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Oktoberfest in Munich

It Starts in September

German Celebrations and Customs

Customs & Traditions > Oktoberfest > Oktoberfest 2 > U.S. Oktoberfests


Oktoberfest - „O'zapft is!

It may be called "Oktoberfest," but the big event starts in September. It all began with a wedding—in October 1810. On the 12th day of October that year, Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I of Bavaria) wed Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and held a big party near Munich (München). It was so popular, that the party (complete with horse racing) took place again the following year, prompting the start of a traditional German celebration that has become world famous. Other than for interruptions caused by war or disease, Oktoberfest has been celebrated every year since 1811. The massive Bavarian Volksfest begins each year on a Saturday in September and ends 16-18 days later (usually) on the first Sunday in October. (For 2006 the dates are September 16 to October 3 — 18 days. 2007: Sept. 22 - Oct. 7 — 16 days.) Because October 3 is a national holiday in Germany, Oktoberfest is extended if Unity Day falls after the first Sunday in October, making Oktoberfest vary from 16 to 18 days in length.

Oktoberfest will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2010. Although the horse racing (Pferderennen) didn't become a lasting part of Oktoberfest, just about everything else did! Today, the world's most famous beer festival (das Bierfest) is held on a large 31-hectare field in Munich known as die Theresienwiese (named for Princess Therese) or just die Wiesn if you're a local. With the exception of the obvious emphasis on beer, Oktoberfest is more like a huge American state fair, complete with fun rides, merry-go-rounds, carnival booths, food, entertainment and, of course, those 14 famous beer halls sponsored by Bavarian brewers such as Paulaner, Löwenbräu or Spaten. In fact, in its early years, Oktoberfest was an agricultural fair. Nowadays, however, the Zentrallandwirtschaftsfest (ZLF) segment only takes place every four years (2004, 2008, 2012).

Oktoberfest's carnival aspect didn't begin until 1818 and then it only consisted of a single carousel and a few modest rides. The large beer tents (actually large halls) didn't appear until 1896. Back in the 1800s Munich was a smaller town than it is today, so Oktoberfest participants had to journey out to the Theresienwiese that now lies within the city.

The festivities get off to an official start when Munich's Oberbürgermeister (lord mayor) taps the first beer keg and yells the traditional O'zapft is! ("It's tapped!") at 12 noon on the Saturday that starts the event (am Wiesn-Samstag). This Oktoberfest tradition is relatively recent—it only began in 1950, when the then mayor, Thomas Wimmer, tapped the first keg.

To encourage family attendance, each of the two Tuesday afternoons of the Oktoberfest are designated Familiennachmittagen (from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m.) with special prices for public transportation and entry. Just as in Munich's everyday beer gardens, beer is no reason to keep the kids away from Oktoberfest. (Remember, this is a country where even McDonald's has beer on its drink menu!) But security measures during the two weeks, including video cameras in some areas, are designed to keep everyone safe.

On the next page you'll find more Oktoberfest vocabulary and links...

NEXT > Oktoberfest - Part 2 (with links)
MORE > October Holidays in Germany

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