While Oktoberfest celebrations take on the atmosphere of a huge beer party with food such as grilled sausages, large pretzels and Bavarian Crème Puffs, beer was not the focus of the original festival. Now celebrated around the world, many celebrants may look confused if informed that Oktoberfest actually celebrates a wedding.
The Original Oktoberfest
The Original Oktoberfest had nothing to do with beer celebrations. In October 1810, then crown-prince of Bavaria, later King Ludwig I, married the Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. lt has been pointed out that to promote a feeling of national unity throughout the kingdom, the royal family invited all of Munich, capital of Bavaria, to celebrate the marriage. Bavaria celebrated for six days in the fields outside the city gates, named Theresienwiese, or Therese’s Meadow, often called “Wies’n” for short today.
The original Oktoberfest included a horse race and other sporting events. Destination Munich indicates that “Ludwig was a classical history freak and so modeled the day on the ancient Olympic Games.”
The overwhelming success of the initial festival led to the decision to hold the event again the following year, leading to the annual Oktoberfest Tradition. Each Oktoberfest brought new entertainment and activities but it was not until several years later that it became known as more of a beer festival, with the original reason for the event seemingly lost.
Early Festival Celebrations Bring on the Beer
Carnival booths appeared at the 1816 Oktoberfest, with prize winners carrying away jewelry, silver or porcelain. In 1818, Oktoberfest planners added tree-climbing and wheelbarrow races. This was also the year that beer stands and food stands started, quickly gaining huge popularity among Oktoberfest-goers. The next few years saw technology and industrial advancements, leading to the addition of amusement rides, lighted booths and railroads that brought many people outside Munich to Oktoberfest.
Although the first festival commenced with a parade to honor the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the parade was not added as an annual event until 1850. Oktoberfest Goodyear says that the parade is now “an important component of the Oktoberfest.” Spectators watch over 8,000 people walk the parade route, dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing.
Over the years, Oktoberfest fell victim to several crisis events, including the cholera epidemic and several wars, resulting in its cancellation. In 1980, 13 people died when a pipe bomb filled with TNT and mortar shells exploded. Over 200 others suffered injuries. Still Oktoberfest prevailed.
By the late 19th century, beer stands and beer booths gave way to beer halls. Oktoberfest eliminated horse races in 1960. At the 100th anniversary, festival patrons consumed 120,000 liters of beer. Apparently, now there are 1.8 million gallons of beer is now consumed at Oktoberfest. The Red Cross even set up 15 beds for “hung-over” Oktoberfest patrons.
In the U.S., several cities hold Oktoberfest celebrations, with thousands of people gathering to eat traditional food and down traditional Oktoberfest beers.