It began as a wedding party and became the biggest celebration of beer in the world.
Every beer enthusiast has at some point or the other envisioned themselves at Oktoberfest. The German festival and celebration of all things beer is globally acknowledged as the hops hub of the world and once a year at the end of September people gather in Munich to pay homage to their favourite beverage. It's a time rich in food, drink and revelry, but it's also rich in history. Let's trace it back in time to the very beginning...
But even though it’s now synonymous with beer, Oktoberfest actually began with a horse race. In the year 1810, Andreas Michael Dall’Armi, a member of the Bavarian National Guard had a new and innovative idea for a wedding celebration. The Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria, (soon to be King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen were engaged to be married and Dall’Armi shared his idea to hold a race of magnificent proportions to King Max I Joseph of Bavaria.
On the 12th of October 1810, the couple were married with the festivities and grand race taking place a few days later on the 17th on the Theresienwiese grounds. Even though it wasn’t centred around beer or food or fairground rides at the time, the spirit of excitement and festivity was the starting block for Ocktoberfest.
A year after the royal wedding, the city was in agreement that another festival of that scale was in order. Without a marriage to celebrate, the Bavarian Agricultural Association (Landwirtschaftlicher Verein in Bayern) took over control of the organisation and this platform provided the perfect opportunity to shine a spotlight on agricultural products.
In 1813, just four years after it was established, the fest had to be cancelled for the first time on account of the Napoleonic wars. After the war, Oktoberfest was privately financed until Munich once again made it a priority in 1819 and it once again became the centre of the city’s social calendar for all classes of society. The promise of drawing wealth and revenue to the city was enough to solidify it as an annual event.
The original creator was honoured in 1824 when the city granted Dall’Armi the very first gold citizens medal for inventing the festival and a street was named after him in the neighbourhood of Neuhausen-Nymphenburg.
When in 1850, the statue of Bavaria was unveiled – guardian of Oktoberfest and symbol of the state. But although that year saw a rejuvenated spirit and enthusiasm, it was not to last. An outbreak of Cholera broke out in 1854 which came and went amidst the vagaries of the Austro-Prussian War, these years saw precious little to celebrate and Oktoberfest wasn’t high on anyone’s list of priorities.
It was in 1881 that the festival shaped itself into what we know today. A roast chicken outlet opened alongside the other entertainment and till today, roast chicken is a staple food of the festival. By the late 19th century, booths, carousels and electric lights festooned the area drawing street performers and larger crowds. Due to the influx of people, breweries set up beer tents with musicians to entertain the masses and the small beer stalls were abandoned for good.
In 1910, to mark the 100th anniversary of Oktoberfest, 12,000 hectoliters of beer were poured at the Pschorr-Bräurosl, the huge festival tent that seated 12,000 people at the time. During a financial crisis post World War I, the inflation forced the festival to close temporarily and again during World War II, the unprecedented circumstances meant that the large celebrations were put off in favour of a small "autumn festival" from 1946 to 1948.
In 1950, Mayor of Munich Thomas Wimmer tapped the first keg in the Schottenhamel tent for the first time. Ever since it has been customary for the mayor to kick off Oktoberfest. The famous words ‘O'zapft is’ have gained cult status over time.
The festival was shut down in 2020 and 2021, in light of the COVID pandemic, but as of 2022, they’re back and bigger than ever. It has become the largest folk festival in the world with six million annual visitors and breaks new records each year in the amount of beer consumed.
Oktoberfest has become an iconic part of the legacy of beer and hundreds of different brews are served under their banner. Visiting the festival is not only a time-honoured pilgrimage as a beer-lover but a hat tip to history, celebrating over 200 years of culture, happiness and the spirit of celebration.