Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest (beer festival and traveling funfair). Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, it is a 16- to 18-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October. In 2018, Oktoberfest takes place on Sep 22, 2018 – Oct 7, 2018. Over the past decade it has attracted an average of around six million visitors a year, who between them consume almost seven million liters of beer and munch their way through thousands of grilled sausages, chickens, giant pretzels and – for those really wanting to soak it all up – wild oxen.
Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds, Theresa’s meadows (Theresienwiese). The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since the year 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event.
Many people dress up in traditional Bavarian clothes (lederhosen for guys, dirndls for girls), having a good time, celebrating, and drinking good beer. Dressing up is not compulsory though.
During the event, large quantities of Oktoberfest Beer are consumed. Visitors also enjoy numerous attractions, such as amusement rides, sidestalls, and games. There is also a wide variety of traditional foods available.
Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, and brewed within the city limits of Munich, can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest.
Beers meeting these criteria are designated Oktoberfest Beer. The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest beer under the aforementioned criteria are:
- Staatliches Hofbräu-München
Oktoberfest Beer is a registered trademark by the Club of Munich Brewers, which consists of the above six breweries.
The Munich Oktoberfest originally took place in the 16-day period leading up to the first Sunday in October. In 1994, this longstanding schedule was modified in response to German reunification. As such, if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or the 2nd, then the festival would run until 3 October (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival now runs for 17 days when the first Sunday is 2 October and 18 days when it is 1 October. In 2010, the festival lasted until the first Monday in October (4 October), to mark the event’s bicentennial.
The original Oktoberfest in October 1810 was held in honor of the wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. For five full days, the burghers of Munich were invited to eat, drink and be merry, and enjoy parades involving kettle drums and music, shooting displays and a horse race around a meadow on the edge of town. Such a good time was had by all that it was decided to stage the race (and the accompanying indulgences) every year. There has been the occasional pause in proceedings (usually at times of war) but this year will mark the 185th time Oktoberfest is held.
To keep the Oktoberfest, and especially the beer tents, amicable for the elderly and families, the concept of the “quiet Oktoberfest” was developed in 2005. Until 6:00 pm, the orchestras in the tents only play quiet brass music, for example traditional folk music. Only after that may Schlager pop or electric music be played, which had led to excess violence in earlier years. The music played in the afternoon is limited to 85 Decibels. With these rules, the organizers of the Oktoberfest were able to curb the tumultuous party mentality and preserve the traditional beer-tent atmosphere.
Starting in 2008, a new Bavarian law was passed to ban smoking in all enclosed spaces open to the public. Because of problems enforcing the anti-smoking law in the big tents, an exception was granted to the Oktoberfest in 2008, although the sale of tobacco was not allowed. After heavy losses in the 2008 local elections, with the smoking ban being a big issue in political debates, the state’s ruling party implemented general exemptions to beer tents and small pubs.
The change in regulations was aimed in particular to benefit the large tents of the Oktoberfest: So, smoking in the tents is still legal, but the tents usually have non-smoking areas. The sale of tobacco in the tents is now legal, but is widely boycotted by mutual agreement. However, in early 2010, a referendum held in Bavaria as a result of a popular initiative re-instituted the original, strict, smoking ban of 2008; thus, no beer will be sold to people caught smoking in the tents.
The blanket smoking ban did not take effect until 2011, but all tents instituted the smoking ban in 2010 to do a “dry run” to identify any unforeseeable issues.
There are currently fourteen large tents and twenty small tents at the Oktoberfest. The tents are wooden non-permanent structures which are constructed for and only used during the festival. The beer (or wine) served in each is in the accompanying table. All the tents are free to enter. Beer is typically 10 euros, and most full meals are 12–15 euros. You can get snacks and small meals for around 5 euros. You can also buy alcohol outside the tents (but not beer), and the drinks cost around 8 euros.