Attracting visitors from all corners of the globe, Munich’s Oktoberfest has become one of most well-known beer festivals in the world. Other towns and cities have even copied the idea – and not just in Germany. This traditional beer festival has a long history, so, read on if you’d like to know how it all started.
On 17th October 1810, a horse race was held on the outskirts of Munich to celebrate the wedding of Ludwig von Bayern and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The couple were married on 12thOctober 1810. The festival’s location ‘Theresienwiese’ (literally meaning Therese’ meadow) was named after the Princess. Nowadays, Oktoberfest is also called Wies’n.
The event was so popular that the organisers all agreed to repeat the celebrations every year. It was only cancelled in 1813 because of the Napoleonic wars. At first, it was a privately organised event run by the Bavarian Agriculture Association. Much later, Munich Council took over the official running of the event, adding more stalls and attractions.
In 1850, a statue called Bavaria was erected in the festival grounds, which then became the patron of Oktoberfest.
However, due to a cholera outbreak, other epidemics and the outbreak of several wars, the event had to be cancelled for many years.
Over the next few years, the festival continued to improve – both in quality and size! By the 19thcentury, it was almost the size that it is now. Lights began illuminating the stalls and carousels and breweries started building enormous beer tents that included live music. In 1881, the event saw its first roast chicken (Wiesnhendl) stall selling the traditional crispy roast chicken.
As the years went on, more and more huge carousels contributed to even larger festivals. In 1910, on its 100th anniversary, the Pschorr-Braurosl tent had around 12,000 seats!
During the dark times of WW1 and WW2, as well as the financial crisis of the 1920s, the festival was cancelled until it was officially reopened in 1950 by Mayor Thomas Wimmer.
On 26thSeptember 1980, the festival was overshadowed by a tragic bomb that exploded by the main entrance in which 13 people were killed and more than 200 people were injured. The bomber, Gundolf Köhler, was amongst the victims.
Nowadays, Munich’s Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the world and attracts around six million visitors each year. As well as visitors from Europe, an increasing number of people from the United States, Japan and Australia are coming to the festival.
Over the years, the festival has changed more into a beer festival with millions of the traditional Maß beer glasses being sold. People come to enjoy the party atmosphere with pop music and dancing (often on the tables). However, since 2005, organisers have been advised to keep a tighter control over the ‘madness’ by only playing party music from 6pm onwards. Up until then, visitors can enjoy listening to traditional Bavarian bands.
For the festival’s 200th celebration, a historic Wies’n was organised to remember the festival’s early days. There was a cosy, family-friendly tent that included an attractive entertainment programme, vintage carousels and horse races to replicate the very first Oktoberfest.