Oktoberfest is a German beer festival held every year in September. The tradition dates back to the early 1800s, and has grown to become the largest beer festival in the world, attracting over 6 million visitors each year. Oktoberfest is celebrated in Munich over 16 days and is the city's most profitable tourist attraction, bringing in more than 450 million Euros in 2009. The Bavarian Oktoberfest has inspired similar festivals around the world.
The Royal Wedding
The roots of Oktoberfest can be traced back to the royal wedding of crown prince Ludwig to princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. All citizens of Munich were invited to the festivities held on the fields by the city gates. The festival was attended by 40,000 people, and the citizens reveled in singing, dancing and drinking. The celebrations ended with the locals' favorite event--a horse race in the presence of the royal family.
Anniversary celebrations for the royal wedding were held each year. As the celebrations grew more elaborate and drew in more people, the leaders of Munich decided to expand and organize it to a broader event to celebrate the region. The festival was eventually moved ahead to September from October due to better weather conditions.
The horse race remained the biggest attraction for visitors in subsequent Oktoberfests, along with an agricultural show highlighting Bavarian agricultural traditions. By 1896, the festival incorporated carousels, swings and other amusements, as well as beer tents set up by local landlords. The festival grew steadily in popularity and stature, and was held almost every year except during war and epidemics.
Oktoberfest is inaugurated on the Weis'n fields by the mayor of Munich at noon on the first day of the celebrations. The mayor drives a wooden tap into a beer barrel and proclaims "O'zapft is!" or "It's tapped!" In the two weeks leading up to the first Sunday in October, the fairgrounds are crowded with people of all ages, from all over the world. Attractions include amusements, rides, beer tents and traditional Bavarian food. More than 7,000 entertainers perform at Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest beer is known as Marzen, a darker and stronger variant of traditional beer containing up to 6 percent alcohol. The name is derived from "March" - prior to modern refrigeration technology the beer was brewed in March and aged through the summer months. The beer is brewed by six German breweries. It is served in large tents and gardens that hold up to 98,000 visitors at a time.
Featured food at Oktoberfest includes grilled whole chicken known as "Hendl," spit-grilled duck and goose, roasted meats, potato dumplings, and other regional specialties. Hundreds of vendors serve local favorites such as roasted ox-tails, grilled pork-knuckles, white veal and sweet mustard, and red cabbage and apple dishes. Popular sweet dishes include honey-dumplings, apple strudel, and sugared raisin pancakes.