Oktoberfest is famous worldwide as a festival packed full of lederhosen, cheer, and yes, lots and lots of beer.
But what exactly is this festival, how is it celebrated, and what are its origins?
What is the Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is a festival held in Munich, Germany each year. For about two weeks every fall, as many as six million revelers – many of them tourists – pack large tents and celebrate by drinking as much beer as they can handle. The tents are temporary, erected by each of the city’s brewers for the people to crowd in and enjoy their brews.
Oktoberfest begins in ceremonial fashion with the city’s mayor tapping the first keg, and then the party is on. Aside from beer drinking, other events include amusement rides, parades, music, and plenty of dancing.
How Did Oktoberfest Start?
Oktoberfest’s origins date back to a royal wedding in 1810. The crown prince of Bavaria (who eventually became King Louis I) was to marry Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
It was decided to hold a great festival for the people to mark the occasion, lasting for five days and culminating in a horse race in an open area in the city that was dubbed Theresienwiese (“Therese’s green”).
Thus started an annual tradition of holding a celebration, and the citizens of Munich took full control of the festival beginning in 1819. Over the years, elements were added to the festivities, with rides, great tents, and new activities all making debuts.
But if you’re hoping to attend and watch a horse race with your beer, you’re out of luck, sadly (the last horse race happened in 1960, and the tradition has since been discontinued).
So now you know everything there is about the beginning of this great festival. Time to book your tickets for Munich in October, right?
Not so fast.
In one of the best misnomer examples out there, Oktoberfest doesn’t actually happen in October. For the most part, anyway.
Why is Oktoberfest in September?
Although occurring in October during its early years, the organizers evidently got tired of contending with fall weather raining on their parade (literally), so they moved things up on the calendar to take advantage of late summer weather, bringing the start date into mid-September.
Other cities, including many in the U.S., have copied the Oktoberfest model and hold their own celebrations (albeit on a much smaller scale). These mini-Oktoberfests generally stay true to the original timeline and take place in October.
How Long is the Oktoberfest?
The main Oktoberfest in Munich runs for 16-18 days and ends on (or around) the first Sunday in October, depending on the year.
So if you’re doing the math at home, despite its October-y name, the majority of the festival takes place in September. This has surely created some confusion, especially among tourists trying to visit for a stein or two. That said, “Septemberfest” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and the name has stuck.
How Much Beer is Drank at Oktoberfest?
Look, they don’t call it a beer-drinking festival for nothing. There have been several records set over the course of Oktoberfest’s 200-year history. For example, the centennial event in 1910 saw 120,000 liters (~32,000 gallons) of beer consumed – a record at that time.
As the festival has grown in popularity (and attendance), so too has the amount of beer consumed.
These days, Oktoberfest attendees consume an astounding 7.7 million liters (or 2 million gallons) of beer by the time the tents come down.