Probably most of the beer lovers already have planned their visit to the capital city of Bavaria – Munich, in order to feel the unique atmosphere of one of the largest and most popular Volksfest in the world– Oktoberfest! Bavarian beer, live music, parades, traditional costumes, pretzels, sausages and more, it’s all at your fingertips.
This famous German event is held annually from mid or late September and runs until the first weekend of October. But why is this festival called "Oktober-fest”, when it starts in September? The answer lies in the history of this celebration. It all began in 1810, when the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess (die Prinzessin) Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on 12th October. For this occasion a feast was organized that ended 5 days later with a horse race on the grasslands in front of the city gates. That was the first harbinger of the October celebration. In the following years, the festival was repeated and so continues till this day as the secular tradition in Munich. Initially, the festivities were held in October, hence the name Oktoberfest, but over time it has been moved forward to September to take full advantage of the last warm days of the year and for festival goers to have more time to enjoy all the festival’s attractions.
The area where the whole party is held is called Theresienwiese, which means "grassland of Therese" or "Theresa's fields" in honor of Ludwig’s wife - Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The locals in Munich often abbreviate this name to “Wiesn” (meadow) as a synonym for Oktoberfest. So do not be surprised if at the event you will hear "welcome to the Wiesn".
Oktoberfest begins with a parade through the streets of the city, led by Lord Mayor of Munich and Münchner Kindl, the young girl in a black habit reflecting the figure of the coat of arms of Munich. The Brewers ride follows them, where the tent patrons arrivals with decorated carriages. However, the biggest event is the official opening ceremonies at noon, when the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg at the Schottenhamel Tent. The rule here is to tap the barrel the smallest possible number of strokes. With the shout “O'zapft is!” (“the barrel is tapped!”) starting 2-weeks long celebration.
During the festival every beer lover will find their favorite flavor with 14 tents to choose from, all with a great selection of beer from the largest traditional breweries in Munich. Entrance to all beer halls and to the field of Theresienwiese is free. But Oktoberfest is not all about the beer. This is primarily a folk festival, where at the attendees’ disposal is a huge folk market that offers traditional gingerbread hearts, dishes and snacks of Bavarian cuisine. And of course, Oktoberfest is dominated by traditional costumes! The men put on Bavarian shorts with braces (Lederhose) and women wear Dirndl. The female outfit is characterized by a white blouse with a high neckline, laced corset and apron. Here, the way that a woman ties the apron in a bow is very important and it informs all about her relationship status. So, a bow on the right means that a woman is married or in a solid relationship, whereas the bow on the left means she is single.
During the festival you will hear not only German but almost all languages from around the world. But, do not fear the German language (Deutsch), as it has more in common with English than you think. English and German are true friends, due to the fact that share more than half of their vocabulary! German is a West Germanic language and it is one of the major languages in the world. German has not only official status in Germany, but also in Austria and is one of the official languages of Switzerland and Luxembourg. What’s more, German is the first most common mother tongue in Europe. However, to make your Oktoberfest adventure easier, it is worth to familiarize yourself with the following vocabulary:
- (die) Wiesn – the common name for Oktoberfest, which literally means “meadow”.
- (das) Bier– a beer! A typical toast is: “Oans, zwoa, g’suffa!” (“One, two, drink up!”) or “Prost!” (“cheers”). To order a beer, use the phrase: “Ein Bier, bitte!” (“A beer, please!”).
- (der) Maßkrug or short (die) Maß – one-litre beer mug.
- (das) Bierzelt – a beer tent.
- (das) Bierfaß - the beer barrel.
- (der) Kellner / (die) Kellnerin – a waiter / waitress.
- (das) Karussell – a carousel.
- (die) Brezel or Brezn – Bavarian pretzel.
- (das) Hendl – roasted chicken. At Oktoberfest it is known as "Wiesn-Hendl".
- (das) Lebkuchenherz – heart-shaped gingerbread.
- (die) Weißwurst- white sausage.
At every turn, you can feel the unique atmosphere of Oktoberfest where people are warmed up by not only beer but also the orchestra. Big colorful carousels and additional attractions for both children and adults are available. Oktoberfest with its international flavor, attracts more than 6 million visitors worldwide each year. Currently, others cities in the world also hold their own Oktoberfest, modeled on the German one.
We need to remember that the Munich event is very strongly rooted in the tradition and culture of Bavaria and is treated as an important folk holiday.
*Oktoberfest.de, www.oktoberfest.de/en/, Viewed 28 July 2017.