Inside World Festivals: Oktoberfest

There is perhaps nothing that epitomizes the perception of German and Bavarian cultures as that of Oktoberfest.

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Oktoberfest: The World's Largest Fair

Officially the world’s largest fair, Oktoberfest is held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany and is a celebration of food, drink, and merriment.  Each year nearly eight million people flock to the event to be a part of one of the best-known festivals worldwide.  It is a huge part of the culture of this region and often conjures up visions of Lederhosen and beautiful beer maids skillfully hoisting enormous jugs of foamy beer.  It is an event rich with history and tradition.

History of Oktoberfest

The first official Oktoberfest took place in 1810, and over the years it has evolved into the massive celebration it is today.  The present-day event begins 16 days prior to the first Sunday in October.  If that Sunday happens to fall on October 1st or 2nd, the festival is extended through the 3rd, which is German Unity Day.  Over the years there have been many changes made to the festivities, which used to involve horse races, games and tree climbing activities.  It now resembles a gigantic party filled with carnival rides, music, dancing and even a parade.  It is a celebration of food, drink and culture and there is never a dull moment for those lucky enough to attend.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

The feasts prepared during Oktoberfest are enough to feed an army and guests have a variety of hearty and delectable choices to pick from.  Most popular are Hendl (chicken), Würstl (sausages), Haxn (pork knuckle), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Sauerkraut or Blaukraut (red cabbage), and Knödeln (potato or bread dumplings).  If that’s not enough to fill you up, there are plenty of other Bavarian delicacies to snack on.   

To give you an idea of how much beer is served at Oktoberfest, an estimated one million gallons are guzzled during the course of the event.  Given this fact, it’s not surprising that Oktoberfest has more than its fair share of folks who tipped back a few too many.  Watch out for what the German call "Bierleichen" (meaning “beer corpses”), the drunken patrons who pass out from too much alcohol consumption.  Be especially careful not to become one yourself.

Dozens of tents are strewn about the grounds, each specializing in a different food, drink or event.  Visitors enjoy stopping by the Armbrustschützenzelt, or “crossbow shooters tent”, to observe the century-old competition.  There are also several tents that host musical bands and other live entertainment.  Käfers Wiesen Schänke is often frequented by celebrities and is known for its delicious fare.  And for the wine connoisseur, there is Weinzelt, a tent offering a variety of more than fifteen wines to enjoy.  There is, most certainly, something for everyone at Oktoberfest.

There are also plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy and, in the interest of keeping the event enjoyable for everyone “quiet Oktoberfest” was introduced in 2005.  Before 6pm, only quiet music limited to 85 decibels is allowed to be played in the tents.  This has helped to curb the frenzied party mentality and bring back the atmosphere of traditional beer tents. 

Staying Safe at Oktoberfest

As with any event of this size, certain safety precautions should be observed.  Avoid consuming too much alcohol so that you can always be aware of your surroundings.  Keep in mind that after dark, the festivities can get pretty rowdy so if you’re traveling alone or with children, it’s safest to attend during daylight hours.  There are a number of security checkpoints located throughout the grounds, and the event is staffed with hundreds of police, fire department personnel, municipal authorities and volunteer medics should you find yourself in need of assistance.

For those who enjoy a party atmosphere filled with history and culture, and are looking for a feast to satisfy even the most insatiable appetite, Oktoberfest is an event not to be missed.

Want to know more about Germany? Check out our podcast. We have an insider's guide to the coolest spots in Berlin and find out how to Eurail around Germany.

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