The Evolution of Oktoberfest: A Historical Timeline

Today is officially the last day of Oktoberfest 2013. Because of this, we thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the history of Oktoberfest and how the world’s most famous festival has changed over the last two centuries.

When you think of Oktoberfest, it likely brings to mind images of beer kegs, mounds of pretzels, delicious bratwurst, accordion players in lederhosen, and, of course, gorgeous beer maidens carrying a dozen giant mugs at a time. However, many people don’t know that the original event had very little to do with beer, but was more of a wedding reception that quickly evolved into an annual event.

How It All Started

The first Oktoberfest took place on Oct. 17, 1810, in Munich, to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The newlyweds enjoyed the festivities so much, they suggested making it an annual event.

Nine years later, Munich’s city fathers decided to take over management of the event, after it grew large enough to include a variety of contests and carnival booths. Soon thereafter, Oktoberfest expanded from a one-day event to a 16-day festival starting in late September and continuing through the first weekend of October.

Historical Timeline of Oktoberfest

  • 1810 — The first annual Oktoberfest, or die Wies’n as the locals call it, was held. What was supposed to be a one-time celebration, turned into a yearly event.
  • 1811 — To help promote the traditions of Bavarian agriculture, organizers introduced an agricultural show to the event. Two hundred years later, this agricultural show still exists but is only held every four years.
  • 1813 — Oktoberfest was cancelled due to the country’s involvement in the Napoleonic War.
  • 1816 — Carnival booths started to make an appearance.
  • 1818 — Food booths were first introduced to the festival, and with it came the introduction of beer, forever changing the course of the event. Along with it came two swings and a carousel, a rare entertainment for the time.
  • 1819 — Local city officials in Munich officially took over the management of Oktoberfest celebrations.
  • 1835 — The first annual parade to honor King Ludwig and his wife took place.
  • 1850 — The statue of Bavaria was unveiled. This statue has “watched over” the festivities ever since.
  • 1854 — Celebrations were cancelled due to a cholera outbreak in Munich, where the event is held.
  • 1866 — Celebrations were cancelled because the country was involved in the Austro-Prussian War.
  • 1870 — Celebrations were cancelled because the country was involved in the Franco-Prussian War.
  • 1873 — Celebrations were cancelled due to another cholera epidemic in Munich.
  • 1880 — Electricity was first introduced, powering over 400 booths and tents.
  • 1881 — Bratwurst made its first appearance in food booths.
  • 1887 — The Entry of the Oktoberfest Staff and Breweries were first introduced, a grandstand of lavishly decorated horses of the breweries. This has since become a new tradition of Oktoberfest.
  • 1892 — Beer began to be served in glass mugs, officially starting another new Oktoberfest tradition.
  • 1913 — The Bräurosl, or beer tent, was first introduced. This particular Bräurosl was approximately 65,000 sq. yards and held approximately 12,000 people.
  • 1914-1918 — Celebrations were cancelled due to World War I.
  • 1919-1920 — The typical Oktoberfest festivities were cancelled and replaced with a smaller fair called “Autumn Festival”.
  • 1923-1924 — Celebrations were cancelled due to “hyperinflation”.
  • 1933 — In a sign of the times, the traditional white and blue Bavarian flag that has flown over the festival was replaced with the swastika flag. I can’t find any evidence of when the swastika flag was taken down and replaced. It’s possible that this was the only year the swastika flag flew over Oktoberfest.
  • 1939-1945 — Celebrations were cancelled due to World War II.
  • 1946-1948 — Just like after the end of World War I, the typical Oktoberfest festivities were cancelled and replaced with “Autumn Festival”.
  • 1950 — The start of two new traditions: a 12-gun salute and the official tapping of the first keg. At noon, the incumbent Mayor of the city will scream out ”Ozapft is!”, tap the keg and promptly ssearve the first pour to the Minister President of the State of Bavaria.
  • 1960 — The last year of the horse races. Also said to be the first year Lederhosen and Dirndl was claimed to be the official garment of Oktoberfest.
  • 1970s — Sometime in the 70s, local activists started organizing “Gay Days” at Oktoberfest Munich. Over the last forty years, “Gay Days” have become a tradition held in the Bräurosl tent on the first Sunday of the festival.
  • 1980 — On September 26th tragedy struck. Radical right-wing terrorists allegedly put a pipe bomb in the restrooms at the main entrance of the festival. As a result, thirteen people lost their life and over 200 people were injured.
  • 2005 — In hopes to keep the festival family-friendly, curb the ever-growing party mentality and preserve the traditions set in place for the last two centuries, officials changed the rules and introduced “Quiet Oktoberfest.” Beer tents were no longer allowed to play music louder than 85 decibels before 6pm.
  • 2008 — Officials tried, and failed, to enforce a “No Smoking Ban” in enclosed public places, including the beer tents at Oktoberfest. As a result, many local politicians were eventually voted out of office as a result, despite their efforts to appease smokers. Two years later, officials tried again and changed the rules that no beer would be sold to anyone caught smoking in the beer tents.
  • 2010 — To honor the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest, officials brought back the horse race in historical costumes. They brewed a special brew and set up a museum tent to allow festival goers an opportunity to see how the festival was celebrated in ancient times.
  • 2011 — A new record is set, with a total of 7.5 million liters of beer being served during the festival.

