gates leaving 211 injured and 13 dead, including the bomber himself. He was 21-year-old geology student Gundolf Wilfried Koehler and a member of a right-wing extremist group called the Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann. The group had been banned shortly before the attack.


The monument at Oktoberfests gates consists of a steel cloak and stele, shown here

Authorities speculate even today about whether other people were involved in planning or executing the attack. Researchers have scoured the files of the East German secret police, or Stasi, for clues about who might have aided Koehler. The Stasi kept close records on neo-Nazi groups in West Germany.


However, the attack is still considered a lone act. A monument for the victims was erected on the festival grounds. After suffering repeated damage from revelers and vandals, the monument was redesigned in 2008. It now consists of an inscription and a stele surrounding by a steel wall bored through with holes.


"The cloak of steel is a metaphor for protection and for democracy," explained Friedrich Koller, the monument's sculptor. "The cloak was damaged, and it shows its wounds."

Author: Bayerischer Rundfunk (gsw)
Editor: Kyle James


Oktoberfest is a 16-18 day festival held each year in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It is one of the most famous events in Germany and the world's largest fair, with more than 5 million people attending every year. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations, modelled after the Munich event.

The Munich Oktoberfest, traditionally, takes place during the sixteen days up to and including the first Sunday in October. In 1994, the schedule was modified in response to German reunification so that if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or 2nd, then the festival will go on until October 3 (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival is now 17 days when the first Sunday is October 2 and 18 days when it is October 1. In 2010, the festival lasts until the first Monday in October, to mark the 200-year anniversary of the event. The festival is held in an area named the Theresienwiese (field, or meadow, of Therese), often called Wiesn for short, located near Munich's centre.

Visitors eat huge amounts of traditional hearty fare such as Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezn (Pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Kasspatzn (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).


Theresienwiese one day pre opening 2006

The original "Oktoberfest" occurred in Munich, on October 12, 1810. For the public commemoration of their marriage that took place five days before, Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (namesake of the Theresienwiese festival grounds) organized a great horse race. The event was so successful that it was decided to renew it in 1811.

First hundred years

In the year 1811, an agricultural show was added to boost Bavarian agriculture. The horse race persisted until 1960, the agricultural show still exists and it is held every four years on the southern part of the festival grounds. In 1816, carnival booths appeared; the main prizes were silver, porcelain, and jewelry. The founding citizens of Munich assumed responsibility for festival management in 1819, and it was agreed that the Oktoberfest would become an annual event. Later, it was lengthened and the date pushed forward, the reason being that days are longer and warmer at the end of September.

To honour the marriage of King Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria, a parade took place for the first time in 1835. Since 1850, this has become a yearly event and an important component of the Oktoberfest. 8,000 people—mostly from Bavaria—in traditional costumes walk from Maximilian Street, through the centre of Munich, to the Oktoberfest. The march is led by the Münchner Kindl.

Bavaria statue above the Theresienwiese

Since 1850, the statue of Bavaria has watched the Oktoberfest. This worldly Bavarian patron was first sketched by Leo von Klenze in a classic style and Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler romanticised and "Germanised" the draft; it was constructed by Johann Baptist Stiglmaier and Ferdinand von Miller.

In 1853, the Bavarian Ruhmeshalle was finished. In 1854, 3,000 residents of Munich succumbed to an epidemic of cholera, so the festival was cancelled. Also, in the year 1866, there was no Oktoberfest as Bavaria fought in the Austro-Prussian War. In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war was the reason for cancellation of the festival. In 1873, the festival was once more cancelled due to a cholera epidemic. In 1880, the electric light illuminated over 400 booths and tents (Albert Einstein helped install light bulbs in the Schottenhamel tent as an apprentice in his uncle's electricity business in 1896). In 1881, booths selling bratwursts opened. Beer was first served in glass mugs in 1892.

Oktoberfest at night with view of Löwenbräu tent

At the end of the 19th century, a re-organization took place. Until then, there were games of skittles, large dance floors, and trees for climbing in the beer booths. They wanted more room for guests and musicians. The booths became beer halls.

In 1887, the Entry of the Oktoberfest Staff and Breweries took place for the first time. This event showcases the splendidly decorated horse teams of the breweries and the bands that play in the festival tents. This event always takes place on the first Saturday of the Oktoberfest and symbolises the official prelude to the Oktoberfest celebration

In the year 1910, Oktoberfest celebrated its 100th birthday. 120,000 litres of beer were poured. In 1913, the Bräurosl was founded, which was the largest Oktoberfest beer tent of all time, with room for about 12,000 guests.

War years

From 1914 to 1918, World War I prevented the celebration of Oktoberfest. In 1919 and 1920, the two years after the war, Munich celebrated only an "Autumn Fest." In 1923 and 1924, the Oktoberfest was not held due to inflation.

