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Thursday, October 18, 2012


Get out the Lederhosen and Steins!  It’s time for Gemütlichkeit - the festive spirit of Oktoberfest.  This Bavarian festival originated in Munich, but has become so popular it is celebrated in countless cities around the world. 

Oktoberfest, 16 days of drinking, eating, singing and dancing, originally began in October.  Because of the bad weather at this time of the year, the festival schedule was changed in 1880.  Now Oktoberfest begins on a Samstag (Saturday) in September and ends the first Sonntag (Sunday) in Oktober.  With the exception of wartime, Oktoberfests have been held in Munich for almost 200 years.  On opening day, the festival comes alive just as the clock of St. Paul's Church strikes twelve noon.  The Burgermeister enters one of the beer tents, taps the first cask, and heartily drinks the first Stein during a 12 cannon salute. 

The first Oktoberfest occurred October 17, 1810 when King Maximillian of Bavaria gave a reception to celebrate the wedding of his son, Prince Ludwig, and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Held in a large meadow (Wiese) in Munich, the entertainment included a horse race staged for 40,000 people from all over Bavaria.  The party was so successful that King Maximillian decided to hold one every year in the meadow, which was then named Theresien-wiese after Ludwig's bride.  Eventually, the horse races were replaced by agricultural shows and parades.

Oktoberfest is not just a festival…it’s also a style of beer (Bier).  As it happened, the 1810 wedding festival occurred just about the time the spring's stockpile of Bier had to be depleted to make room for the fall production. March (März) was the last month that Bier was made since Bier made in the warmer months usually acquired a foul taste. Being that alcohol is a natural preservative, this Bier was made with a higher alcohol content (about 5%) to get through the warmer months.  Full-bodied, they are known as Oktoberfest or Marzen, contain almost no hops and have a sweet, malty taste.  An Oktoberfest is brewed much like the reddish-amber Marzen that was served at Ludwig's wedding in 1810. Before refrigeration brought about a revolution in brewing, Bier was brewed in March, lagered or cold-stored in caves for 10-12 weeks, and ready to drink by the late summer or early fall.

The Oktoberfest celebration is steeped with tradition.  In the Biergarten, if a stein is in one hand, the other usually holds a Wurst or sausage.  The keg is tapped while the oom-pah band plays Trinklieder (drinking songs).  Polka, yodeling, and a Maypole dance (Webentanz) can be seen around the Fruchtsäule (a harvest monument constructed of seeds from fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables).  Schuhplattler, a dance from the alpine country, is also performed wearing the traditional Bavarian costumes, Dirndls and Lederhosen.

As German immigrants came to the United States, smaller Oktoberfests were held in their communities and today, Munich and Cincinnati compete to be the site of the world's largest Oktoberfest.
Whether you are planning a trip to Munich or just looking for a local celebration, you should take the time to experience the warm friendliness, or Gemütlichkeit, of Oktoberfest.  As they say, all work and no play…

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