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What is Oktoberfest?

Oktoberfest is a world-famous German festival celebrating Bavarian culture, brimming with lively music, traditional foods, and, of course, flowing beer. Originating in Munich in 1810, it has become a global phenomenon, symbolizing conviviality and merriment. Curious about how this historic event shapes local customs and influences celebrations worldwide? Dive deeper to explore the heart of Oktoberfest's enduring charm.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Oktoberfest is an annual fall festival which takes place in Munich, Germany. It is associated with the consumption of large amounts of beer and traditional German foods, along with general merrymaking. With a few exceptions due to wars, Germans have celebrated Oktoberfest every year since 1810, although the early version of the event was dramatically different than the modern incarnation. Many communities with a large German population host their own versions of Oktoberfest every year, encouraging people to celebrate German heritage and join together in fellowship.

The first Oktoberfest was actually a horse race, held to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig I and his wife Therese Saxe-Hildburghausen. The race was such a success that the Germans decided to repeat the event, adding a fair as well, and slowly but steadily, beer entered the mix, eventually becoming the major feature of Oktoberfest. The horse races were dropped in the middle of the 20th century, but it is still possible to purchase a wide range of crafts at the fair, when it happens at the same time as Oktoberfest.

The German flag.
The German flag.

The center of modern Oktoberfest is Theresienwiese, “the field of Therese.” Large tents are erected on the field by many famous German breweries, who serve beer which is enjoyed by attendants of the event. The tents also typically have bands playing German music, and people can wander around tasting different beers, listening to music, eating classic German and Bavarian foods, and looking at traditional crafts. Many people also like to dress in traditional Bavarian costume when they attend Oktoberfest, to get into the spirit of things.

Beer.
Beer.

One of the most distinctive features of Oktoberfest is a dark, rich beer called Maß, which is traditionally served in quarter gallon (one liter) tankards. The price of this beer is often a topic of discussion among aficionados of the event; it can be an indicator of general economic health, and price hikes are of course always a subject for complaint. The event opens with the Mayor of Munich ceremonially tapping a keg of Maß, and it lasts for 16 days. During Oktoberfest, huge crowds descend upon Munich, making it the largest fair in the world.

A stout, a brown ale, and a pale lager.
A stout, a brown ale, and a pale lager.

People who want to attend Oktoberfest can often book special Oktoberfest packages with organizations in Munich. These packages can include reservations at specific beer tents, along with vouchers for beer and food. It is a good idea to make arrangements to attend well in advance, as accommodations fill up quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Oktoberfest and where did it originate?

Oktoberfest, native to Munich, Germany, is associated with large quantities of beer.
Oktoberfest, native to Munich, Germany, is associated with large quantities of beer.

Oktoberfest is the world's largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair) that originated in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. It began on October 12, 1810, as a celebration of the marriage between Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The festivities were held on the fields in front of the city gates, which are now named Theresienwiese in honor of the princess.

How long does Oktoberfest last and when is it held?

Many people dress in traditional Bavarian costumes when attending Oktoberfest.
Many people dress in traditional Bavarian costumes when attending Oktoberfest.

Traditionally, Oktoberfest starts in late September and runs for 16 to 18 days, ending on the first Sunday in October. According to the official Oktoberfest website, the festival usually spans over two weeks, often beginning on a Saturday in September and concluding on the first Sunday of October, unless that day falls on October 1st or 2nd, in which case the festival is extended until October 3rd, German Unity Day.

What kind of beer is served at Oktoberfest?

At Oktoberfest, only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) and brewed within the city limits of Munich is served. These beers are known as Oktoberfest Beer and are provided by six Munich breweries: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spaten, and Hofbräu. They are typically a special style of Märzen or Festbier, which are rich, full-bodied lagers with a higher alcohol content than average.

What are some traditional foods to enjoy at Oktoberfest?

Traditional Bavarian cuisine is a staple at Oktoberfest, with hearty dishes that complement the strong beers. Visitors can indulge in Hendl (roast chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezn (pretzels), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), and Sauerkraut or Rotkohl/Blaukraut (red cabbage).

Are there any other activities at Oktoberfest besides drinking beer?

Yes, Oktoberfest is not just about beer; it's a full-fledged festival with a variety of activities. There are carnival rides, including a famous Ferris wheel, roller coasters, and carousels. Live music is a constant feature, with traditional Bavarian bands playing in the beer tents and on stages throughout the festival grounds. Additionally, there are numerous games, competitions, parades, and traditional events like the costume and riflemen's parade.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon133057

There is no such thing as "Mass Beer." A Mass is actually a liter stein. Also, original oktoberfest style beers are not served at the ofest because it's too strong for the volume served. A lighter "helles" beer is substituted.

gregg1956

I was lucky enough to get to go to Oktoberfest 2007, and I'm finally getting to go back for Oktoberfest 2010! Prost, everyone!

galen84basc

Have you seen the videos of Oktoberfest 2009? All those Oktoberfest videos kind of confuse me. They either seem to be a fall version of spring break, or a major historical event. I mean, it's a bit of a stretch to move between a scanty Oktoberfest dirndl and the historical merits of Oktoberfest wiesn.

I suppose they're a combination of the two, but I'd like to think that Oktoberfest is a little less wild than the videos would lead you to believe -- or less serious than you'll find if you read the Oktoberfest wikipedia entry, for that matter.

musicshaman

Cool -- I never knew the history of Oktoberfest. I made my own history at Oktoberfest 2006 (I has just turned 21, and it was probably not the best history to make...), but now that I know more about it I have more of an appreciation for Oktoberfest than just "bier", which was what I was pretty much all about in Oktoberfest 2006. Very interesting article.

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    • The German flag.
      By: Jakob Kamender
      The German flag.
    • Beer.
      By: volff
      Beer.
    • A stout, a brown ale, and a pale lager.
      By: Marius Graf
      A stout, a brown ale, and a pale lager.
    • Oktoberfest, native to Munich, Germany, is associated with large quantities of beer.
      By: sdraskovic
      Oktoberfest, native to Munich, Germany, is associated with large quantities of beer.
    • Many people dress in traditional Bavarian costumes when attending Oktoberfest.
      By: sumnersgraphicsinc
      Many people dress in traditional Bavarian costumes when attending Oktoberfest.