It's famed for its beards, buxom ladies & big, big beers, but there's lots more to Munich's Oktoberfest than meets the eye. Strap on your lederhosen and hop on the wagon!
In honor of the boozy party starting this week, here are 10 facts about the legendary German event that are certainly worth toasting.
1. It’s not a beer festival
“Wuuuuhat? Shock! Horror!” I hear you cry. Contrary to popular belief, Oktoberfest – or “Wiesn”, to the locals – is not a beer festival, but the anniversary celebration of the wedding between Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and his wife, Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. When the love birds hitched in 1810, the royals commemorated the event with a public party where not a single drop of the liquid gold was spilled!
It wasn’t until 1819 that the horse races were replaced by beer vendors. Despite their initial prudence, you’ll still find doting monarchists today raising a stein (“krug” in German) in honor of the old lord and lady who made it all possible.
2. Oktoberfest doesn’t serve beer…
Another mind-boggling fact to get your weary head around, the festival doesn’t serve ‘beer’, per se, but the appropriately named Oktoberfestbier.
Served in 13 huge drinking tents, and made by just six Munich-based breweries, these special tipples are unique to the event, and calling them anything less than their given namesake could see you in trouble with the devoted local patrons.
3. It has an alternative side…
Believe it or not, there’s much more to Oktoberfest than booze. Music is a very important factor in the celebrations, with every alcohol tent featuring brass bands playing a mix of reworked chart hits from the likes of the Black Eyed Peas alongside traditional German Oompah classics.
If a song and dance isn’t your thing, you can head for the Armbrustschützenzelt tent. A popular pavilion for locals and internationals alike, you can spend your time inside drinking Paulaner brewhouse’s Oktoberfestbier, devouring a succulent knuckle of pork and practicing your bow and arrow skills in the annual crossbow competition.
4. Survival of the strongest
Not only are they exclusive to the party, these VIBs (Very Important Beers) pack a punch. Served in the classic 1-liter beer stein, the average Oktoberfestbier delivers a whopping 6% ABV, making these golden-amber lagers stronger than your average brew. Nevertheless, these strong beers are consumed in their olympic-sized pool load – with 6.4 million litres bought at last year’s event.
5. No drinking without consent
You’d think that this behemoth of a beer celebration would be a bit of an anything goes affair, but you’d be wrong. Drinking at Oktoberfest can only commence when the master of ceremonies – the mayor of Munich – cracks open the first barrel of beer, proclaiming ‘O’ zapft is’ (‘It’s tapped!’).
6. It doesn’t start in October
What’s in a name? Not much it seems, as this legendary autumn event doesn’t even start in October! Over the years there’s been a shift to an earlier, hopefully sunnier mid-September start, with the whole festival starting this year on September 19th, and finishing on October 4th, when 12 riflemen will sound a salute on the steps of the plainly named Bavaria Statue.
7. Drink to your good health!
The reason why Oktoberfest has become such an important and popular Munich landmark is not out of mere hedonism, but necessity. Southern Bavaria was once notorious for its awful fresh water supply, so to avoid cholera, the plague and other such nasty ailments, locals would wet their whistles with the safer, arguably tastier alternative of beer.
Water purification has come on leaps and bounds since the 19th century, but that’s not to say that some traditions are worth keeping nonetheless. So, drink to your good health, or ‘zum Wohl!’ as the locals shout!
8. Paris Hilton is permanently banned from Oktoberfest
While drinkers as young as 14 can join the party if accompanied by an adult, the security are known for their no-nonsense approach to safeguarding the celebration. A selection of handsy over-drinkers are banned each year, but top of the notoriety list is the hotel heiress.
Dressed in her skimpiest Bavarian ‘dirndl’ (the traditional Oktoberfest dress), the American socialite showed up to the 2006 to promote a brand of canned wine, without any sort of prior arrangement with the Oktoberfest organizers. After some sizeable and intoxicated public outrage, Paris was banished from ever returning to the party.
9. It’s a surprisingly kid-friendly zone
Over recent years, organizers for the festival have tried to steer away from the image of the world’s most popular watering hole to a more family friendly extravaganza. The carnival aspect has always been a big deal at Oktoberfest, but now it’s bigger than ever, with a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, games and traditional Bavarian parades open to people of all ages, shapes and varying degrees of drunkenness.
10. The lost and found office is a proverbial treasure chest
Naturally for such an inebriated spectacle, the Oktoberfest Lost and Found office is stuffed every year with thousands of abandoned goods, and 2013 was one for the history books.
Beyond the usual suspects last year – including 1056 passports, 520 wallets, 320 mobile phones, 300 bags and rucksacks, and 50 cameras – there were some more peculiar finds, such as two wedding-rings, a hearing-aid, a set of false teeth, a tombstone shaped like a pencil and a Segway.
And, for the lost claims, one unfortunate beer tippler claimed that they lost 50.000 Euros in cash. We assume they drank it.
Thirsty yet? Then get yourself to Oktoberfest: Search for cheap flights to Munich.