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History of Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest Horses

Oktoberfest Costums

Early Oktoberfest

At the beginning... all started with wedding bells and a horse race.

October 12, 1810, four years after Bavaria had become a kingdom, crown prince Ludwig of Bavaria (who was to be King Ludwig I) married princess Therese of Saxon-Hildburghausen. The official festivities lasted five days and included parades of riflemen, music, eating and drinking. The festivities ended with a horse race held on a green which was situated in those days outside of the city limits and named "Theresienwiese" (Theresa's green) in honor of the bride. Over the next years the horse race was repeated and the Oktoberfest, also called "Wiesn" was born.

Of oxen, horses ...and the first round-about

In 1811, an agricultural festival was added to the horse race. Its main attraction was a competition in which the most splendid horses and oxen were awarded prizes. The horse race ceased to be held after 1938, but the agricultural festival has been a part of the Oktoberfest up to this day. It takes part every four years on the southern part of the Theresienwiese. In these years, as there is less space for the Oktoberfest, it's called a "small" Oktoberfest.

The people from Munich wanted to have a little fun, too. 1818, the first carrousel and two big swings were set up. In addition, there finally were some beer counters. But the people wanted more: 1896 the first of the huge beer tents were started as a joint venture of their proprietors and different breweries. Until today only breweries from Munich are allowed to sell beer on the Oktoberfest. There were also more carrousels and swings, and soon people could buy food, too. In 1870 the Oktoberfest could not take place due to the French-German war. And 1873 was not a year to celebrate, either: the cholera had broken out in Munich. But in the years to come, the attractions of the Oktoberfest kept getting more and more exotic: 1879 the organizers of the fair presented an African tribe, 1880 (the first year that electric light was used at the Oktoberfest) you could marvel at a group of wax figures. In 1881 the biggest chicken rotisserie in the world opened on the fair grounds. Finally, in 1892 visitors could drink their beer out of the famous 1-liter glass mugs for the first time.

As a result of World Wars I and II, Oktoberfest activities could not take place. Finally, in 1950, mayor Thomas Wimmer established a new Wiesn tradition: high noon on the first day of the Oktoberfest the respective mayor taps the first beer barrel in the Schottenhamel tent shouting "Ozapft is!" ("the barrel has been tapped"). 1980 a tragedy took place: in a bomb attack at the main entrance, 13 visitors died, 200 were injured..

1984 the beer was tapped from metal containers for the first time - but since the containers are made to look like wooden barrels, at least their appearance hasn't changed. 1999 the 166th Oktoberfest took place: 6,5 million visitors drank 5,8 million "Mass" (liters) of beer and devoured 84 oxen, 320,000 sausages and 589,000 roast chicken.

The Oktoberfest is the biggest fair of the world and it's known worldwide. What's special and attractive about the Oktoberfest is its ability to combine a celebration for the locals and an international mega-event, a combination of traditions and high-tech, new ideas and influences. And why does Oktoberfest start in September?  Well, it does finish in October, but due to the cool weather in Germany, the organizers decided it would be better to start it on the third weekend in September.


Back to the Oktoberfest Page

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Last modified: NOVEMBER, 2010