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What Is Oktoberfest?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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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 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.

oktoberfest

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.

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.

oktoberfest
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

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Discussion Comments

By anon133057 — On Dec 09, 2010

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.

By gregg1956 — On Oct 04, 2010

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

By galen84basc — On Oct 04, 2010

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.

By musicshaman — On Oct 04, 2010

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.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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