In the Old Country, otherwise known as Bavaria, September brings about the most beloved of all ‘fests; Oktoberfest. Today Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. It is a 16-day festival running from late September to the first weekend in October that hosts more than 6 million people from around the world.
To provide more on the scope of Oktoberfest, one has only to look at the astounding numbers generated by the event each year. Last year the event was attended by 6.4 million people, who consumed more than nine million liters of beer, ate more than 500,000 roasted chickens and 330,000 sausages. The festival grounds covered 42 acres – approximately the size of 32 Everbank Fields – and contained 14 massive beer tents with room for up to 10,000 partiers. Waitresses at Oktoberfest must be able to carry up to 10 full steins of beer – each weighing five pounds when full – without spilling.
To the locals Oktoberfest is known as “die Wies’n,” after the informal name of the fairgrounds. Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations – including Jacksonville’s Jaxtoberfest – modeled after the original Munich event.
The beginnings of Oktoberfest harken back to 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12. The happy couple wanted to share their joyous occasion with the citizens of their beloved Munich, so they invited all to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates. The fields were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess, and have kept that name ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n”. Nearly 40,000 Bavarians crowded the fields and enjoyed the fanfare and revelry.
The event ended with horse races attended by the Royal Family. The decision to repeat the horse races the following year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest. In 1816, carnival booths began appearing at the event with prizes consisting of silver, porcelain, and jewelry. The founding citizens of Munich assumed responsibility for festival management in 1819 and it was decided to make the Oktoberfest an annual event.
Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, at a minimum of 13.5% Stammwürze (approximately 6% alcohol by volume) may be served at Oktoberfest. To tie the festival to its home town, only beers brewed within the city limits of Munich are allowed. Only beers meeting these criteria may be designated Oktoberfest beer. Other similar beers, brewed outside of Munich, are more correctly called Oktoberfest-style.
There are only six breweries that meet all the above criteria. They are:
- Staatliches Hofbräu-München
In 1950 the festival adopted a ceremonial opening presided over by the incumbent mayor of Munich. In the new tradition, at high noon on the first day of the festival there is a 12-gun salute followed immediately by the mayor tapping and drawing the first beer of the festival. When the first stein is filled, the mayor faces the crowd and shouts, “O’zapft is!” which translates to, “It is tapped!” The mayor then presents the first mug to Minister-President of the State of Bavaria. After the ceremony the beer begins to flow and the party truly fires up.