If you love German food, music, and (of course) beer, then Oktoberfest is definitely for you. This late summer/early fall festival is celebrated by millions of people all over the world. But what exactly is Oktoberfest and how did it all begin? For that matter, how can you enjoy it without flying all the way to Europe? Read below to find out.
The Origins of Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest originated in Munich, the principal city in the German state of Bavaria. The first Oktoberfest took place on October 12, 1810, as a celebration for King Ludwig I and his marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen (try saying that name after a few lagers). The first Oktoberfest was quite the affair, lasting for five days and culminating in a horse race. The festival was held each subsequent year, steadily growing in size and popularity. In 1818, for instance, the first food and drink booths were added, turning the festival into the cornucopia of good food and drink that we know and love today.
Today, the Munich Oktoberfest is a two-week festival that starts in September and ends on the first Sunday in October. Munich’s mayor kicks off the annual festivities with a ceremonial keg tapping. After that, it’s “bottoms up,” and my does the beer flow: some 6 million visitors consume about 2 million gallons of the sudsy stuff before the festival ends. While Munich’s Oktoberfest is the original and by far the biggest, you don’t have to travel all the way to Germany to enjoy this great festival. Here is how you can enjoy Oktoberfest in the States.
Find An Oktoberfest Near You
Many major American cities hold an Oktoberfest in mid- or late- September. Oktoberfest is especially big in the Midwest, with its strong German heritage. Cincinnati, OH, for instance, holds the largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich. For a 3-day period in the middle of September, over half a million people descend on downtown Cincinnati to celebrate all things German. The festivities include beer, sausage, and polka (naturally), but also unique events like a bratwurst eating contest, a dachshund race, and the world’s largest chicken dance. Other cities with a strong German influence – like Milwaukee and Chicago – have large and well-attended Oktoberfests.
Of course, you don’t even have to travel to the Midwest to enjoy Oktoberfest. If you would like to indulge in the festivities, check your local events for September. Keep in mind that Oktoberfest celebrations don’t always take the form of a massive celebration in the town square. Many cities have German societies that sponsor an Oktoberfest gathering at a local lodge or park. Likewise, breweries, bars, and restaurants (especially German ones) will host an Oktoberfest event to coincide with the festival season.
Oktoberfest At Home
If you can’t make it to an Oktoberfest-themed event, don’t worry: you can always get in the Oktoberfest spirit at home! If you’re of age, stock up on some Oktoberfest beer—typically a dark, strong Marzen (a lager originating in Bavaria) that many breweries release in the fall. For authentic German libations, check out Spaten or Paulaner’s Oktoberfest beer. Next, whip up some authentic German cuisine: there’s bratwurst, a mild, white sausage that is often cooked in beer (what could be more German than that?); schnitzel, a breaded, lightly fried slice of tenderized meat (often pork or veal); and sauerkraut, pungent strips of fermented cabbage that is ubiquitous in German cooking. Finally, put together a good playlist of polka classics, and voila – you’ve got an instant Oktoberfest! Just be sure to invite plenty of friends to keep the party going.
Did you enjoy learning about a historical cultural event? If so, then check out my article on Mardi Gras and learn the true meaning of Fat Tuesday.