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A man carrying a large number of beers at an Oktoberfest event

The history of Oktoberfest


Oktoberfest is a German event involving beer drinking and feasting on an almost industrial scale. However, there is a lot more to the festival than just a massive hangover. To discover more, we need to go all the way back to its roots.

Where and why did Oktoberfest begin?

Oktoberfest evolved from the celebrations surrounding the wedding of Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria (later King Ludwig) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.

As part of the celebrations, a horse race was organised. While no beer tents were groaning with members of high society befuddled with alcohol, the race took place on 17th October 1810 (a week after the royal wedding) and was an enormous success. So much so that it was decided that a similar event should occur to honour its anniversary.

How did Oktoberfest evolve?

The Landwirtschaftlicher Verein (Bavarian agricultural association) in Bayern took hold of the reigns when it came to organising the Oktoberfest as we know it now. However, there was more to the event than just celebrating the wedding. It was an opportunity to give Bavarians a venue to show off their produce and provide an annual revenue stream from which the whole region would benefit.

Not that it got off to the greatest of starts, though. The first official Oktoberfest was cancelled in 1813 on account of the Napoleonic Wars, but by 1819 the event was quickly gaining momentum. Even so, it was still a far cry from the revelry we associate with Oktoberfest in its contemporary form.

When did Oktoberfest become the event we recognise today?

As with most things we regard as traditional, it was a combination of factors that survived in the face of adversity, such as the Franco-Prussian War. Arguably, a key moment was the unveiling of the statue of Bavaria in 1850, the symbol of Oktoberfest. Or perhaps it was the opening of the first roast chicken outlet in 1881 that kickstarted its modern incarnation. Any Bavarian will tell you, roast chicken, not sausages, is the traditional fare of the festival.

What’s better to wash it all down with than a few beers?! The breweries’ beer tents grew exponentially to cope with increasing demand and by 1910, 1,200,000 litres of beer were poured at the custom-built Pschorr-Bräurosl, an enormous festival tent that seats 12,000 bacchants.

Where is Oktoberfest celebrated?

Technically, Oktoberfest is only celebrated in the so-called Theresienwiese, a space of about 100 acres near central Munich. However, copycat versions have popped up in other parts of Germany and the wider world, making it a truly global event.

Key venues for Oktoberfest in Europe include Berlin, London, Copenhagen, and Barcelona. The original (and the best) is in Munich, taking place in 2022 from 15th September – 3rd October.

Outside of Europe, Oktoberfest is celebrated in the USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Japan, Hong Kong, and even China.

Oktoberfest in the 21st Century

Oktoberfest has adapted itself to the changing times. Positive changes involve ‘Gay Sunday’ in the Bräurosl tent, the introduction of a ‘quiet Oktoberfest’ in 2005 to make it more attractive to families, and the new Oide Wiesn (old Oktoberfest) introduced in 2010 to recall the spirit of the original event. In addition to plenty of brass bands, it even includes a horse race, harking back to the original Oktoberfest in 1870.

Key facts and stats from Oktoberfest 2019

  • Lots of food was eaten, including 509,420 roast chickens; 122,658 pork sausages; 80,259 knuckles of pork; 124 oxen and 29 calves.
  • Plenty of beer was also drunk - more than 7.3 million measures! Amazingly, out of 6.3 million visitors, only 600 got alcohol poisoning.
  • 4,000 items were lost and found, mainly keys and phones, but some of the stranger items included dentures, crutches, and a leather whip.