Beer and Bavaria: A history of Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is the world’s largest folk festival. Lasting 16 to 18 days - typically from the middle of September to the first weekend in October - it is an important part of Bavarian culture and takes place in Munich (the capital of Bavaria) each year. However, Oktoberfest celebrations are common all over Europe and even the world!
Characterised by steins of beer and traditional Bavarian clothing, Oktoberfest is also a funfair, and the festival has been going some 200 years, where it is said to have initially started as a horse race. The exact origins of the horse race remain a matter of controversy, however it is widely accepted that it was part of the celebrations for a royal wedding between Ludwig I of Bavaria, and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who married on the 12th October, 1810. The decision was made to repeat the horse races and celebrations in 1811, developing into what is now the annual Oktoberfest tradition. Interestingly, alcohol was originally always banned from the festival, and it’s only since the 1950s that beer has been such a key characteristic of the event – including the opening of the beer barrel, accompanied by the words "O'zapft is!" which translate to 'it is tapped!'.
Whilst this tradition is relatively new, Bavaria and beer have a history dating all the way back to the 16th century. In fact, the Beer Halls that feature prominently in Oktoberfest have been around since the opening of the Staatliches Hofbrauhaus in Munich in 1589, by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V. For years it was used as a brewery, but it was King Ludwig again who opened Staatliches to the public, making it the beer house it still is today. Since then, beer houses have enjoyed a colourful history that have played a surprisingly big part in Germany's history, and, with the help of Oktoberfest, Bavaria and beer have become synonymous with each other. Oktoberfest is now by-far the most widely celebrated beer festival in the world, and even if you’re not able to make the journey to Munich for the festivities, there are still plenty of other, more accessible cities where Oktoberfest celebrations are taking place.
Read below for the European cities where you can celebrate Oktoberfest in true Bavarian style!