Munich Oktoberfest: a celebration of Bavarian heritage

Every year, 2000 Oktoberfests are celebrated around the world but, of course, the one that they all seek to emulate is the original, held in Munich.

Many people mistakenly think that the Oktoberfest is merely some kind of big booze up; an excuse to get together in a huge and very stably built tent and to swig beer while dancing, singing and generally making merry. Well, there is that aspect to it. Surely no party in the world compares to a day out at the Wiesn, the term by which locals know the Munich Oktoberfest. But to Bavarians the Oktoberfest is much more than just a beer festival; it’s also a celebration of regional culture.

Regional costumes and traditions

Visitors from elsewhere in the world can’t fail to note that local men tend to don their Lederhosen for a day out at the Oktoberfest, and that the Bavarian women look curvaceously eye-catching in figure enhancing Dirndls. Bavarian’s take pride in their Tracht – the German term for traditional regional costumes – which they wear out to the Wiesn.

To those in the known, the colours, cut and stitching on a traditional Dirndl or Lederhosen tells much about where a person comes from. The costumes are enough to identify the region and, sometimes, even the home village of the wearer.

If you enjoy traditional costumes and celebrations of regional culture then it is worth making it over to Munich for the first weekend of the Oktoberfest – which now traditionally starts on the penultimate Saturday in September – when two major parades take place.

Colourful parades with beer

The first of the parades takes place on the Saturday morning, before the first barrel of beer is tapped. The Oktoberfest landlords, sat in horse drawn coaches, are accompanied by marching bands onto the Theresienwiese in the Einzug der Festwirte und Brauereien (meaning the “Entry of the Landlords and Breweries”). They wave down, accompanied by waiters and waitresses hooping and smiling; already holding litre-sized glasses of beer.

Horse drawn carriages, carrying wooden barrels of beer, bear the names of all six of Munich’s main breweries. They are decorated with hops and pulled by beautifully presented teams of horses wearing polished brass plates. They proceed onto the Oktoberfest site along Wirtbudenstrasse, the street on which the festival tents are situated.

The landlords’ parade lasts about an hour. One of the best places to watch the procession is at Schwanthalerstrasse, close to the Theresienwiese. The proximity to the Oktoberfest site allows them to then dash into a tent or, if the tents are already full, an adjacent beer garden.

The world’s biggest city festival

The world’s biggest Stadtfest (meaning “town festival”) officially gets underway by the ceremonial tapping of the first barrel in the Schottenhamel tent. The city mayor traditionally has the honour of opening the Oktoberfest and tries to tap the wooden barrel in as few hits as is possible, crying out “Ozapft is!” (meaning “It’s tapped!”) when the task – which some locals say his most important of the year – is completed.

The second of the parades – the Trachten und Schuetzenzug which can be loosely translated as the “Livery and Riflemen’s Parade” – takes place the following morning, thus providing anyone who overdoes the celebrating on the opening day with a plausible reason as to why they should stay out of the tents and in the fresh air.

The colourful parade, generally regarded as one of the highlights of the Oktoberfest, lasts approximately two-and-a-half hours. Men, women and children in traditional costumes from around Germany, and even beyond, participate in the parade. Approximately 9000 people participate.

Historic costumes and regional pride

Groups of riflemen and members of societies wear historic costumes and uniforms. They march or ride past on horses while bands pound out music. Men show off their skills with whips, cracking them unnervingly close to the ears of streetside spectators and falconers walk holding their surprisingly calm hunting birds.

One of the most popular places to view the parade is at Odeonsplatz, which has the backdrop of the Feldherrnhalle and ochre coloured Theatine Church. The parade has taken place on a regular basis since 1950 but was first held in 1835, to mark the silver wedding anniversary of King Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria.

They wed, as Crown-Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, on 12October 1810. Five days of celebrating followed the royal wedding, in a Volksfest (meaning “people’s festival”) that ended with horse racing on a meadow outside of Munich’s city walls. The popular event went down in history as the original of the Oktoberfest.

That meadow was named Theresens-Wiese (meaning “Therese’s meadow”) in honour of the royal bride. Surprisingly, given the scale of the celebrating and beer drinking today, no beer tents stood on Theresens-Wiese in 1810. As time passed the meadow’s name was corrupted and it became known as the Theresienwiese, now also the name of the U-Bahn station which most people use to reach the Oktoberfest.

Going ‘auf die Wiesn’

When a Munich resident says they are going to go “auf die Wiesn” it may mean, literally, that they are going to go “onto the meadow” but to everyone in Bavaria it means just one thing; they are on their way to the Oktoberfest.

More than six million litres of beer are served during a typical 16 day Oktoberfest but for Bavarians, and to Munich residents especially, there’s much more to it than just supping beer. It’s a celebration of the region’s heritage that anyone can attend.

Further information

Visit the official Munich Oktoberfest website, oktoberfest.de.

Learn more about Munich at the city’s official website, muenchen.de.

For more information about travel and tourism in Germany, visit germany.travel.

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