✦ It’s time to don the lederhosen and dirndl dresses, charge your glasses and shout out the customary toast of ‘Prost’!
The expression “dying” or “gagging for a drink” is a well worn one that many people will have muttered after a particularly stressful or strenuous experience. There’s nothing quite like cracking a cold one or popping the cork on a nice bottle of wine to help one relax.
Imagine then having to put that indulgence on hold for two years?! That’s what devotees of the Wiesn Festival, otherwise known as Oktoberfest, in Munich have had to endure as the COVID-19 pandemic put pay to their annual celebration with the past two years’ celebrations cancelled. That’s not to say these fans and regular attendees have had to go that long without a drink, but there’s something very special about the occasion that elevates it above and beyond the typical, regular soiree.
It was, therefore, keenly received and much welcome news when Munich Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter
announced at a press conference on April 29th 2022 that revellers could once again convene for the 187th edition of Oktoberfest, which will take place from September 17th to October 3rd 2022 on the Theresienwiese, the open space in the Munich borough of Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt.
But hang on a minute – looking at those dates, why is it actually called Oktoberfest and not 'Septemberfest'? It’s more than a fair question as the majority of the festival falls into the month of
September! To find the answer, we need to dust off the history books...
The very first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to mark the wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
Festivities, horse racing, fine banquets and, of course, beer were enjoyed by all on the fields in front of the city gates and, subsequently, it was an occasion that would be repeated, and in time extended, year-upon-year.
However, it was deemed that the weather was much more favourable just a few weeks earlier and so the occasion was brought forward to accommodate a more clement, and thus pleasant and enjoyable, climate.
And that’s how we got Oktoberfest, even though it’s largely held during the previous month!
Nowadays it is the world’s largest folk festival, or “Volksfest” to use its Germanic name, attracting millions of revellers from all over the world who are keen to enjoy the festivities and quench their thirst!
The last Oktoberfest attracted 6.3 million visitors who travelled to not only enjoy the renowned beer festival but a travelling funfair with amusement rides, side stalls, games and an array of stalls offering delicious local cuisine – nothing like a good old Schweinshaxe German ham hock or a plate of bratwurst with potato pancakes and sauerkraut to mop up all that beer! And make no mistake, there is A LOT of beer consumed at Oktoberfest - in 2019, 7.3 million litres were consumed across the 16 days, although, that being said, it was 7.5 million litres poured and consumed in the previous year!
A parade to inaugurate the occasion is led by the Mayor of Munich whereby all the breweries and restaurants participating in the festival take part in decorated horse carriages and floats, while the music bands from the nearby beer tents accompany the procession. Nearly all of Germany’s major brewers all sponsor large, temporary pavilions filled with long wooden benches, a raised bandstand and a raucous live Oompah band for a good old singalong!
A fully inclusive event, the contemporary festival also incorporates the “Rosa Wiesn”, also known as Gay Oktoberfest, where a series of annual LGBT events coincide with the Oktoberfest period in Munich.
Costumes are optional but a significant number of the participants adorn traditional dress which can be traced back to the 19th century when it was first worn as clothing by farmers and workers. Expect to see colourful, tight-fitting Bavarian dirndl dresses and blouses with a festive apron tied around for women and lederhosen paired with traditional shirts and jackets for the men. As alluded to, it is entirely optional although many visitors have claimed getting into costume not only helps you blend in a lot easier but it also enhances the overall fun of the occasion!
However, it’s not just in its native Munich that Oktoberfest is big news as celebrations are now witnessed in all four corners of the globe after legions of Germans have migrated over the years, taking their culture and customs with them.
Oktoberfest Around the World
If you fancy indulging in some Oktoberfest fun Down Under then you’d better get yourself to sunny Brisbane as that’s where it all takes place over two weekends in mid-October at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. Blink and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported back to Bavaria as a raucous celebration sees live music, carnival games, colourful costumes and lots and lots of beer! There’s a Bavarian Strongman contest for the muscleheads, an auto show for the petrolheads and a contest for best brewer for the beerheads! In true Aussie style there’s something for everyone and the kids aren’t forgotten as face painting, puppet shows, a reptile show and more are on offer. Definitely worth checking out, plus a lot closer to home than flying halfway across the world to catch the real thing!
Germans started migrating to sunnier climes such as Brazil almost 200 years ago and since then hundreds of thousands have made the move, thus establishing a very vibrant sub-culture in the land of the samba. Nowadays the southern city of Blumenau, located near the coast roughly halfway between São Paulo and Porto Alegre, is home to the second largest Oktoberfest celebration worldwide where close to a million people hit the streets around Germanic Village Park dressed in lederhosen and dirndls, eager to enjoy the occasion. The event was first conceived in 1984 when the city endured a catastrophic flood, prompting local officials to seek a way to generate funds to reinvigorate the local economy. Given the large local German community, they instinctively looked to emulate the Oktoberfest celebrations and haven’t looked back since.
Just over the border in Argentina we have the small mountain village of Villa General Belgrano which transforms into an Alpine town and hosts the country’s National Beer Festival over two weekends in October. Argentina is also a country with a strong Germanic legacy and thousands of visitors attend dressed in traditional dress such as lederhosen and dirndls to celebrate and enjoy the sumptuous food and drink on offer.
Over in Canada the tranquil town of Kitchener hosts the country’s largest Bavarian festival with a nine-day celebration culminating on Canadian Thanksgiving Day (the second Monday in October). Kitchener was actually know as Berlin prior to the first World War and it has retained a strong Germanic presence - it therefore comes as no surprise that their heritage and traditions are honoured with close to 200,000 people attending the Oktoberfest celebrations each year.
As a country fascinated and much influenced by foreign culture, it also comes as no great surprise to learn that Japan enthusiastically embraces Oktoberfest celebrations each year - although it isn’t the neon-tinged megalopolis Tokyo that hosts the occasion but the port city of Yokohama. That being said, Yokohama is the birthplace of Japan’s beer industry, so it makes absolute sense! The city’s Red Brick Warehouse turns into a giant beer hall for three weeks in October and truly mimics the Bavarian experience in that Japanese inimitable style. With a German orchestra playing four times a day to complement the delicious food available, this year sees over 140 varieties of beer on offer, including limited-edition Oktoberfest beers and beers on sale in Japan for the first time.
Elsewhere, there are major celebrations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Johannesburg in South Africa and Cincinnati in the United States, all of whom truly put on a great show to honour the occasion.
Seems like no matter where you are in the world, come Oktoberfest you will have no worries finding a great spot to indulge in the festivities. So what are you waiting for? Don the lederhosen and dirndl dresses, charge your glasses and shout out the customary toast of Prost!
It you are making the pilgrimage to Munich this year then everything you need to know can be found at the official Oktoberfest website.
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