Saturday marked the official start of the Oktoberfest this year so I thought it was worth highlighting a little bit of the famous Munich festival here on the blog. I still remember my first Oktoberfest, even though I was very little at the time, and definitely not old enough to drink beer. There two things that stand out the most – the gigantic pretzel that was bigger than my head, and the even more enormous ferris wheel ride that I’m reasonably certain sparked all future fears of festival rides. I couldn’t find pictures, but this is a pretty good approximation:
How Oktoberfest Began
So how did this massive party that features millions of visitors and liters of beer start?
Oktoberfest began in October of 1810, when the King of Bavaria, Ludwig I, married his bride, Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The after party involved horse races in a meadow as part of the celebration.
The party was rehashed every year on the anniversary in the same place, and the location became known as Theresienwiese, Theresa’s meadow. Oktoberfest also became colloquially known as Wies’n, a shortening of this name. Eventually, local breweries opened up beer stalls to offer refreshments for the party goers and slowly but surely it became one of the highlights of the event.
Traditional Beers at Oktoberfest
The big six breweries of Munich: Löwenbräu, Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräu. These breweries also followed the Reinheitsgebot, the famous purity law that is pegged with being responsible for the amazing quality of Bavarian beer. The Reinheitsgebot law meant that breweries could only use very simply ingredients in their beer: water, barley and hops. This was updated in the Provisional German Beer Law in 1993, which lessened the restrictions. Many of the breweries still brew according to the original 1516 law though, and some have even gone so far as to use water only from their own wells.
If you go to your local grocery or state store here in the States – you’ll be overwhelmed with a number of local and national beer companies offering up their own versions of Oktoberfest beer, but I’d argue that the originals are still the best. The funny thing about Oktoberfest beer? It’s not brewed in the fall, not even in the summer. It’s brewed in the spring, as Oktoberfest was generally seen as a way for the breweries and cellars to sell off the last of their spring store to make way for the fall beers. If you look closely at a bottle of one of these original breweries labels you’ll even see “Marzen” – the German word for March, or “March Beer” (Or alternatively, Weisenbeer).
If you can’t attend the real deal in Munich right now – check out one of the more local celebrations. Cincinnati, Ohio, has the largest celebration in the U.S. known as Oktoberfest Zinzinnati but many other cities have their own versions of Oktoberfest. You can also catch a glimpse of the goings-on at the festival through the Oktoberfest’s official live cameras.