Munich Oktoberfest History From Booths To Beer Tents – A Tale Of 1810 To Present

Several beer festivals are organized worldwide yearly, but none comes close to the German Oktoberfest. Backed by over two centuries of history, Oktoberfest has a rich cultural heritage showcased and celebrated every year during the 16-18 days of the event. So, what exactly is Oktoberfest, and what is its history? Let’s find out.

What is Oktoberfest? 

Annually held at the Therenweise grounds in Munich, Germany, it features several large and small beer tents, delicious Bavarian food, traditional music performances, and assembled parades. Oktoberfest is Germany’s most popular and the world’s largest beer festival. The Wiesn attracts an average of six million visitors annually, four times Munich’s population. The massive influx of people makes Munich a global village, creating a decent tourist turnover. Oktoberfest generates around €1.2 billion annually, 2% of Munich’s GDP. Further elevating its economic impact, Oktoberfest produces 13,000 jobs, 8,000 among which are permanent. 

A Quick Glance At Oktoberfest History! 

1810- The original celebration took place!

1811-  The Agricultural Show was introduced, designed to boost Bavarian agriculture!

1813-  Canceled for the first time due to Napoleonic wars!

1818-  Booths serving food and drink were introduced, the first appearance of beer!

1819-  Officials in Munich took over festival management!

1850- The Statue of Bavaria was unveiled, and the festival has been watched over ever since!

1854- Oktoberfest has been called off due to a sudden outbreak of cholera! 

1866- Austro-Prussian War Stole Oktoberfest’s Spotlight!

1880- Electricity was first introduced at the festival!

1881-  First roast chicken stand!

1910- The 100th anniversary was celebrated, which set a record for high beer consumption!

1913-  The most enormous tent, Braurosl, was built with 12000 seats!

1950- The tradition of the Munich mayor tapping the first keg (0 zapft is!”)

1980- A bomb exploded near the main entrance; 13 people were killed, and over 200 people were injured! 

1985- The 175th anniversary was celebrated, and the number of visitors in festival history was around 7.1 million!

2010- Officials brought back horse races in historical costumes to remind festival goers of the OKtoberfest!

2020- Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Oktoberfest was canceled!                                      

Series of Events that Lead to Oktoberfest Today

The above stats show the level of success that Oktoberfest has achieved, and it didn’t do it in a few years. A history of ups and downs makes Oktoberfest a successful event today. Here’s a chronicle of events from the beginning that brought us to the Oktoberfest we celebrate today.

Oktoberfest was a Wedding, Not a Beer Festival!

The first Oktoberfest in 1810 was a wedding ceremony to which the whole town was invited. So, can we call Oktoberfest the most extended wedding celebration in history? On October 12, 1810, The Crown Prince of Bavaria, Ludwig-I, married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The event was held at a meadow beside the city walls, later named Theresienwiese, in honor of the bride. The meadow still stands today at 420,000 square meters (4,500,000 sq ft) as the host ground of the Bavarian Oktoberfest each year. 

Horse Races and Oktoberfest Became Top Priority

The royal wedding theme was a horse race proposed by Franz Baumgartner, a member of the Bavarian National Guard. The five-day celebration concluded on October 17th with a wonderful horse race and a splendid tribute to the royal family. The event was so well received that they decided to make it an annual festival. The aspiration was achieved after a few struggling years, in 1819, under the supervision of the Town Fathers of Munich. They made Oktoberfest a prioritized annual event, knowing it would bring in significant revenue. The new event included carnival booths on top of the classical food, traditional music bands, top-notch beer, and horse races.

Fast Forward to The 100th Anniversary of The Wiesn

A lot happened in the first 100 years of Oktoberfest. Here are the highlights:

  • A traditional parade with 8,000 people dressed traditionally in dirndl and lederhosen was officially added to Oktoberfest.
  • The excellent guardian statue, a symbol of the Bavarian state, was revealed in 1850. In the same year, Oktoberfest parades became an annual event.
  • In 1971, after a couple of war-affected decades, Bavaria became part of the German Empire
  • The first stall of Oktoberfest’s signature food, the half-roasted chicken(Hendl), was opened in 1881.
  • Electricity was introduced to Oktoberfest in 1886, adding 400 new amusement rides, live performances, and booths to the festival.
  • The first parade of the six original breweries and Oktoberfest staff occurred in 1887. The same year, Lederhosen and Dirndl were declared the official Oktoberfest wear for men and women, respectively.

A Look Inside Oktoberfest’s Iconic Tents!

At Oktoberfest, you’ll find a bunch of tents, often referred to as beer tents, run by various Wiesn-hosts, some of whom have been doing it for ages. Local breweries own some of these tents. The setup for these tents usually kicks off about three months before the festival starts.

ArmbrustschützenzeltSince 1895, there has been a crossbow firing tent known as the Armbrustschützenzelt. There were 1,620 seats outdoors and 5,830 inside.

AugustinerThe only Munich brewery still supplying the Oktoberfest with beer in wooden barrels. The tent has 2500 seats outside and 6,000 inside.

Fischer-VroniOne of the smaller of the 17 large tents at the Oktoberfest. It was given a new tent status with side galleries in 2006, and in 2011 and 2013, an additional gallery was constructed above the main entrance. In 2013, it was expanded by adding a wooden barrel stock. There are 700 seats outside and 3080 inside.

