Munich Oktoberfest History | A Look Into The World’s Largest Beer Festival

by Heather M. Heikkinen

Oktoberfest, the largest Vollkfest in the world, takes place in Munich, Bavaria, every year from mid to late September to the first Sunday in October. The festival attracts over 6 million visitors from both domestic and international countries. It is locally referred to d’Wiesn, derived from the Theresienwiese fairgrounds, an informal name. Oktoberfest celebrations that are based in the Munich event are now held in other locations throughout the world. A lot of Oktoberfest beer is consumed during the festival. In 2014 alone, 7.7 million liters (2,000,000 US gal) were served. Originally, Oktoberfest was held over 16 days, which ended on the first Sunday in October. This long-standing schedule was changed in 1994 in reaction to the unification of Germany. Thus, the holiday lasts until October 3 if the first Sunday in October comes on the 1st and 2nd.


1810- Original Celebration Took Place!

On October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig (who eventually became King Ludwig 1) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen were married. This event marked the beginning of Oktoberfest. The fields in front of Munich’s gate served as the venue for the festivities. Later, in honor of the Crown Princess, these fields were known as Theresienwiese (Theresa Meadows). 

On October 18, 1810, horse races were held. Munich residents turned out to celebrate the triumph of the horse races.

1811-Agricultural Show Introduced Design To Boost Bavarian Agriculture! 

Back in 1811, alongside the horse races, Oktoberfest introduced its first Agricultural Show. This addition aimed to support Bavarian agriculture and assist local farmers. While the horse races, once a beloved tradition, are no longer part of the festival today, the Agricultural Show continues to take place every three years during Oktoberfest.

1813- Canceled For The First Time: Napoleonic Wars!

There was no Oktoberfest in 1813 as a significant conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars broke out that year. These battles were raging all around Europe. People did not feel like celebrating because of the conflicts. The government required all of the funds and resources for the war. 

Thus, that year, Oktoberfest was canceled by war, not spirit. The party paused, but the culture was preserved. And when the peace returned, so did the beer, the music, and the joy! 

1818- Booths Serving Food And Drink Were Introduced, The First Appearance Of Beer!

Did you know that Oktoberfest’s first food and drink stalls were set up in 1818? Isn’t it amazing that it took them so long to realize people could be interested in having a snack while celebrating? However, it’s better late than never!

An important turning point in Oktoberfest’s history happened in 1818 when food and drink booths were added, marking the festival’s first appearance of beer. Oktoberfest evolved from a Spartan horse race to the well-known festival of Bavarian culture.

Before 1818, Oktoberfest’s main events were horse racing and agricultural displays. However, the presence of food and drink booths added an extra dimension of fun to the celebrations.

1819- Officials In Munich Took Over Festival Management!

The management of Oktoberfest underwent a dramatic change in 1819 when Munich officials took control of the event’s administration. To accommodate the increasing number of people, temporary tents and spaces for food and drink sellers were built as part of the infrastructure upgrades.

1850-Statue Of Bavaria Was Unveiled And Has Watched Over The Festival Ever Since!

The Statue of Bavaria has been watching over the Oktoberfest festivities since 1850. Leo von Klenze imagined and sketched this imposing figure traditionally. Later, Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler enhanced the design with Germanic and romantic elements. Johann Baptist Stiglmaier and Ferdinand von Miller constructed the statue.

1854- Oktoberfest Called Off Due To A Sudden Outbreak Of Cholera! 

A tragic incident occurred during Oktoberfest in 1854. Munich had a horrible cholera outbreak that was quite destructive. It claimed the lives of about 3,000 people, including the Queen Consort of Bavaria. That year’s Oktoberfest had to be canceled to keep everyone safe.

1866- Austro-Prussian War Stole Oktoberfest’s Spotlight!

Could you believe it? 1866 decided to give Oktoberfest the cold shoulder again! Bavaria skipped its yearly Oktoberfest because of its significant involvement in the Austro-Prussian War.  

To let you know: The Austro-Prussian War, also known by several other names as the German Civil War or the Seven Weeks’ War, occurred in 1866 between the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire.

1873- Even Worse News: Another Cholera Outbreak!

A cholera outbreak forced the cancellation of Oktoberfest once more in 1873. Even with measures to reduce the disease’s transmission, cholera outbreaks continued to occur during this time, causing severe problems for public health authorities and disrupting social events like Oktoberfest.

1880- Introduction Of Electricity, A Turning Point For Oktoberfest!  

Octoberfest was energized by a significant shift in 1880. Before this historic year, gas lamps illuminated the festival, providing visitors with a lovely, flickering glow. But with the introduction of electricity in 1880, the celebrations entered a new light phase. More than 400 booths and tents were illuminated by electric light.

The glittering lights gave the festival an enticing charm, symbolizing the beginning of a new period of celebration.

1881- First Roast Chicken Stand!

