Oktoberfest in Munich

Oktoberfest in Munich
It began in 1810 on fields in front of Munich’s city gates, a horse race honoring Ludwig the Crown Prince of Bavaria's marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, and proved so popular it was repeated one year later. Beginning an annual tradition that became the Munich Oktoberfest.

Named "Theresienwiese", Theresa’s Meadows, a tribute to the new Crown Princess, its 31 hectares are where Munich’s Oktoberfest continues to take place over 200 years later. Although this is no longer the outskirts of the city, because October's unreliable weather it now opens in September, and Müncheners have long since shortened the festival's name to "Wiesn".

The "Einzug der Wiesnwirte" dates from 1887. A costumed parade of around a thousand Oktoberfest workers, bands, brewers, publicans and tent owners, in decorated horse driven coaches, drays and floats, it passes through Munich to the Wiesn on the first Saturday of the festival.

While Sunday's longer "Trachten und Schuetenumzug" parade began as part of the silver wedding anniversary celebrations for, by then, King Ludwig I and his Queen in 1835. Around 9,000 traditionally costumed participants from across Germany and neighboring European countries take part in the seven kilometer (4.1/2 miles) long "Procession of The Costume and Riflemen".

Broadcast live on German television, and looking much as it must have done long before the medium was invented, with groups of "soldiers" and "riflemen" wearing historical uniforms. Members of traditional costume societies Trachtenverein wear traditional outfits from their villages, towns and regions, some pushing prams, Blasmusiken, "Oompah Bands" as they are sometimes known outside Germany, decorated coaches, horses, floats, and drays, together with assorted livestock, all travel along the garlanded autumn streets.

Both processions are led by Munich's city mascot for the last 800 years, "Münchener Kindl", said to be the inspiration behind the Munchkins in the children’s tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This was originally portrayed as one of the monks who were believed to have been the first inhabitants of Munich. "München", the city's name in German, means "Of Monks".

But these days Oktoberfest Münchener Kindl is a young woman, her costume based on a monk’s habit, and she is chosen from among the daughters of organizers of the festival and brewery owners.

Saturday at 12 noon the "Oberbürgermeister", Lord Mayor, of Munich taps the first keg of beer and shouts O'zapft is, Bavarian dialect for "It’s tapped". Oktoberfest is officially open and the beer flows.

With its fourteen circus sized tents, all with their own distinct personalities, it is known as the biggest "Volksfest", people's festival, in the world, and has around seven million visitors every year, with more than 15 percent tourists from outside Germany.

They eat their way through over a hundred oxen, half a million chickens and 60,000 pork knuckles (Sweine Haxen), just a few of the many "delicacies" on offer, and drink 1,000,000 liters of water and lemonade.

As well as over 7,000,000 liters of Oktoberfest beer, which must be brewed within Munich's city limits and by far the most popular is the specially brewed "Wiesn Märzen". Märzen Bier, "March Beer", brewed in late winter and spring and with a higher alcohol content, as the ingredients are adjusted to allow it to "keep", through the warm weather. A 16th century Bavarian law stipulated beer could only be brewed from St. Michael's Day, 29th September, until St. George's Day, 23rd April. The casks were then emptied and filled with fresh beer from the newly harvested grain and hops. It was the timing, and need for empty casks, which began the concept of local autumn beer fests, and ultimately Oktoberfest.

So it is lucky that among the 12,000 people employed to keep everything running smoothly, there are skilled beer servers, "die Bedienungen", who fill the liter glasses in just one and a half seconds, among them the "dirndl" clad waitresses who are also able to carry ten "mass" at one time, as they rush through the crowded tents shouting "Vorsicht", Look Out!, or blowing on whistles to prevent too many collisions.

Far more is on offer than an opportunity to sit in a tent and drink strong beer, it is an experience celebrating and highlighting Bavaria, Bavarian life and traditions.

There is something for everyone. Sideshows, decorated Oktoberfest Hearts and cotton candy, the Oktoberfest funfair, with its old fashioned flea circus, traditional as well as new rides for the very young and the older and braver, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, ghost trains and the Krinoline, a historic but popular carousel.

Although some white knuckle rides such as the Top Spin, which suspends the riders upside down, should perhaps not be attempted after rather too many excursions into the expansive territory of Oktoberfest food and drink.

Oktoberfest music is a genre of its own. Played quietly during the day until 6 pm, although 85 decibels and around the level of loud road traffic might be quieter but certainly not quiet, it is not the perhaps expected traditional marching band music but pulsating, repetitive rhythms and sing-along refrains guaranteeing a party mood. Released on CD’s the year’s favorites are as treasured as the memories of the Oktoberfest itself.

Despite the modern rides, attractions and up to date facilities, it is not only the festival's own museum that has an atmosphere of history and tradition.

Oktoberfest visitors often wear traditional Tracht, with women in a Dirndl, a style of dress with tight bodice, short sleeves and full skirt with sometimes an apron added, and for the men Lederhosen, short leather trousers.

And even tourists find "Tracht" from somewhere to wear for the day, or week.

The Oktoberfest in Munich is a piece of living history in a 21st century world, and an experience to enjoy and remember.

Photos courtesy BAYERN TOURISMUS Bildarchiv

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