Starting from mid-September till the first Sunday of October, this festival includes all kinds of folk traditions as well as beer and is held in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, every year. This German festival is said to be the largest folk fest globally, where not only Germans take part, but people from all over the world come and enjoy the gathering. Typically lasting for sixteen to eighteen days, it is estimated to have six million people from all over the world attending this joyous occasion every year. The local people refer to it as d’Wiesn, and it is considered an essential part of the Bavarian culture. But what is the history of this festival? Why is it so important for the people?
What exactly happens at the festival, and what is its origins?
Origin of Oktoberfest – 1810
To date it back from where it all started, Oktoberfest was a horse race by originality. It all started from the wedding ceremony of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, which took place on 12 October 1810. Since it was a joyous occasion for the crown, it was decided that the citizens of Munich must also be invited to attend the happy occasion. Thus, festivals were organized in front of the city’s gates, and the people of Munich participated in the royal event. A large feast was also scheduled for the people of Bavaria. In honor of the Crown Princess, the fields on which the festivals were being held were named Theresienwiese, which translates into “Theresa’s Meadow.” Locals, on the other hand, abbreviated the name to Wisen. Andreas Michael Dall’Armi, a Major in the National Guard, came up with the idea of holding horse races for the newlyweds because horse racing was a tradition at the time. Since the people loved horse racing so much, the event was repeated the following year along with all the celebrations, shaping the event into a public festival known as the Oktoberfest.
The reason why the fields of fairground were chosen for all the events was because of the ground’s natural suitability. Forty thousand race spectators used to witness the races at Sendlinger Hill, which is now named Theresienhohe. Except for the king’s tent, the grounds of the festivals remained undeveloped. The visitors present above the stand were asked to taste wine, “Trsiteurs,” and other kinds of beer. The people pay homage to the bridegroom of the royal family by organizing a performance before the race. What happened in the performance was that 16 pairs of children were dressed in Wittelsbach costumes and costumes from nine Bavarian townships and other regions and were lined in the form of a train. After that, the race would begin, comprising 30 horses on an 11,200-foot 3,400 meters-long racetrack. All of this is then concluded with the beautiful singing of a student choir.
This is where the Oktoberfest celebration began and is now celebrated every year by the German people with great fervour and zest.
The History of Oktoberfest- 19th Century
Before 1813, to promote the Bavarian culture, a show was added; it happened so in the year 1811, the very next year of the royal wedding. However, when Bavaria was involved in Napoleon Wars, the festival was cancelled. Although it did grew after the wars were terminated, and the festival expanded every year. There were not just horse races in the festival, but there were tree climbing, swings, bowling alleys, and so much more. An addition of carnival booths occurred in the year 1818. These booths offered the prizes of jewellery, porcelain, and silver to their winners. When the fathers of the city felt that it is their responsibility to take care of the festival’s management, it was decided that Oktoberfest will now be an annual event. When a Greek delegation came, the date of the festival was shifted to some weeks later, in 1832. However, since the days are warmer and longer at the end of September, it was decided that the date of Oktoberfest will be moved to the annual days of September. The agriculture shows still exist to this date, but the horse races continued only till 1960. On the other hand, the agriculture shows happen to be held in the southern part of the festival grounds every four years.
A parade was organized for the first time in 1810 to honor the newlyweds’ Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Ever since then, it has now become a crucial event of the Oktoberfest. To follow the parade’s tradition, eight thousand people, among which most of them happen to be from Bavaria, led by Munchner Kindl, march from Maximilian Street through the centre of Munich to the Oktoberfest grounds. All of them are dressed in traditional costumes.
First sketched by Leo von Klenze, the statue of Bavaria exist since 1850 and has been watching over the Oktoberfest ever since. The figure is a unique piece of art constructed by Johann Baptist Stiglmaier and Ferdinand von Miller. It is one of the essential structures in the history of Bavaria.