Would you believe it? Oktoberfest launched the first-ever roast chicken stall in 1881, and it was delicious! Offering a tasty substitute for the typical cuisine of sausages and pretzels, this culinary invention quickly gained popularity among festival-goers. Visitors were enticed to indulge in this delicious meal by the aroma of roasting chicken filling the air. 

1892- Oktoberfest’s Glass Mug Revolution!

When beer was first served in glass mugs at Oktoberfest in 1892, the event became historic and completely transformed the festival’s drinking atmosphere. Beer was customarily served in stoneware mugs known as “steins” before this innovation. Still, the use of glass mugs elevated the Oktoberfest experience to a new level of refinement and clarity. These glass mugs added a classy touch to the celebrations and allowed customers to enjoy their beer’s rich color and fizz. They were frequently decorated with elaborate designs and strong handles.

1910-  100th Anniversary Was Celebrated Which Set A Record For High Consumption Of Beer!

Oktoberfest celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1910 with great excitement, breaking the previous record for the highest consumption of beer in its storied history. It is believed that visitors consumed 120,000 liters of beer at the 100th Oktoberfest. 

The festival grounds had numerous beer tents and stalls where guests could pick up beer mugs. Upon purchase from each tent or stand, the mugs were distributed to customers and filled with freshly brewed beer.

1913- The largest Tent, Braurosl, Was Built With 12000 Seats!

The Braurosl, the most enormous beer tent ever built for Oktoberfest, was completed in 1913 and could accommodate up to 12,000 people for seating. The festival’s rising annual attendance and popularity were the main factors behind its growth. With a large and lively room for guests to enjoy the celebrations, the Braurosl tent was constructed to meet the growing demand for space. 

At Oktoberfest, the Braurosl became the center of attention because of its large seating capacity, which allowed guests to meet up, interact, and enjoy the customary Bavarian festivities. Nearly 20-meter-tall Maibäume (Maypoles) are positioned at the front of the Bräurosl tent. A brand-new tent with 6,000 seats inside and 2,500 outside was launched in 2004. In 2010, there were 2,200 outdoor and 6,200 interior seats in the Bräurosl tent. The tent was completely reconstructed in 2022.

You could get lost there and find a new friend around every corner. Joke apart, it was like a little city within the festival grounds.

1950- The Tradition Of The Munich Mayor Tapping The First Keg (0 zapft is!”)

When Munich Mayor Thomas Wimmer unintentionally tapped the first beer barrel inside the Schottenhamel tent in 1950, a new tradition was born during Oktoberfest. This was accompanied by the well-known shout “O’zapft is,” which translates to “It’s tapped” in the Austro-Bavarian dialect. 

To everyone’s surprise, this historic event was accidental and had nothing to do with prearranged plans. After accidentally missing his carriage to Oktoberfest, Thomas Wimmer got a ride by chance with his buddy Michael Schottenhamel, who owned the Schottenhamel Tent. Wimmer accepted Schottenhamel’s suggestion to open the first beer keg while they were traveling. 

Thus, in a spontaneous turn of events, Wimmer accidentally started a tradition that would last by tapping the keg at the Schottenhamel.

1980- The Oktoberfest Bomb Attack! 

Similar to past years, a sizable crowd attended the 146th Oktoberfest. The 76-acre festival field, dominated by the Bavaria statue, drew well over five million visitors.

The unexpected occurred on September 26, 1980, just before the festival tents closed for the night. An explosion occurred at 22:20 on the Bavariaring circuit road, north of Theresienwiese, across from the traffic island and not far from the festival ground’s main entrance. 221 people were injured, 68 of them badly bruised, and 13 people were killed. Due to the extreme heat produced, some of the victims had significant burns. 

Guess what? Gundolf Köhler, a geology student, was immediately recognized as the bomber on Saturday, one day after the explosion. During the assault, he also died. Just before the explosion, witnesses had spotted him there.

On September 26 and 27, Erich Kiesl, the mayor of Munich, decided not to cancel the Oktoberfest. As the mayor put it, “Life must go on.” Over a million people attended the festival grounds that weekend. 

1985- 175th Anniversary Was Celebrated, The Most Visitors In Festival History Around 7.1 Million!

In 1985, the 175th anniversary of Oktoberfest was celebrated, and the number of visitors, around 7.1 million, broke all previous records.

The 175th-anniversary celebration continued at the festival grounds, with various unique events and attractions adding to the festive mood. Parades exhibiting beautiful floats, traditional costumes, and energetic marching bands made their way through Munich’s streets. Local troupes energetically performed folk dances, bringing rhythms into the air and inviting spectators to enjoy the fun.

2010- Officials Brought Back Horse Races In Historical Costumes To Remind Festival Goers Of The OKtoberfest! 

