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“Why September?” and Other Answers for the History of the Oktoberfest

September 19, 2019

Oktoberfest in Munich

The Oktoberfest is one of the most well-known celebrations in the world. Despite that, many people are not very familiar with the origins of the Oktoberfest, recognizing it more as a giant party dedicated to beer than for its true heritage. In fact, the beer tents that are world-renowned were not a part of the festival until it was nearly one hundred years old. The festival itself comes from royal origins, and the grounds it takes place on are named after the Crown Princess, and later queen, Therese. The time frame, and reasoning, for it has been muddled a bit over the years with popular explanations and the facts not matching perfectly.

           The first Oktoberfest took place in the year of 1810 as a celebration of the marriage between Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The marriage, taking place on October 12th was accompanied by festivities for all of Bavaria in the fields in front of the Munich city gates. These fields were renamed Theresienwiese in honor of Princess Therese. The name has stuck until modern times, although it is now often shortened to “Wies’n”. It became an annual event on the back of the horse races that ended the celebration on October 18th.

           The next year, the festivities were taken over by the Bavarian Agricultural Association. To promote themselves, they added an Agricultural Show to the activities at the show, which still lasts to the current day; Every three years an Agricultural Show takes place at the Oktoberfest.

           1818 saw the beginnings of the modern entertainment visitors enjoy to this day. The first carousel and two swings were brought to the Oktoberfest. Alongside this, small stands serving beer and other refreshments started springing up along the Wies’n grounds. Although the event was not very large, it was starting to grow and the city officials began to realize the economic potential of it, taking over the festival for themselves.

           During the late 19th century, the grounds started growing more and more. The entertainment was expanded, with many more attractions added, such as updated carousels, performers, and other rides for guests. Alongside this, there was an ever-growing number of beer booths at the festival over the course of the century. By 1896, realizing the economic potential, large beer tents and beer halls that are currently recognized as symbols of the Oktoberfest began replacing the small-scale booths that were previously staples.

           The 20th century also saw the rise of newer traditions in the Oktoberfest. The biggest tradition of the 1900s that has lasted in the Oktoberfest was started by Munich’s mayor in 1950. That year, the mayor tapped the first keg of beer and exclaimed “O’zapft is!” (meaning “it is tapped”). Ever since, the mayor kicks off the first day of the Oktoberfest by tapping a keg of beer with the same phrase, after which beer may be sold.

           As for the reasoning behind the Oktoberfest occurring mostly in September, there are two different explanations that are mainly told. When you ask most Bavarians, they will tell you that the festival has always been mostly in September as it marked the celebrations up to the 1810 wedding, but the official dates of the first Oktoberfest were actually between October 12th and 17th. This leads to the second, more truthful explanation: as the Oktoberfest became more visited and longer, the end date was set as the first Sunday of October and the festival went backwards from then to allow visitors to enjoy better weather.

           The history of the Oktoberfest is still dynamic, and in 2010, to mark the 200th year anniversary, the “Oide Wiesn” (literally: “old oktoberfest”) was introduced. This celebration is put on the southern tip of the Wies’n and was implemented in order to remind festival goers of the history of the Oktoberfest. It includes horse-races and other cultural events such as in the original Oktoberfest all the way back in 1810.

           If you are planning on attending the historic Oktoberfest and want to feel a part of the action, there is one tradition that has even outlasted the Oktoberfest itself. Lederhosen date back to at least the 18th century within Germany. They were then worn mostly as work clothes but by 1880, they had been re-invented as festive wear for the people of Germany. When you attend the Oktoberfest in a pair of Lederhosen, you are not only looking sharp, but also tapping into hundreds of years of history and walking alongside millions who have done the same before you. Decided that you want to not just be at the Oktoberfest and want to be a part of the Oktoberfest? Then I suggest checking Bavaria Trachten where you can get yourself a pair of great Lederhosen that will not only look great and help you fit in, but will also last years so you can continue to come back and make your own traditions.