With Oktoberfest currently in full swing in the Bavarian city of Munich, we take a look at this cultural phenomenon, proud title-holders of the title of largest beer festival worldwide.
Although 2013 marks the 180th edition of Oktoberfest, the festival’s long and distinguished history dates back even further to 1810 when it started as a horse race, held as part of the wedding festivities of Bavarian King Ludwig I. Such was its popularity that it became an annual event, slowly shifting away from a one-day, horse-racing spectacular and evolving into the Oktoberfest so internationally renowned today, a two-week celebration of all things beer-related. Indeed, once upon a time, such was the poor quality of the water in Munich that beer was considered a safer drinking option, given that germs were killed off during the brewing process.
The beers served at Oktoberfest all comes from within the city limits and are generally a little stronger than your traditional Munich beers, meaning that they must conform to the Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Purity Law) at a minimum of 13.5% Stammwürze (about 6% alcohol volume). The six breweries touting their liquid-gold wares include Augustiner (the oldest Munich brewery), Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbraü, Paulaner, Spaten and Hofbraü. Ask for ‘eine Maß Bier’, a litre of beer served in a stein, and you can’t go far wrong. Prices range from $9.40 to €9.85 per stein so get those €10 notes ready and charge your glasses!
There are 14 beer tents from which to choose, all offering something a little different to the next. Amongst the larger tents, Augustiner-Festhalle is considered to be the friendliest and most family-oriented, whilst Käfer’s Wies’n-Schänke enjoys a reputation as a gourmet temple and meeting place of celebrity visitors. In the smaller tents meanwhile, you’ll find a wide variety of cuisine – chicken, roast pork and dumplings are the most common culinary offerings – to accompany the beer. And for those looking for a spot of respite from the beer, there’s even a wine tent serving 15 different wines in addition to sekt (sparkling wine) and champagne.
With the event starting in September, it’s not an unreasonable question to ask where the name comes from. The answer, quite simply, was to avoid the chilly October temperatures that Munich can sometimes suffer, therefore by starting the festival in late September (this year’s event runs from 21st September until 6th October), the weather is usually much more clement and thus more attractive to visitors. And what of the ubiquitous lederhosen (dirndl for the ladies), as synonymous with the festival as the beer itself? This sartorial tradition started in 1960 as the horseracing ended and Oktoberfest gained global renown and whilst not obligatory, is considered by many an essential ingredient of the festival as is the tirolerhüte, a Bavarian hat with a distinctive tuft of goat hair.
Munich at any time of year is a special experience, yet a short break in the city during Oktoberfest will undoubtedly add a very special and memorable twist (depending on the quantity of beer consumed!) that you’ll savour for years to come.