In 1933, the Bavarian white and blue flag was replaced with the swastika flag. From 1939 to 1945, due to World War II, no Oktoberfest took place. From 1946 to 1948, after the war, Munich celebrated only the "Autumn Fest." The sale of proper Oktoberfest beer—2% stronger in alcohol than normal beer—was not permitted; guests had to drink normal beer.

Since its beginnings the Oktoberfest has been cancelled 24 times due to war, disease and other emergencies.

Modern festival

Olympia Looping at night
Frisbee carousel in the heat of day

Since 1950, there has been a traditional festival opening: A twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at 12:00 by the incumbent Mayor of Munich with the cry "O' zapft is!" ("It's tapped!" in the Austro-Bavarian language) opens the Oktoberfest. The Mayor then gives the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria. The first mayor to tap the keg was Thomas Wimmer.

Horse races ended in 1960.

By 1960, the Oktoberfest had turned into an enormous world-famous festival. Since then, foreigners began to picture Germans as wearing the Sennerhut, Lederhosen, and the girls in Dirndl.

Traditional visitors wear during the Oktoberfest Bavarian hats (Tirolerhüte), which contain a tuft of goat hair. In Germany, goat hair is highly valued and prized, making it one of the most expensive objects for sale. The more tufts of goat hair on your hat, the wealthier you are considered to be. Technology helping, this tradition ended with the appearance of cheap goat hair imitations on the market.

There are many problems every year with young people who overestimate their ability to handle large amounts of alcohol. Many forget that beer has 5.8 to 6.3% alcohol, and they pass out due to drunkenness. These drunk patrons are often called "Bierleichen" (German for "beer corpses").

For them as well as for the general medical treatment of visitors the Bavarian branch of German Red Cross operates an aid facility and provides emergency medical care on the festival grounds, staffed with around 100 volunteer medics and doctors per day[1]. They serve together with special detachments of Munich police, fire department and other municipal authorities in the service center at the Behördenhof (authorities' court), a large building specially built for the Oktoberfest at the east side of the Theresienwiese, just behind the tents. There is also a place for lost & found children, a lost property office, a security point for women and other public services.

To keep the Oktoberfest, and especially the beer tents, friendly for older people and families, the concept of the "quiet Oktoberfest" was developed in 2005. Until 6:00 pm, the tents only play quiet music, for example traditional wind music. Only after that will Schlager and pop music be played, which had led to more violence in earlier years.[2] The music played in the afternoon is limited to 85 decibels. With these rules, the organizers of the Oktoberfest were able to curb the over-the-top party mentality and preserve the traditional beer tent atmosphere.

Since 2005 the last traveling Enterprise ride of Germany, called Mondlift, is back on the Oktoberfest.

Starting in 2008, a new Bavarian law intended to ban smoking in all enclosed spaces that are open to the public, even at the Oktoberfest. Because of problems enforcing the anti-smoking law in the big tents there was an exception for the Oktoberfest 2008, although the sale of tobacco was not allowed. After heavy losses in the 2008 local elections with the smoke ban being a big issue in debates, the state's ruling party meanwhile implemented special exemptions to beer tents and small pubs.[3] So, smoking in the tents is still legal, but the tents usually have non-smoking areas.[4]. The sale of tobacco in the tents is now legal, but it's abandoned by agreement. However, in early 2010 a referendum held in Bavaria as a result of a popular initiative re-instituted the original, strict, smoking ban of 2008; thus, no beer will be sold to people caught smoking in the tents.[5] The blanket smoking ban will not take effect until 2011, but all tents will institute the smoking ban this year as to do the "dry run" to identify any unforeseeable issues. The common issue when the smoking ban is in effect is the nauseating stench of stale beer spilled on the floor, which the smoking masked.[6]

2010 marks the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. For the anniversary, there was a horse race in historical costumes on opening day. A so-called "Historische Wiesn" (historical Oktoberfest) took place, starting one day earlier than usual on the southern part of the festival grounds. A specially brewed beer (solely available at the tents of the historical Oktoberfest), horse races, and a museum tent gave visitors an impression of how the event felt a century ago.


A pipe bomb was set off in a dustbin at the restrooms at the main entrance on September 26, 1980 at 22:19. The bomb consisted of an empty fire extinguisher filled with 1.39 kilograms of TNT and mortar shells. Thirteen people were killed, over 200 were injured, 68 seriously. This was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Germany after the Munich Massacre. Governmental authorities propounded a summary of official inquires, purporting that a right-wing extremist Gundolf Köhler from Donaueschingen, a social outcast who was killed in the explosion, was the lone perpetrator. However, this account is disputed strongly by various groups.[7]

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 October 2010 at 17:28
Outstanding history lesson Ron...thank you!

And nice job on the's looking good.
Go with your food!
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