In the year 1854, there was an outbreak of cholera in the country, and three thousand residents of Munich died, including the queen consort as well. This was a grave matter, and the epidemic resulted in many deaths, which is why in order to be safe from the disease, the Oktoberfest was readily canceled. Bavaria was involved in the Austro-Prussian War in the year 1866, and therefore the Oktoberfest was again cancelled. In 1870, again, the Franco-Prussian War resulted in the cancellation of Oktoberfest. There was another outbreak of the cholera pandemic in the year 1873, and the festival was again cancelled.
Until the 19th Century, there were large dance floors, games of skittles, and trees for climbing in the beer booths. After that, a re-organization took place because the organizers desired more room for guests and musicians. As a result, booths became beer halls which are still in use to the present day.
For the first time in 1887, Oktoberfest employees and breweries marched in a procession. This event features the breweries’ lavishly adorned horse teams as well as the bands who perform in festival tents. This event is held every year on the first Saturday of Oktoberfest and serves as the official kick-off to the festivities.
The History of Oktoberfest- 20th Century
An estimated 120,000 litres of beer were consumed at the 100th anniversary of Oktoberfest in the year 1910. The largest pavilion was built, named Bräurosl three years later, accommodating almost twelve thousand people. From the year 1914 to 1918, Oktoberfest was temporarily suspended due to World War I. However, a new fest which was named Kleiner Herbstfest replaced Oktoberfest two years after the war, i.e., in the years 1919 and 1920. Late Oktoberfest was cancelled in the years 1923 and 1924 due to hyperinflation.
It is interesting to note that the very fest was also used as part of the Nazi Propaganda during the time period of National Socialism. However, the Jews were forbidden to work on the Wisen in 1933. The 125th anniversary of the Oktoberfest was celebrated two years after with all the pomp and embellishments. A large number of people gathered for the celebrations and the main event of the whole fest was the big parade.
The people of Germany introduced a slogan amongst them which was proud city—cheerful country. This slogan aimed to unite all the people from different social classes and have the people overcome their differences. This very slogan was an example of the regime’s consolidation of power. Oktoberfest was renamed in the year 1938 as Großdeutsches Volksfest because Hitler had then annexed Austria and won the Sudetenland through the Munich Agreement. It was a show of strength and power for the Nazi regime to move people from Sudetenland to Wisen.
From 1939 to 1945 was the period of World War II, and therefore during such a tense period, Oktoberfest was not celebrated at all. The people only celebrated the “Autumn Fest” In the years 1946 to 1948. There is an interesting fact about the beer of Oktoberfest; it’s not like the other standard beers; in fact, it is 2 percent stronger than the average beer, which is why it is called the Oktoberfest beer. During this period, Oktoberfest beer was prohibited; however, people were allowed to drink regular beer.
The 1980 Bombing
After the Munich massacre, the second deadliest attack occurred in the year 1980 in the history of Germany. More than 225 people got injured, and thirteen people were killed in the attack. Sixty-eight people were seriously injured and were unable to overcome their agony. What happened was that there were toilets at the main entrance of the festival. Someone put a pipe bomb in the trash can near those toilets. An empty fire extinguisher was packed with 1.39 kg of TNT and mortar shells to make the explosive.
The government launched a number of official inquiries. Although many people strongly disagree with this, it was concluded that Gundolf Köhler, a right-wing extremist from Donaueschingen who was murdered in the explosion, was the primary perpetrator of this attack. Many groups strongly disagree, and therefore it is not certain who caused the explosion. It was, however, a deadly incident, and a wave of fear and trauma engulfed the people.
Traditions of Oktoberfest
From the very start of the 1950s until now, traditions of the Oktoberfest have been the same. The opening ceremony of the fest is just as same as the rest of traditional procedures. The fest starts at noon; following a 12-gun salute, the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer with the announcement “O’zapft is!” in Austro-Bavarian dialect, which translates as “It’s tapped!”. The Mayor then presents the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria with the first litre of beer. Thomas Wimmer was the first mayor to tap a keg.
A series of parades occur before the official beginning of the festival. There are beer tent waitresses, landlords, and marksmen’s club all participating in the parade. Two different parades occur, starting around 9:45 am9:45 am to 10.50 am10.50 am and ending at the Theresienwiese.
