The end of September brings with it warm days and cool nights, leaves changing in hue from green to red, gold, and brown, and of course, that wonderful tradition of “Oktoberfest” and its delightful “Marzen” beers. While in America this is viewed by many as a great financial opportunity to hold street festivals and have a beer or two, in Germany it is a showcase of Munich’s “Big Six” Breweries – Lowenbrau, Hofbrau, Augustinerbrau, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, and Spaten. However, Oktoberfest did not quite start this way.
What we know as “Oktoberfest” today originally began on October 12, 1810 as a 16 day-long wedding reception for Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. King Ludwig and Princess Therese invited the citizens of Munich to celebrate their wedding on the fields in front of the city gates, now officially known as the Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s Meadow”), but commonly referred to as the “Wies’n.” A parade was held in honor of the royal couple and the official end of the celebration was marked with horse races.
The following year, someone who probably remembered how fun the party was the year before decided to hold the horse races and an Agricultural Show – but no parade. It may not have been as much fun as the original, but the event included beer stands for the thirsty visitor. The horse races, Agricultural show and beer stands became the tradition and carried on in this way for quite some time – the last horse race was held in 1960 and the Agricultural Show now occurs every three years. But over the years, one thing remained – and rapidly grew – the beer booths.
In 1896, the beer booths were replaced with beer tents and halls. The current Oktoberfest in Munich includes a massive tent for each of the Big Six breweries of Munich –where millions of people drink millions of gallons of beer and eat thousands of pounds of sausage and pretzels. It goes without saying that beer is taken very seriously in Germany – so much so that this year, tent operators have been warned that they must fill steins with the proper amount of beer or they could be shut down and face legal action. In America, valiant attempts are made every year to replicate Munich’s event with varying degrees of success, usually relying on the common elements of beer, pretzels, lederhosen and dirndls.
Regardless of the size, quality and accuracy of presentation of the American Oktoberfest you find yourself at this year, make sure to enjoy at least one liter of Marzen beer – whether it’s an imported Oktoberfest from one of the Big Six, or a quality American version such as Victory’s Festbier or Stoudt Brewery’s Oktoberfest. And remember to take a moment to raise your liter and offer a toast to King Ludwig and Princess Therese for giving us “Oktoberfest” by throwing the best wedding reception ever!
Prost und Gemutlichheit!
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