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Get Ready! Get Set! Oktoberfest!

Jennifer Merin on

That wonderful annual celebration known as Oktoberfest originated in Germany--or, to be more specific and accurate, in Bavaria.  The tradition actually dates back to October, 12, 1810.  Not many traditions can specify their origins with such precision, but this festival was invented to celebrate the day on which Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I of Bavaria) married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.  The extravagant party they held to celebrate their union included a sumptuous feast, a range of musical presentations and, even, horse racing.

The event was so joyous and so popular, it was scheduled again the following year, and the next and so on--until it became the traditional celebration known as Oktoberfest.  In fact, Oktoberfest has been celebrated annually since 1811, with the exception of those years when war or pestilence prevented the festivities. 

The annual celebrations in Germany are so special they attract tourists from every corner of the globe to Bavaria for what is known locally as the Volksfest, an ongoing stream of parties, exhibitions and other events that lasts for sixteen to eighteen days, usually from a Saturday mid-September through the first weekend in October.  Although horse racing has been dropped from the program, the beer drinking is still a scheduled centerpiece.  This particular party is known as das Bierfest, and it is arguably the world‘s largest and most famous beer bash. It’s staged in Munich’s die Wiesn (more formally known as die Thereseinwiese), a 31-hectare field named for Princess Therese, where thousands of locals and tourists gather for a day of raising and draining their steins of Paulaner, Lowenbrau, Spaten and other brews too numerous to name.  

The celebration is officially begun when Munich’s Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor) taps the first beer keg and yells “O'zapft is!” ("It's tapped!") at noon on the Saturday that starts the event – this year that’s September 16.  This keg tapping tradition is relatively new--it began in 1950, when Thomas Wimmer, then Munich’s mayor, tapped the first keg and made his famous pronouncement. His words are followed by a great surge of merriments, as crowds rush off to get their beer and ripperl (pork ribs), steckerlfisch (grilled fish kebabs), radi (radishes) and zwetschgendatschi (pancakes covered with plums)--and to revel in the upbeat atmosphere.  Sure, there’s some drunkenness, but tight security (including video surveillance) prevents unruly behavior. 

And, there’re so many other fun distractions--merry-go-rounds and other amusement park rides, carnival booths, stages with a wide range of performances including music and magic and dancing--that most people rush to get their fill of them, too. 

Various aspects of the original celebration are restaged all around Germany, but these days you don’t have to go as far as Deutschland to enjoy Oktoberfest revelries.  In fact, when it comes to the ranking of German cultural exports, Oktoberfest is second only to the Christmas tree in its worldwide popularity. 

In the U.S., from late September through October, there are hundreds of Oktoberfest celebrations taking place across the nation. You‘ll find them in cities big and small, and in rural areas stretching from New York to California.  To find one, all you really have to do is call or drop in to your local Hofbrauhaus or German restaurant--if they‘re not staging an Oktoberfest, they can surely direct you to one that’s close by and accessible. 

America’s Oktoberfest proliferation may have something to do with the large numbers of
Americans who trace their heritage to German roots--or it might simply be that Oktoberfest is really a lot of fun. 

The good time antics are generally spurred on by liberal quantities of tasty German beer, but you don’t really have to imbibe the free flowing pilsner to enjoy the sumptuous food, lively music and other attractions--and, of course, the great camaraderie-- that are the heart of any Oktoberfest celebration. 

Few American Oktoberfests are scheduled exactly like the Bavarian original, although most do take place from late September through the beginning of November.  Some U.S. versions of the celebrations are so popular, they’re held twice a year.  Dover, New Jersey, for example, has one Oktoberfest in September, and another in June, while Cincinnati, Ohio, presents its Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati during September, which is followed by the three-day Donauschwaben Oktoberfest in October. 

Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati is a huge event that usually draws some 500,000 participants.  In 2016, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati will be held on 2nd and 3rd Streets, between Elm and Walnut in downtown Zinzinnati. The fun festivities – with a heavy emphasis on food and beer sampling --, kicks off with the Running of the Weiners. The event is quite touristy, but the experience has a measure of authenticity, as well.  

Octoberfest Las Vegas style takes place for two weeks in the Hofbrauhaus, an authentic-looking German beer hall. Two months before the Hofbrauhaus building was completed in 2003, the’ founding entrepreneur, Stefan Gastager, staged a rollicking Oktoberfest in a parking lot, and it was a huge success.  It‘s clear that Las Vegas, never lacking for parties, so thoroughly endorses and enjoys the Oktoberfest celebrations, that Gastager has since proclaimed that "Every Day's Oktoberfest!" in the Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas--but the October celebrations still stand out. 

New Ulm, Minnesota, presents its delightful Oktoberfest on two weekends in October. This year the dates are October 6 to 7, and October 13 to 14. And, there’s another famous version of Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg, Texas, where you might just get a bit

of rodeo and TexMex in the mix, and that’s really really good fun, too. 

For more Oktoberfest information, browse the German National Tourist Board Website at or contact your local tourism board for lists of Oktoberfest celebrations in your area or your vacation destination.

Copyright 2017 Jennifer Merin


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