Festival Growth

Since its inception back in the early 19th Century, Oktoberfest has grown to be the largest annual festival in the world. It draws in millions of people every year. It started off as a one-day event, and has since grown to a 16-day celebration. It has grown so popular, in fact, other cities around the globe, including many here in the United States, hold their own versions of Oktoberfest.

At one time, the carousel and sack races were the most entertaining events at the festival. The modern day Oktoberfest has evolved to featuring live concerts, elaborate parades, theater, dances and even opera. Other activities include various sports tournaments. It has since become a thriving carnival scene that occupies youngsters and the young at heart.

Oktoberfest Beer Facts

Many people believe that beer is the whole reason Oktoberfest became popular, but in reality, the tasty beverage wasn’t even introduced to the event until 1818. And, it only made an appearance because it was decided to add food booths for patrons to enjoy.

Over the years, brewers began serving a Bavarian Marzenbier-style, copper-colored beer with a mild hops profile. This beer, which continues to be served at Oktoberfest, is typically at least 5.5-6 percent alcohol by volume. Festival regulations require it to be brewed within Munich city limits. This beer is supplied by the “Club of Munich Brewers,” which consists of six breweries – Paulaner, Spaten, Löwenbräu, Augustiner-Bräu, Hofbräu-München, and Hacker-Pschorr.

Starting in 1892, Oktoberfest organizers began serving beer in a special glass called a mug. This tradition has remained over the last 120 years. By the end of the 19th century, the festival grew so large that it was necessary to transform beer booths into beer halls, which eventually became beer tents. By the event’s centennial celebration in 1910, more than 120,000 liters of beer had been poured at the annual festival. A new record was set in 2011, with 7.5 million liters of beer. No word on whether that record will be broken this year. In 1913, organizers permitted inclusion of the largest beer tent in the event’s history. The Braurosl tent accommodated up to 12,000 people. Nowadays, there are over 30 beer tents set up at the festival. All of which have their own unique environment.

Oktoberfest beers inspire similar styles of beer all around the globe. Domestic versions of the beer include many macrobrewery and microbrewery traditional lagers. But this is a somewhat controversial topic, as some beer geeks take issue with the tendency of some breweries to apply the term Oktoberfest to beer labels when the product bears very little resemblance to the traditional festival product. But that’s a whole other topic we can discuss at a later time.

Have you ever been to Oktoberfest Munich? We’d like to hear your experience in the comments below.

Recommended Reading:

RESOURCES:
  1. http://www.oktoberfest.de/
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oktoberfest
  3. http://german.about.com/library/blbraeuche_sep.htm
  4. http://www.germanfoods.org/consumer/facts/oktoberfest.cfm
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Jeff Flowers

Jeff Flowers

Jeff Flowers has been a self-described beer geek for over a decade now. When he's not chasing his daughter around, you can usually find him drinking a fresh brew and wasting tons of his time on both Google+ & Twitter.
Jeff Flowers

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Comments

  1. Christian says:

    Hi!
    Nice and well summarized read! But…
    Braurösl is the name of one of the tents. Generally they are called “Bierzelt”. Each one has a name, such as “Schottenhammel” or “Hacker”.

    and “Ozapfis” comes *after* the major has tapped the beer. It means “it is tapped!”
    nice article though!

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    • great article however missed the fact that wine along with the first wine tent was introduced in 1973. i still have the original menu.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
  2. reddit represents says:

    I found this on Reddit… This was a good read. Thanks, Jeff.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]

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