Oktoberfest is the world’s largest folk festival, held yearly in Munich, Germany in late September and early October. The festival is a staple of Bavarian culture, having been held almost every year since 1810, and has inspired hundreds of yearly satellite celebrations around the world. In 2017, Oktoberfest begins on September 16 and ends on October 3, and in 2018 Oktoberfest begins on September 22 and ends on October 7.Oktoberfest begins each year with a parade of the restaurateurs and brewery owners, starting in downtown Munich and leading to the festival grounds. The parade is led by a man or woman dressed as the Münchner Kindl, the Oktoberfest mascot, followed by the mayor of Munich. Behind the mayor are floats of the breweries participating in the festival, along with carriages carrying the restaurateurs. After the parade, the opening ceremonies begin at 12:00 in the Schottenhammel tent. The mayor opens the first beer barrel of the festival and exclaims “O’Zapft is!” meaning, “It’s tapped!” After the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria is served the first beer, the festival commences.
While Oktoberfest is known today as a beer festival, with upwards of 6.7 million liters of beer served each year, the original Oktoberfest was a wedding celebration. When King Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810, they invited the citizens of Munich to participate in a day of celebration in the city’s neighboring fields. The first Oktoberfest featured horse races, a costumed celebration of Bavarian culture, and a parade.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the festival gradually evolved to become the Oktoberfest that we celebrate today. After the city officials of Munich took over the administration of the festival in 1819, it was decided that it would be held each year in late September instead of October, due to September’s longer days and warmer temperatures. Carnival games and an agriculture show were added in the early 1800s, and the late 1800s saw the addition of electric light, bratwurst tastings, and beer to the festival. Oktoberfest has been cancelled only 24 times since 1810, due to wars, political turmoil, and economic issues.
Today, the 6 million people to take part in Munich’s Oktoberfest can expect amusement rides, traditional Bavarian food, games, music, and lots of local beer. Oktoberfest regulations specify that only beer brewed in Munich can be served at the festival. Munich’s six breweries, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner Spaten, Augustiner, Hofbräu, and Löwenbräu, are in attendance each year. Additionally, beers served must adhere to Germany’s beer purity law, called the Reinheitsgebot, which has been in place since 1516. For visitors who prefer wine or cocktails, the festival offers a wine tent with over 15 different varieties of wine, and the Bodo’s Cafe tent, which serves pastries, coffee, and cocktails.
Festivalgoers can choose between 14 different Oktoberfest tents, each offering a unique atmosphere, and accommodating between 98 and 10,000 people. Armbrustschützenzelt, otherwise known as the “Crossbowman’s Tent” hosts a crossbow competition that has taken place every year since 1895. Visitors can hear classic Oktoberfest music all day at Marstall, while at Hacker-Festzelt listeners are treated to both a traditional Bavarian brass band and a rock band in the evening. Other notable tents are Ochsenbraterei, where visitors can eat a variety of traditional Ox dishes, and Löwenbräu-Festhalle, which features a 15 foot tall statue of a lion that occasionally roars and drinks from its stein of beer.
While Munich’s Oktoberfest is the original and only official Oktoberfest celebration, there are satellite celebrations all over the world in the months of September and October. The largest of these celebrations takes place in the Canadian cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. Other large Oktoberfest festivals take place in Blumenau, Brazil, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Denver, Colorado. Visitors wishing to experience the authentic Oktoberfest in Munich are advised to book travel and accommodations far in advance, as lodging during the festival is known to sell out close to a year in advance.