Oktoberfest did begin in October (Oktober in Germany), but it didn’t stay there. The 16-day festival moved to September as the popularity of the celebration grew, since it begins to get quite cold in Bavaria in October. It typically begins around Sept. 20 (Sept. 17 this year) and ends during the first weekend of October.
People often think that Oktoberfest is a custom celebrated by and honoring the entirety of Germany. Though people all over the country generally celebrate the holiday, it really is a reflection of uniquely Bavarian culture, music, and food.
The 16-day festival began Oct. 12, 1812, as a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in, and over the years it evolved into the festival it is today.
Believe it or not, Oktoberfest wasn’t always a beer fest. In the early days of the festival (which included an agricultural show and other amusements), beer was only sold and enjoyed outside of the venue. Beer did become popular at the event relatively early on, however, since at the time, beer was safer to drink than water!
What better way to end a celebration than with a horse race? Well, at least that’s how the early Oktoberfests did it. The tradition died out around 1938, but the festival is still held in the Theresienwiese field (named after the princess) on the outskirts of Munich, where the original horse races took place.
Despite being a steady, long-running tradition, Oktoberfest has been shut down 24 times in the past. The reasons have varied but include both World Wars, two cholera epidemics (1854 and 1873), and the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.
With all the drinking, folks sometimes forget about all the great food offered at Oktoberfest.
You were probably already familiar with the aforementioned brezn (pretzels) and wurstl (sausages), but additional dishes include hendl (roast chicken), schweinsbraten (roast pork), haxn (pork knuckle), steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), knodeln (potato or bread dumplings), kaasspotzn (cheese noddles), reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), sauerkraut or rotkraut (pickled red cabbage), weisswurst (white sausage), and obatzda (a fatty, spiced cheese-butter dish).
Shutterstock/ Bucchi Francesco
Believe it or not, Oktoberfest isn’t a 24/7 party — at least not officially. The tents close between 11:30 p.m. and midnight local time. Don’t fret and think you won’t have enough time to drink, however, as the event begins each day between 9 and 10 a.m.
During the fest, "lebkuchen" hearts, or gingerbread hearts, are hanging everywhere. These large iced cookies are inscribed with proclamations of love for your sweetheart, or schatz.
Shutterstock/ Richard Jay
Each year in Munich since 1950, the first keg has always been tapped by the mayor, who then declares, "O’zapft is!" ("It's tapped!"). No one is allowed to drink until this and the official gun salute happens. Customarily, the first mug is offered to the minister-president of the State of Bavaria.
Shutterstock/ Vyacheslav Kasyanov
Remember before the Kardashians, when Paris Hilton was the most annoying pseudo-celebrity? (Good times. Can we go back?) What you might not remember, is that Hilton received a ban from Oktoberfest in 2006. She showed up that year dressed in a traditional dirndl dress and braids as part of an advertising campaign for canned wine, which patrons and organizers believe cheapened the festival. Don’t worry; she has since also been banned from two Las Vegas hot spots and the entire country of Japan.
No, we’re not talking about drunken patrons going insane, but people who literally lose their belongings at the festival. Each year, about 5,000 items turn up at the event’s lost and found department. This includes everything from cell phones, keys, wallets, and passports to wedding rings, glasses, wheelchairs, crutches, baby carriages, and even the actual kids. (There’s a lost and found children office on the premises as well.) It seems there’s always at least one pair of false teeth that turn up every year, too.
Shutterstock/ Vytautas Kielaitis
The Red Cross has a presence at Oktoberfest every year, treating those who overdrink with fluids and beds. The organization also stocks extra pairs of pants for the event. This may seem like a kooky idea… until you unexpectedly need a pair yourself.
The 14 tents that cover the Theresienwiese are actually beer halls (or drink halls, as one sells wine), each one full of its own history and good times. The largest tent, known as Hofbräu-Festzelt, has 6,000 seats inside, 3,000 outside, and 1,000 standing tables.
Let’s take a moment and rattle off a few facts about the iconic mugs used during Oktoberfest. First, they weren’t always made of glass. Prior to 1892, the steins were made of stone or metal. The glass versions are still quite heavy, weighing about 5 pounds each when full. German Oliver Struempfel holds the Guinness World Record for most beer steins carried more than 40 meters by a man, hauling a staggering 24 to achieve the title earlier this year. For women, the record stands at 19, which was set by fellow German Anita Schwarz in 2008.
These iconic brew vessels are so coveted that security guards need to monitor attendees for theft as they leave. Each year, between 100,000 and 250,000 are successfully recovered.
Shutterstock/ Tomasz Bidermann
When beer was finally allowed to be served and enjoyed at the festival, a lager or Märzenbier made by Munich breweries became the beverage of choice for the festival. It was served in the signature “Maß” glass mug, which holds up to 1 liter (almost 40 ounces) of beer. Today, Oktoberfest dictates that all the drafts served must originate from one of Munich's six main breweries: Augustiner, Hofbräu Münchner, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Löwenbräu, or Spaten-Franziskaner.
Every year, people overestimate their drinking capabilities. This results in the Theresienwiese being littered with what the Germans call “bierleichen” or “beer corpses” — folks who have passed out from drinking too heavily.
The aforementioned name Märzen comes from the German word for the month of March, März. The beer was called this because a Bavarian ordinance from 1553 decreed that beer may only be brewed between Sept. 29 and April 23 each year, so special recipes had to be used in March that would allow the beer to last through the summer and, once the annual festival was conceived, through Oktoberfest.
Care to wager a guess how many gallons of beer are consumed every year at Oktoberfest? 500,000? 1,000,000? Try 1.8 million gallons. Split among 6 million people, that equates to a bit less than one-third of a gallon (or about 38.4 ounces) per person. That might not seem like a lot, until you consider the fact that some attendees may only drink a beer or two… or possibly none at all. Meaning other some folks will consume much more than that 38-ounce figure. (We should also point out that Germany is notorious for reportedly underreporting its Oktoberfest beer consumption.)
You don’t need to be Albert Einstein to work at Oktoberfest, however, Einstein did work there once. Way back in 1896, at the age of 17, little Al worked as an electrician and helped set up one of the beer tents.