You've all heard the term. You know that it's associated with drinking massive amounts of beer in a magical land far, far away. Your own local tavern or city might even do something kitschy and cute in honor of the worlds largest fair.
But do you really know what this grand ole festival is all about?
The very first "Oktoberfest" took place almost 200 years ago - way back on October 12, 1810. However, it wasn't called "Oktoberfest" back then. See, this two week long celebration first started as a commemoration party to honor the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig (later to become King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festivities started on the 12th and ended with a horse race on the 17th. Over the years the start date has been moved up to the end of September because of better weather. It's also been lengthened by a week or so. Longer if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or 2nd, then the festival runs until October 3rd (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival is now 17 days when the 1st Sunday is October 2nd and 18 days when it's October 1st. And why not?! Boy those Germans know how to party!
Today, some six million visitors each year stroll about the Theresienwiese (which means "Field [or meadow] of Therese, in honor of Princess Therese), often called "d’ Wiesn" for short. Obviously, beer plays a huge part in the fair. At the beginning of every festival a special keg of beer is tapped by the Mayor of Munich who shouts: "O'zapft is!" (Bavarian: "It’s tapped!").
Festival goers to the Largest People's Fair in the World usually set up camp at one of the 14 "tents" that are sponsored by the six official Oktoberfest breweries, (Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu). What may have started out as "tents" many years ago have since been turned into full scale buildings that can seat as many as 10,000 people at a time. A bit of advice: get there early, and don't EVER leave - otherwise you'll be S.O.L. when you try to get your seat back!
Some random Oktoberfest factoids:
- 6.1 million 1-liter mugs of beer were sold in 2006 (up from the 5.5 million in 2005).
- In 2006, 220,000 stolen mugs were retrieved by security forces.
- The expected cost of a Maß (the 1-litter mugs of beer) will be between €7.70 and €8.00. That equates to about $11 a pop. Bring money to Oktoberfest. Lots and lots of money.
- 12,000 people are employed at the Oktoberfest. Of these... 1,600 are Barmaids.
- In 2006 the festival went through 102 roasted oxen, 219,443 pairs of sausages and 459,279 roast chickens. That's some gooooood eatin'!
- Nearly 1,000 tons of garbage result annually from the Oktoberfest.
So, see you in Munich in '10!!!