You know what? Oktoberfest celebrated its bicentennial in 2010, marking an outstanding milestone. Organizers arranged several special events to honor the festival’s legendary past and celebrate this historic achievement.

The horse race, where participants dressed in historical attire, was one of the most notable aspects of the bicentennial celebrations. It was a powerful reminder of Oktoberfest’s rich history and customs.

2020- Due To A Corona Pandemic, Oktoberfest Was Cancelled!

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 had a devastating effect on the world. Visitors and locals alike were deeply disappointed by the decision to postpone Oktoberfest, which usually attracts millions of visitors worldwide. 

Measures like face masks and social isolation inside the festival’s famous beer tents, according to Bavarian Premier Söder, would not work. Ultimately, the public’s health and safety required postponing Oktoberfest. 

Rosa Wiesn- A Series Of Annual LGBT Events!

So, during Munich’s Oktoberfest season, there’s this event called the Rosa Wiesn, also called Gay Oktoberfest. On the first Sunday, popularly known as “Gay Sunday,” the main event occurs at the Bräurosl (Hacker-Pschorr) tent. Not only that, but during the festival weeks, many other awesome activities are taking place, such as meet and greets, brunches, cultural programs, and Lion’s Night (Löwennacht).

The history of Rosa Wiesn dates back to the 1970s when members of the leather and fetish-loving Munich Lion’s Club started getting together on the balcony of the Bräurosl tent. Gay Sunday alone attracts thousands of LGBT festival visitors, making Rosa Wiesn a major event on the LGBT calendar in Germany today.

Oktoberfest- Entry to Restaurateurs And Breweries!

Oktoberfest restaurateurs and breweries have a long history dating back to 1887 when they first made their spectacular entry. It all started when Hans Steyrer drove his staff down, followed by a lively brass band and a wagon full of beer.

Every brewery has participated in the parade since 1935, making it a huge event. The Munich mayor has been riding in the Schottenhammel family carriage since 1950. Music groups from the beer tents accompany the festivities, adding to the lively mood.

Backstory Of Costumes And Rifleman Parade!

A customary costume parade was first held in 1835 to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Therese. A second procession with 1,400 individuals dressed in 150 traditional costume groups was arranged by Bavarian author Maximilian Schmidt in 1895.

In 1910, Julius and Moritz Wallach, who created the Dirndl dress and Lederhosen outfit fashions, planned another parade to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

The Emergence Of Oktoberfest Traditional Attire- Lederhosen And Dirndl!

Bavarian culture and fashion have evolved alongside the appearance of men’s lederhosen and Women dirndls in the history of Oktoberfest. These customary clothes have a deep and long history that dates back centuries, and they have come to represent Oktoberfest.

Lederhosen, “leather trousers” in German, originated from the hardy attire worn by laborers and farmers in the Bavarian region. First made of sturdy leather, they were intended to resist the rigors of outdoor labor while offering protection in hilly areas. Utilitarian workwear became a characteristic part of Bavarian traditional clothing throughout time.

Women’s traditional dirndls have long roots in rural Bavaria. Originally, dirndls were modest clothes worn by women from all social groups for daily tasks and activities. With regional differences in style and embellishment, they usually consisted of an apron, full skirt, bodice, and blouse. Like lederhosen men, dirndls evolved from practical attire to stylish wear, changing in style and connected to festivals and cultural events.

Why Is It Called Oktoberfest When It Is In September? 

The Oktoberfest started in September, and since October’s weather was usually already cooler, the days were much shorter. It has always occurred from the first Saturday after September 15 until the first Sunday in October, dating back to 1872. 

That’s the story behind the September-October mashup! 

The Trademark Brews Of Munich Oktoberfest!

At Munich Oktoberfest, only beers brewed within Munich’s city were allowed, and following the Reinheitsgebot rules can be served.

These beers, together referred to as Oktoberfest Beer, come in two varieties: the classic Märzen lager and the lighter Festbier, which has grown in popularity throughout the festival. These strict requirements allow the following breweries to manufacture Oktoberfest Beer: 

  • Augustiner-Bräu
  • Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu
  • Löwenbräu, Paulaner
  • Spatenbräu
  • Staatliches Hofbräu-München

The Club of Munich Brewers, which consists of the six brewers indicated above, is the registered trademark holder of Oktoberfest Beer. As Oktoberfest’s popularity increased, the need for more extensive and organized spaces arose. For that, major stalls were gradually converted to the beer tents we know today (between the late 1800s and early 1900s). Pschorr-Bräurosl was the most significant festival tent at the time, with 12,000 seats.

Present Day Oktoberfest

The world’s largest beer festival is held every year in Germany with all its zeal and cultural enthusiasm. Several notable figures from Munich officials and celebrities also attend this historic gathering to embrace the inclusivity and significance. The tent reservations start way before the original event as tourists and locals all head toward the grounds in large numbers to enjoy the attractions and beer tents’ festivities alike. 

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