Hacker TentThe 90.5 x 43-meter Hacker tent has 6,830 seats and an additional 2,520 seats outside. In 2004, Rolf Zehetbauer renovated the tent to match its richly decorated interior, which was intended to evoke the Hacker brewery’s advertising motto, “Himmel der Bayern” (Heaven of the Bavarians).

Oktoberfest features 17 large and 21 smaller ones, mostly rotisserie chicken outlets such as Wienerwald, Vinzenz Murr, Poschners, Heimer, Cafe Mohrenkopf, the Bodos café tent, the Inn in Schichtl, and the Ammer chicken and duck rotisserie. 

The decades of history made Oktoberfest a significant festival in the region, and the 100th anniversary in 1910 was a grand celebration. Along with the traditional clothing, lively musical band performances, amusement rides, and tasty delicacies, twelve thousand hectoliters(120,000 liters) of beer were served in the beer tents.

World Wars and Pandemics Stopped Oktoberfest

After the 100th anniversary, there were several cancellations and replacements. Here are some of them:

  • 1914 to 1918 – Canceled due to World War I.
  • 1919 and 1920 – Replaced by Kleineres Herbstfest(Autumn Celebration).
  • 1923 and 1924 – Canceled due to Hyperinflation.

The next significant event was the 125th Anniversary of Oktoberfest in 1935. A glorious parade featured the six breweries, their staff, beer wagons, and brass bands. This event marked the introduction of Münchner Kindl(A traditionally dressed young lady on a horse), who led the parade. 

What looked like a great success was followed by another World War. After World War II, the festival was revived in 1950 and has been held continually ever since(with few exceptions). 

The Traditional Kickoff to Oktoberfest

At Oktoberfest, no one is allowed to drink beer until the current mayor taps the first keg at 12:00 (noon). This tradition began in 1950 when the then-Mayor of Munich, Thomas Wimmer, tapped the first beer barrel inside the Schottenhamel tent with the famous cry “O’zapft is,” meaning “It’s tapped.” 

As one tradition was added, another was removed. Horse races, which were the symbol of the classic Oktoberfest, were restricted to the anniversaries. Since World War II, we’ve only seen Horse races at Oktoberfest in 1960(150th Anniversary) and 2010(210th Anniversary). 

The Addition of International Flavor and the Inception of Oide Wiesn

By 1960, Oktoberfest had become an internationally recognized festival, and people worldwide started visiting. As the crowds grew, more space was added to the tents, and beer became the signature Oktoberfest drink. 

On the 200th anniversary in 2010, Oktoberfest was celebrated with a vintage theme. Oide Wiesn(Old Oktoberfest) was organized, allowing people to go back in history and experience how the festival looked back in the days. The three large tents, Festzelt Tradition, Herzkasperlzelt, and Schützenliesl, with a museum tent and nostalgic rides, were part of the Odie Wiesn. Everyone loved the event and eventually declared a permanent part of Oktoberfest. Today, Odie Wiesn is especially attractive to families due to the lower prices. The entry fee is 4 euros, and any classical ride can be enjoyed in just 1.5 euros

The Modern Oktoberfest 

Over the years, Oktoberfest has become a global phenomenon, attracting an average of six million visitors annually, and 6 million liters of beer are consumed. Almost 71% of the visitors are Bavarian, and 15% are from outside Germany, adding a refined international taste to the festival. 

The traditional Oktoberfest parade is an integral part of the festival, with a smaller parade on Saturday morning and the main parade on Sunday. The main parade starts at 10 AM from Maximiliansbrücke Bridge and follows a 7km-long route to the Oktoberfest grounds. The mayor taps the first keg at 12:00 at the Schottenhamel tent with a cry of  “O’zapft is,” meaning “It’s tapped.”

For the vast crowd, beer is only served by the six original Munich Breweries, namely: 

  • Augustiner
  • Spaten
  • Löwenbräu
  • Hofbräuhaus
  • Paulaner
  • Hacker-Pschorr

Each brewery has a separate tent at Oktoberfest that serves its unique beer, traditional German food, and lively music.

Oktoberfest Celebrations Happening All Over the Globe!

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, hosts the most significant Oktoberfest outside of Germany, attracting over 700,000 guests annually. Hundreds of thousands attend other significant Oktoberfest events in the United States in Blumenau, Brazil; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Denver, Colorado. Under a large tent along the East River, New York City hosts its own Oktoberfest. The most significant Oktoberfest changes annually based on the total number of visitors. Montreal began holding its own Oktoberfest in September 2007. Therefore, the celebration is also expanding to other locations. These celebrations outside of Germany blend German traditions, food, and beer with local culture.

Closing the Discussion

Oktoberfest has changed throughout the years, but it is still primarily a local Bavarian celebration honoring the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese in 1810. Currently, millions of people attend this worldwide festival every year. With traditional Bavarian cuisine, modern Oktoberfest offers a broader selection of international cuisines and entertainment alternatives, including live music performances by numerous genres and amusement attractions. In addition, because of the big crowds, safety and security precautions are given more attention. Despite these modifications, the Oktoberfest proudly honors its heritage with a winning combination of cold beer, lively folk tunes, and a warm Gemutlichkeit( that’s German for good times) at its core. 

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