Fall is in the air here in Germany and that means the biggest folk festival season of the year is approaching. One of the most famous German festivals known worldwide is of course Oktoberfest – in fact, it’s often the first thing people think of when I mention that I live in Germany!
What is Oktoberfest exactly? It’s a 16-day long beer festival and travelling fun fair held annually in Munich, Germany on the Theresienwiese fairgrounds. Locals often refer to Oktoberfest as simply Wiesn in reference to the fairgrounds where the festival takes place. Oktoberfest originated in 1810 in honour of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and has been celebrated ever since. Each year, over 6 million visitors from all over the world visit Oktoberfest, making it one of the best-loved and most-attended festivals worldwide.
With a name like ‘Oktoberfest’, one would guess that the festival runs throughout the month of October. I remember how surprised I was to learn that this is not actually the case! Oktoberfest and other German autumn folk festivals actually start toward the middle to end of September and end in early October. The original Oktoberfest held in 1810 did take place in mid-October but over the years the festival has been moved up into September to take advantage of the warmer weather. So please take note – if you show up in Munich wearing your Dirndl or Lederhosen in mid-October expecting to visit the world’s largest folk festival, you’ll have missed it!
This year, the Oktoberfest opening ceremonies take place on September 19. Following a large morning parade with the waitresses and landlords of the beer tents and a 12 gun salute, the mayor of Munich will tap the first keg of specially-brewed Oktoberfest beer at noon to officially kick off the festival. Oktoberfest will run daily until October 4.
Of course the main attraction at Oktoberfest is visiting the beer tents; visitors consume over 7 million litres of beer over the course of the festival. Reservations for tables often fill up weeks if not months in advance. Visitors without a reservation can still enter a beer tent, although it’s advised to come early (before 11am if possible) as the tents stop admitting people once they’re filled. Once inside, visitors can spend the day sipping beer, singing drinking songs and making new friends with their tablemates. Beer connoisseurs can enjoy the specially-brewed Oktoberfest beer which is only brewed within the city limits of Munich. A 1 litre Maβ of beer is the standard size and customers can order their brew from a Dirndl-clad waitress inside the beer tent. Waitresses actually buy the beers from the suppliers and customers buy their beers from the waitresses, so Oktoberfest waitresses can make a good bundle of money by the festival’s end. No wonder you often see beer tent waitresses carrying 12 beer steins at once!
But of course Oktoberfest is not just about the beer tents. All around the beer tents is an enormous fun fair complete with rides, games, roller coasters and food stalls. Visitors can sample traditional Oktoberfest foods such as Hendl (roast chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Steckerlfisch (roasted fish on a stick), Brezen (pretzels), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes) and Weiβwurst (white veal sausage).
Though Oktoberfest gets most of the attention, there are numerous concurrent autumn festivals taking place all over Germany. The second largest folk festival, the Cannstatter Wasen, takes place in Stuttgart not far from where I live and Hannover has its own version of Oktoberfest that attracts over 1 million visitors annually. The Heidelberger Herbst (Heidelberg Autumn Festival) takes place in September and is a smaller scale street festival in the Old Town with live music, food stands and a large arts and crafts market. The Wiesbaden Stadtfest (Wiesbaden City Festival) at the end of September celebrates autumn with the first wines of the new season, pumpkins and live music in the city centre. If you have the chance, it’s definitely worth visiting an autumn festival in Germany!
Have you ever been to Oktoberfest or a German folk festival? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!