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Oktoberfest is the world’s largest annual festival where approximately 6 million thirsty visitors descend upon the German city of Munich (München).  The mere mention of the word “Oktoberfest” conjures images of women in Dirndl (the traditional female dress with apron) carrying large steins of beer and men singing and dancing in Lederhosen.  The festival is usually 16 days up to the first Sunday in October.  After the German reunification in 1990, the festival is extended in its honor, to October 3 (German Unity Day) if the first Sunday is October 1st or 2nd.

In 1950, the festival started a new tradition.  Since everything great starts (or ends) with a bang, there is a 12 gun salute at noon.  Then the Mayor of Munich opens the festivities by tapping the first keg and yells “O’zapft is!” which translates to “It’s tapped!”.  How succinct!  The first mayor to do this was Thomas Wimmer.

The very first Oktoberfest was held on October 12, 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Ludwig I and Princess Therese.  The festival is held on a field called Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) named after Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghause, the wife of Crown Prince Ludwig I, which the locals shorten to “Wiesn”.  The festival is also referred to as “Wiesn”, and “welcome to the Weisn” is the same as saying “welcome to Oktoberfest”.  The field is 420,000 square meters, enclosed by the Bavaria statue in the west and Esperanto square in the east.  The festival has been held every year since 1810, with only 24 cancellations due to war or disease outbreaks.  2007 will mark the 174th Oktoberfest.

oktoberfest hofbrau

The sheer scale of Oktoberfest can be overwhelming!

The festival is known world-wide for the large consumption of beer and roasted food.  In 2006, the six Oktoberfest breweries sold 6.1 million mugs of beer.  102 oxen, 219,443 pairs of sausage, and 459,279 chickens were also consumed.   Approximately 955 million EUR are spent in Munich during the festival.  There are six large breweries that produce beer for Oktoberfest; Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, and Löwenbräu.

The most famous type of beer served is the Märzen beer, however it has been replaced by a lighter beer (Munich Helles style) in recent years to appeal to an international crowd.  This lighter beer is the “Oktoberfestbier”.  Some breweries still serve Märzen at Oktoberfest.  Märzen beer is a lightly hopped reddish lager that is maltier and stronger in alcohol than other beers.  It is traditionally brewed in March (März), and served during the Oktoberfest.  The reason it is made earlier in the year is that the summer months are not good for the fermentation process.  Higher temperatures in Bavaria cause the yeasts in the beer to produce off flavors.  The month of March is really the last opportunity until fall to make a lager in Bavaria.  The beer does not spoil since the alcohol content (~ 5% ABV) acts as a natural preservative, and keeps the beer till September.  If you want to try this style of beer, Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen is a good example.

oktoberfest lowenbrau

The "tents" are more like small buildings

October is also the time of year where the spring stockpiles of beer need to be consumed to make room for the fall brews.  You cannot let the beer go to waste, so a party with 6 million people seems to be the best solution.  Around 30% of the beer produced annually by the 6 participating breweries is consumed at Oktoberfest.   Each beer is called Maß (Mass).  Maß means “measure”, and is 1 liter (roughly 2 pints).  The mugs are called Maßkrug (Masskrug). In 2007, 1 “Maß” (2 pints) of beer will cost between 7.30 EUR and 7.90 EUR.

There are 14 tents at Oktoberfest, each holding 5,000 to 10,000 people.  Each tent highlights different breweries or festivities.  To get into a tent, you need to buy tickets from the “landlord” or sponsor of the tent.  If you are willing to go on a weekday, it is easier to get tickets.  Since there are 6 million people over the course of the two weeks, and the tents only hold a bit over 100,000 people you will want to plan early.


Each tent holds 5,000 to 10,000 people

Inside you’ll find people locked arm in arm swaying to the music (called Schunkeln), eating and drinking.  There is an crossbow contest in the Armbrustschützenzelt tent (with professionals, not any of the drinking patrons!).  The Ochsenbraterei tent serves many different types of ox cuisine.  There is even a “wine tent” called Weinzelt.  This tent features 15 different wines and the Weißbier (also called Hefeweizen or wheat beer).  This beer is cloudy from the wheat proteins and yeast, but very light and refreshing.  It is a good switch from the lagers and the Märzen.

Even outside the tents, there is much to see and do.  There are carnival rides–always a good choice for an activity following large consumptions of beer–including a large Ferris wheel, vendors selling souvenirs, and games.  There are also smaller tents to sample the local brews.  If you are attending, you are in for a treat!  Prost!

Oktoberfest 2004 (from muenchen.de)

Visitors 6.1 million
Beer appr. 60,000 hectoliter + 2,000 hectoliter of non-alcoholic beer
Wine 33,358 liters
Sparkling wine 24,952 bottles
Coffee, tea 338,661 cups
Water, lemonade 514,880 bottles
Chicken 81,649 units
Pork sausages 179,889 pairs
Pork knuckles 560,089 units
Fish 47,700 kg
Oxen 95 units
Movies Beerfest, European Vacation

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!