The locals wear bavarian hats (Tirolerhüte ) containing chamois hair (Gamsbart) tuft during Oktoberfest. Historically speaking, chamois hair was considered a sign of wealth because it had a high price, due to which it was remarkably regarded amongst the people. The more chamois hair one’s hat will have, the wealthier he will be considered. However, presently this concept has subsided because of modern technology, which has begun to produce chamois hair imitations.
If you think someone happens to get injured, what will become of them? Well, you must worry not because the German Red Cross is always present at the fields of the festival to provide any kind of help. The visitors get medical treatment from the Red Cross aid facility. The service is always ready to provide emergency medical care to visitors. As long as the festival lasts, some 100 volunteer medics and doctors are present each day to serve.
Not just this, there is the security offered by the Munich police. Other municipal authorities such as the fire department are also operating during the festival. Moreover, public services such as a security point for women, a lost property office, and a lost and found children station are also present.
On the first Sunday of the Oktoberfest, “Gay Days” begin in the Bräurosl tent. Since the 1970s, German gay organisations have organised these “Gay Days.”
There are many reasons to attend Oktoberfest, but it’s most famous for its free beer tents. From the huge Hofbräu Festzelt, which is a favourite with Americans for its partying and oom-pah bands, to the 2,900-seat Käfers Wiesen Schänke, which is famed for its gourmet cuisine and celebrity attendance, there are 14 temporary structures to choose from.
Picnic tables and benches soon fill up in tents that include food and music. As a rule, parties of two to three can squeeze in next to an existing party of six or more; however, more prominent groups should make reservations or visit one of the less congested smaller tents. Known for its family-friendly ambiance and traditional music, the Augustiner is a local favourite.
A Fun Fair has been a component of the festival since the late 19th Century. Roller coasters, log flumes, and a 164-foot Ferris Wheel (Risenrad) are among the fair’s thrill rides featuring street performers and concerts.
An avenue of food stands, souvenir stands, and gambling games may be found on Budenstrassa. During Oktoberfest, Tuesdays are designated as a family day at the funfair, with discounts on rides and performances all day long.
There are six Munich-based breweries that supply all of the beer at Oktoberfest, and the beer is customarily served in one-litre krugs (steins). Wheat beer, on the other hand, is served in tall, fluted half-litre glasses. If you want to buy one litre of beer, you’ll have to spend roughly $11 in cash.
Oktoberfest has stayed true to its Bavarian roots rather than becoming an international commercial extravaganza. Six Munich breweries, the oldest of which dates back to 1328, continue to produce the beer today. Thousands of Bavarians of all ages dress in traditional garb during the opening-day procession and other festival days, with dirndls and lederhosen seeing a resurgence in recent years. Schichtl’s variety show and a carousel from 1924 are two traditional Munich attractions. Gingerbread hearts frosted with Bavarian dialect greetings are a popular souvenir. Before 6 pm, only traditional Bavarian music is permitted in the beer tents. In other words, while Oktoberfest is an excellent subject for museum exhibits, it’s also a vibrant, living event.
When Oktoberfest is over, it’s customary to take a souvenir home with you. There are high fines for stealing one of the heavy glass drugs used to serve the beer, but they may be purchased at each tent’s souvenir shop.
An Oktoberfest stein commemorating the festival is also available for purchase on the festival grounds. Featuring the official insignia for that year, the ceramic mug is available with or without a pewter lid (about $70).
An easy-to-find favourite is the Lebkuchen (gingerbread necklace). Ich Liebe Dich (I love you) and other German expressions decorate these gingerbread hearts, which come with a ribbon for wearing at home.
Around six million people attend Oktoberfest every year. From the amount of beer consumed to the number of chickens eaten, it continues to set new marks every year. For the world’s largest folk festival, a “silent Oktoberfest” was developed in 2005 to make it more family-friendly. Prior to 6 pm, business owners can only play Bavarian brass band music and cannot play any other type of music until after that hour.
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