Oktoberfest enjoys a legendary status world-wide. After all, as Germany’s central administration for tourism determined in 1999, it is as “typically German” as the Berlin Wall.
And this year as well, during the Oktoberfest’s sixteen days, millions of people will flock to the festival area on the edge of Munich's city center and consume slightly more than a Maß (one litre) of beer on average.
But numbers are more of a hindrance than a help in understanding the Oktoberfest phenomenon. During the runup phase, intense discussions about high beer prices (between €9.70 and €10.10 per litre) are also tradition, but most visitors stop caring about the prices after their second Maß.
In the end, the atmosphere is more important than money: things are remarkably peaceful considering the masses of people milling about inside and outside the tents. Violence and passed-out drunks are the exception, even though the heavy beer consumption does take its toll on one or the other visitor.
Originally a horse-race
But beer played no part when the event first started. The festival first took place in 1810, to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. A horse-race was held on a field – named Theresienwiese in honour of the bride - at what was then the city limit.
The spectacle on the Wies’n was such a success that it was repeated in the years that followed and it developed into a community festival offering a huge amusement park and countless food stands in addition to the beer tents – that are in fact large-scale buildings that are set up and taken down every year. A memorable experience for adults, children, and visitors from around the world.
And not surprisingly, on each one of the three Oktoberfest weekends the access roads from the south are hopelessly jammed with mobile homes coming in from Italy. Japanese wearing Bavaria’s traditional Lederhosen and Dirndls take part in the costume and sharpshooter parades on the festival’s first Sunday. People from India, America, Australia, Africa and China come in droves to the Wies’n, all of them clearly enjoying the lively atmosphere and the colourful doings.