I love Oktoberfest season. Just as the summer heat disappears, men in lederhosen with feathered hats take to the streets, and I can sample all the Oktoberfest beers that arrive in my favorite beer stores. (This year my favorite is the Otter Creek Oktoberfest, which is brewed with real Vermont maple syrup.) Munich’s Oktoberfest starts on Saturday and in the coming weeks, there will be Oktoberfest celebrations in cities and towns all over the U.S. and wherever there are ethnic German communities around the world.
But none are quite like the original Oktoberfest in Munich, which hosted nearly 7 million visitors last year with nary a Budweiser or Miler Lite in sight. To get a better idea of what the original Oktoberfest in Munich is all about, we talked to Isabella Schopp, from the City of Munich Tourism Bureau.
Why is it called Oktoberfest if it starts in September?
It used to be in October in the first years but as the weather was always very rainy, grey and sometimes there was even snow, some of the Munich caterers decided that the Oktoberfest should already end on the first weekend of October. It has started in September since 1872.
Almost every city and village in Germany has its own folk festival with beer tents and fun rides, which takes one to two weeks each year. They are not called “Oktoberfest” but have their own names and cannot be compared to the Oktoberfest, as they are much smaller and less well known.
What are the origins of the celebration in Munich?
The Munich Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world, has its origin in the wedding ceremony of Crown Prince Ludwig – later King Ludwig I. of Bavaria – with Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen in the year 1810.
How has the celebration changed over the years?
The Oktoberfest still remains the traditional Munich funfair with Munich hospitality and Munich beer. There still are many traditional parts like the parades on the first weekend and some nostalgic rides. However, it has also grown a lot. In the meantime there are 14 large festival halls (“beer tents”), many more rides and games (130 altogether) and the number of visitors has grown a lot.
Tell us a bit about the special Oktoberfest beers that are available during the celebration?
Only those breweries that brew within the city limits are allowed to sell their beer at Oktoberfest. There are, at the moment, six different breweries that provide their own Oktoberfest beers. Only Munich beer from the proven traditional Munich breweries – Augustinerbrauerei, Hacker-Pschorrbrauerei, Löwenbrauerei, Paulanerbrauerei, Spatenbrauerei and Staatliches Hofbräuhaus – which satisfy the Munich purity standards of 1487 and the German purity standards of 1906 may be served.
What does a liter of beer cost?
The price of beer in 2012 is €9.10 – €9.50 per liter.
Other than pretzels what other kind of food is traditionally eaten at Oktoberfest?
The beer is best accompanied by Bavarian delicacies such as radishes, obatzda (specially garnished cream cheese), sausages and roast chicken or spicy fish grilled on a skewer. Another Wiesn specialty is the ox roasted on a spit at the Ochsenbraterei. (The Wiesn is the festival area.)
I know it can be difficult to find a room in Munich during Oktoberfest, any advice for travelers who need a place to stay?
It is advisable to reserve rooms as early as possible. Rooms can be booked via München Tourismus: phone +49 89 23396550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are also some camping sites in and around Munich where visitors with a small budget can stay.
How many people take part in Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich each year?
In 2011, 6.9 million people took part in Oktoberfest celebrations. The number of visitors has risen every year.
Other than drinking beer and oom-pah bands, what else happens during the course of the celebration?
The Oktoberfest is much more than drinking beer.
The festive setting for the opening of the Oktoberfest is the entry of the festival hosts and breweries, which has been the same since 1887. During the ceremonial opening of the fest, the families of the festival arrive in coaches adorned with flowers, along with the bands, waitresses on decorated carriages and magnificent horse drawn carts from the Munich breweries. This procession is led off by the “Münchner Kindl” – Munich’s symbolic figure – on horseback, followed by the festival coach of the Lord Mayor.
The procession of folklore and marksmen groups takes place on the first Sunday of the Oktoberfest. Some 9,000 persons from Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Norway, Poland and Switzerland participate in this seven-kilometer long parade. There are people in historical uniforms, marksmen, folklore groups, local bands and thoroughbred horses. This procession was held for the first time in 1835 on the occasion of the silver wedding anniversary of Ludwig I. and Therese of Bavaria.
A big band open-air concert of all Oktoberfest bands with some 300 musicians takes place on the second Sunday of the festival. For the grand finale of the Oktoberfest on the last Sunday, some 60 marksmen give a farewell salute.
Do locals take off from work to take part in this, or do they show up for work hung over the next morning?
Some locals take off from work to take part in the Oktoberfest but usually locals go to work the next morning, some probably a bit later than usual!
Have there been security issues with people getting too drunk and causing problems in previous years?
The security measures have always been good. But there are always some conflicts between drunken visitors that can be solved quickly by the security people. After some critical reviews of security procedures, the taskforce “Security at the Wiesn,” introduced measures that enabled security at the Wiesn to be steadily increased.
What’s your favorite part about Oktoberfest?
What I like best at the Oktoberfest is the procession of folklore and marksmen groups, which takes place on the first Sunday of the Oktoberfest, as well as the special, happy vibe all over the Oktoberfest grounds, as well as in the beer tents.
[Photos courtesy of The German National Tourist Board]