A festival first held in 1810 and known as die Wies’n among Germans (in reference to the fairgrounds that host the sixteen-day event), Oktoberfest is an annual celebration of Bavarian culture (Bavaria is one of sixteen German states; Munich is its capital). Originally a gathering of Munich’s citizens, Oktoberfest has gained international notoriety for its unique, traditional dress and famous beers.
Oktoberfest began as a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who were married on the twelfth of October in 1810. The future king and his bride invited the people of Munich to take part in the wedding festivities, which were held on grounds named Therese’s Meadow (Theresienwiese). Initially, the festival was meant to be held only once. However, horse races that marked the end of the celebration were so popular that it was brought back the following year. Oktoberfest became an annual tradition, and Germans came to call it by a shortened version of the name first given to the fairgrounds.
Oktoberfest has undergone several changes since its inception. It now starts during September and proceeds until the first Sunday of October, allowing participants to enjoy better weather and a longer festival. While the horse races that began the tradition were held until 1960, they have since ceased. During its early decades, both an agricultural show and a parade were added to the festival. The former is still held every four years, and the latter, a tradition honoring the marriage that led to the first celebration, became a permanent feature of Oktoberfest in 1850.
Music and dancing have become popular elements of the festival, with numerous bands playing throughout the fairgrounds each year. Food and drink are also vital components of Oktoberfest. Bavarian dishes include numerous variations of sausage, cheeses, and sauerkraut. With up to seven million liters of beer (equivalent to almost twenty million 12-ounce beers, for comparison) served annually, die Wies’n is likely best known for its brewed beverages. Since Oktoberfest became an official event in its early years, the production of beer for the festival has been well-regulated. Following centuries-old purity standards, the ingredients for all die Wies’n beers must meet strict requirements, and the final product must be at least six percent alcohol by volume. Furthermore, beer for the festival must be brewed in the city of Munich. As a result, only six breweries meet all of the requirements to produce Oktoberfest beer.
As Oktoberfest is a celebration of Bavarian history, many who attend choose to dress in traditional styles. Men don leather shorts with suspenders, called lederhosen (leather breeches), while women wear the dirndl, a traditional dress. Both of these styles were typical of peasants and members of the working class throughout Bavaria when die Wies’n was first held. The clothing serves as a way to preserve the Bavarian customs that are entwined in Oktoberfest and remember its origins.
Die Wies’n has grown over more than two hundred years to become the world’s largest fair. Enjoyed by visitors from around the globe, it is a unique celebration that encompasses both the past and present of Bavarian culture. Oktoberfest plays a key role in not only the preservation of tradition, but also in its ongoing development.