For lovers of beer, October is like the Super Bowl all month long. You’ll find every bar and pub getting into the Oktoberfest spirit by offering specials on beers and food. As an unofficial official holiday, Oktoberfest is over two hundred years old. To uncover its history and origins, you’ll have to go back to 1810 and travel to Munich, Germany.
First A Horse Race
On October 12th, 1810, the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in on the festivities. Take a moment with that: You get married and invite everyone in the city to the reception! This reception took place over five days outside the city gates. The main event was a horse race and a good time was had by all.
A year later, everyone was remembering that wedding festival and thought it would be a great idea to do it all over again, just without the wedding. In the second year, a big agricultural show was added to the festivities. By 1818, a carousel and some swings were set up for the party-goers. In every subsequent year, more fun was added to fill up the five-day festival. There were tree climbing competitions, wheelbarrow, and sack races, mush-eating contests, barrel rolling races, and good chases.
A Carnival is Born
In the 1870s, mechanical rides were added to the festivities making it a true carnival. By 1908, the festival featured the appearance of Germany’s first roller coaster. Keep in mind, this was all confined to Munich. If you wanted to go to Oktoberfest, then you had to go to Munich. The city elders also knew how to keep visitors and the locals happy. They began allowing beer on the fairgrounds. That lead to pop-up beer stands. Soon, those stands were replaced by temporary beer halls. You can imagine that the games and rides soon took second place to the signing, dancing, and drinking in the beer halls.
The Breweries Take Over
The Munich Oktoberfest beer halls soon were dominated by the local breweries. Today, just six of the big breweries are permitted to serve beer at the festival. Those breweries would be Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten. The beer gardens can accommodate up to 98,000 revelers at a time. That’s a big party!
When it became clear that the Germans of Munich were having a lot of fun, the concept of Oktoberfest began to spread. Now, you can find versions of the festival in almost any major city across America and around the world. And it all started with a wedding reception and a horse race!